Three A+A graduates share projects,
NU camaraderie in the workplace © March 8, 2013, Norwich University Office of Communications

Employees of William Starck Architects (left to right) Bill Starck with Norwich graduates Neil Richards, Rodney Jacques and Nick Velozo.

photo courtesy of Rodney JacquesEmployees of William Starck Architects (left to right): William Starck with Norwich Architecture + Art graduates Neil Richards, Rodney Jacques and Nick Velozo.

By coincidence, 15 percent of the work force of one of New England’s leading architecture firms got its start at the School of Architecture + Art at Norwich University.

Nick Velozo ’10, Rodney Jacques ’97, and Neil Richards ’98 work for William Starck Architects Inc., a Fall River, Mass. firm with a staff of 20.

William Starck, the firm’s owner, confessed he never thought much about the coincidence.

“I noticed where they went to school on their resumé, of course, but it didn’t occur to me they were all from the same school until they all started working together and started talking about it,” he said.

Velozo, a designer, started working for Starck during his sophomore year at Norwich and continued there every summer until he completed his bachelor’s degree in architecture.

You don’t work on a project by yourself. It’s impossible to do without relying on other people.

Rodney Jacques ’97

“The day I graduated I got an email [from William Starck] saying I didn’t have time for any parties because he wanted me back in the office ... on Monday,” recalled Velozo.

Velozo and Jacques, who is a registered architect, have worked closely on a number of projects. Richards, a designer-draftsman for the firm, tends to focus on different areas. All three, however, have compared notes about their respective educational experiences at the country’s oldest private military college.

“Neil and Rodney ask about developments at Norwich since they left. I’ve told them about the new buildings. Sometimes they’ll talk about ... [the fall] in Northfield,” said Velozo. “I find it kind of weird. Ten years before I got there, they were doing the same things I was doing.”

The three alumni all said their education in the School of Architecture + Art prepared them well for their professional roles. Each believes the access they had to architecture faculty was one of the program’s strengths.

“We spent a lot of intense time working in the studio and many professors would stay to midnight or later helping students with their projects,” said Richards, adding that Arnold Aho, now professor emeritus, was “a big influence.”

“It was just the way [Aho] went about things,” he said. “He always seemed to avoid cutting corners and to make sure that you understood what he was presenting to you.”

Velozo said one of the program’s strengths was that his instructors were still active as architects.

“They had clients and had history as architects, not just the teaching experience they had to offer,” he said.

Jacques admits he was initially resistant to the program’s emphasis on working in teams, but understands now why it was necessary.

“I didn’t like having to depend on other students. It was emphasized to us that we would have to work in teams once we graduated,” said Jacques. “Go figure: That’s what architecture is all about. You work in teams. You work with mechanical engineers . . . structural engineers ... there’s a team within the office. You don’t work on a project by yourself. It’s impossible to do without relying on other people.”

Velozo is working on his master’s degree at Boston Architectural College. All three earned four-year bachelor’s degrees in architecture at Norwich. Jacques went on to complete a fifth year to earn a degree then called a Bachelor of Architecture (students who complete a fifth year now earn a Master of Architecture degree).

Velozo credits Jacques for being a good mentor to him after he joined the firm full time. Both are working on a team designing a new health and wellness center in Fall River.

“I look to him more for guidance. He’s been here a lot longer than I have. He knows more. He’s an architect,” said Velozo. “Rodney is a good mentor. He can be serious. He also jokes around a bit but he knows what he’s doing, so I look to him for that kind of stuff.”

Jacques dismisses the idea that Velozo is his subordinate.

“Everyone is pretty much equal on the team and everyone brings their strengths and weaknesses,” said Jacques. “Nick brought his design ability and his computer-rendering skills to the table for this particular project. I was more involved in client relations ... and doing some of the initial programming for the building.”

Velozo, Jacques and Richards all credit the firm’s owner with sustaining a family-like environment. Although Starck did not deliberately set out to have a particular school so prominent in his business, he is pleased with the result.

“They share a strong work ethic and an enthusiasm for architecture,” said Starck. “They really like architecture and it shows.”