Winning the Witters

By Mia Alfonsi

University of Florida students from the College of Design, Construction and Planning and the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering teamed up to participate in DCP’s annual Witters Competition, which kicked off Friday, January 24.

Established in 1993 and endowed by Arthur G. and Beverley A. Witters, the contest was created to offer students an experience to work with different disciplines before they graduated.

“The collaborative practices are of particular importance with planning, design and construction of the built environment as they bring together a large number of diverse disciplines,” DCP associate dean Abdol Chini said. “The Witters Competition provides the UF DCP and Engineering students an opportunity to learn about the different disciplines within their colleges and practice working in multidisciplinary teams to design a project.”

For 48 hours, student teams worked to create an innovative design solution for renovations and an addition to the Architecture Building, with strong consideration of the building’s surrounding structures and the overall campus design.

Ten teams participated, each made up of DCP students from multiple disciplines and one engineering student. Each team presented their project to a panel of judges:

  • Bahar Armaghani, Director of the Program in Sustainability and the Built Environment
  • Linda Dixon, Director of Planning, UF Division of Planning, Design and Construction
  • Eric Du, Associate Professor in Sustainable Infrastructure and Environment at Wertheim
  • Tina Gurucharri, Chair of the Department of Landscape Architecture
  • Cydney McGlothlin, University Architect, UF Division of Planning, Design and Construction
  • Robert Ries, Professor at the Rinker School of Construction Management

This year’s winners were Mackie Myers, Roberto Moreno, Hari Krishna, Kevin Mojica, Nikki Zheng and Patrick Palmer, all representing team 6. For their “distinctive” use of materials and case studies and well-thought-out program analysis and design strategies, the team was granted the $3,500 grand prize.

Teams 1 and 7 also received honorable mentions from the judges, and Team 5 received “Best Presentation” as well as a smaller monetary award.

According to Iris Patten, a member of the Witter’s Organizational Team and lecturer in sustainability and the built environment, the design solutions provided by the Witters competition teams will be given to the design firm that will be selected to develop the design for renovations and the addition to the Architecture Building.

“The competition helps provide feedback and some ideas that maybe the staff architects of these firms may not have thought of because they are not living in the space as our students are,” Patten said.

The inclusion of engineering students strengthens student awareness of integration beyond DCP’s walls, Patten said.

As a former Witters participant herself, Patten was there to motivate teams throughout the weekend and experienced firsthand how this competition affected students.

“It was really cool to see the sense of pride students had and hear them talking about what DCP meant to them,” Patten said.

Not only does this contest allow students to showcase their technical capabilities and engage with students they typically do not work with, but more importantly, it enables students to consider the broader scope of their academics.

“We’re in this college because we want to give back to society, the built environment,” Patten said. “To actually see how these students translated that into their designs speaks highly to the value of this contest.

On the other side of the competition, students experienced the highs and lows of the competition.

“Minimal sleep, lots of adrenaline!” is how Witters winner Mackie Myers described her experience.

“Although it was strenuous, there was never a time when I resented the work I was doing,” the second-year construction management master’s student said. 

This was Myers’ first year participating in Witters. The competition granted her the opportunity to test her skills in a dynamic, realistic setting before heading out into the workforce.

Throughout the competition, Myers and the members of team six were able to apply their disciplinary strengths to respective elements of the project, which added an invaluable quality to the finished result.

But her team’s success cannot be attributed solely to a seamless integration of disciplines and delegation of tasks. Over the course of the weekend, the team established a sense of camaraderie and trust that strengthened their performance and helped forge new friendships.

“This was pretty much a group of people who went into the weekend as strangers and came out as team members and friends,” Myers said. “We were continuously building each other up and recognizing individual efforts, talent, and skills.”

Team six’s win was proof of their intelligent integration of disciplines and their bonding over the 48-hour weekend.

“I think we were all holding our breath when they began to release the winner, and when we heard our team name announced we all immediately looked at each other to celebrate,” Myers said.

For Myers, who will be graduating in August, the win was an exceptionally fulfilling experience. 

“As a female entering the superintendent track in construction, this experience was empowering and humbling at the same time,” Myers said.  “Being recognized for my abilities not only from faculty, but also from peers, was an affirming and encouraging experience- just another personal confirmation that I’m in the right place and going into the right field.”

The Witters competition this year was a great success and many people have contributed in so many ways to turn this event into a smoothly running competition with many very interesting presentation and posters. Special thanks go to the organizing committee members:

  • Ravi Srinivasan, Construction Management associate professor
  • Erin Cunningham, Interior Design assistant professor
  • Eric Du, UF College of Engineering associate professor
  • Julie Frey, Director of Communications
  • Sarah Gamble, Architecture lecturer
  • Huiqing Kuang, Landscape Architecture lecturer
  • Iris Patten, Sustainability and the Built Environment lecturer
  • Kjerstin Terry, Events Coordinator

Honorable Mention:
Team 1
Ibiebeleme Opuso-Jama, Taylor Norwood, Siva Reddy Kondamadugula, Michael Hutchinson, Simone Kenny, Matina Mahasantipiya, Sandeep Suresh Kumar

Team 7
Marjorie Wong, Gabriella Villalobos, Ali Adibfar, Andrew Hess

Best Presentation:
Team 5
Sophia Palombo, Scott Skage, Apoorva Thapa, Depak Balakrishnan, Aldrin Gaffud

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