Gates Breeden didn’t always know that he wanted to study architecture and design.

“My entire life I have been captivated by a multiplicity of topics, concepts, and ideas and could never fully commit to one avenue of exploration," Breeden said.

When it came time for Breeden to decide which college he would attend, he did not suffer from a lack of choices. Having been accepted to many programs in Virginia, his decision would come down to where he felt like he really belonged.

“When I came here and got a tour from Heinrich Schnoedt (Associate Professor in the School of Architecture + Design), he spent two hours with just me and my mom in the studio," Breeden said, describing his experience visiting the Virginia Tech campus and touring the College of Architecture and Urban Studies (CAUS). "We walked around and he took aside a bunch of students from all different years and interacted with them, asked them what they were doing, and let me ask questions. I just fell in love with the space in the School of Architecture + Design.

“What really sold me on Virginia Tech, CAUS, and architecture in general was that tour and having architecture described to me as a study of everything, a lens through which I could pursue any one of my many passions,” Breeden said.

Breeden, who has been named the 2021 Outstanding Senior for the College of Architecture and Urban Studies, credited his success within the five-year, professional degree program in the School of Architecture + Design to the overall culture of CAUS, that same culture that brought him here, and the interdisciplinary attitude of Virginia Tech.

“In the School of Architecture + Design, you are offered this really niche, small studio community with the resources of an entire research university," Breeden said. "You get to interact with people from all over the university, and all sorts of different majors. You get to learn about engineering, business, and political science, literally everything, and be able to build your network around those people. But then you always have the small, beautiful community that's within the confines of these two buildings. This place is basically my second home.”

There is a real sense of camaraderie, built through close-knit studios, within the college and it shows in the fact that professors and students are all immediately on a first-name basis.

“The amount of time that the faculty devote to their students has been so fundamental to my growth over the past five years," Breeden said. "If any student walks into the office and has a question about what’s going on, the team will probably just walk out and answer whatever is being asked. The level of access that we have to the people who are running the school and teaching us I think is unparalleled.”

The studio-driven culture of CAUS builds a concrete foundation for a community made up of students and faculty that Breeden credits with helping to make him a better architect/designer.

"There is a level-playing field to engage in conversation and collaboration with every member of this community," Breeden said. "I have heavily relied on this as a designer as my peers have challenged the way I approach my projects just as much as my professors do. There is a collective knowledge housed within the school where every member can approach another and come away having learned something new. There is a person to teach me how to screen-print, a person to discuss architectural theory, a person to teach me how to cast concrete, a person to edit my papers, and many more. I was never afraid to ask a question!”

Looking back on his time at Virginia Tech, Breeden was proud that he pushed himself to be actively involved with the school and university to both serve his campus community and enrich his professional portfolio. He served as a CAUS Student Ambassador, a peer mentor, an undergraduate teaching assistant, a member of the Student Government Association, new student orientation and Hokie camp leader, as well as a curator of a weekly architecture lecture series.

Breeden’s service to the community of Virginia Tech would end up going well beyond academics throughout his tenure at CAUS. He was involved in Alpha Rho Chi, which is the national professional fraternity for architecture and allied arts, serving as president for nearly two years. He credits this experience for initially sparking his interest in leadership.

“I kind of got a thirst for leading people and being somebody that will listen to everybody and execute the wants of the fraternity," Breeden said.

He went on to explain how much of an impact this organization had on his academic and professional development, saying that “it’s this amazing organization that connects people from years one through five, and creates a fantastic network of students within the already close community of CAUS. I became a brother when I was a freshman and I immediately noticed how special the organization is because you get to see all the members every single day. I don’t think a lot of other organizations can say the same.”

Breeden said that one of the most rewarding things about his time at Virginia Tech was getting to serve as a tour guide and meeting prospective CAUS students. He will always remember how important his experience was in visiting the campus for the first time and getting to see first-hand the tight-knit community of CAUS, and it is his sincere hope that he sparked that same interest in prospective students that he had during his first visit to Virginia Tech.

— Written by Michael Capocelli with photography by Chiravi Patel

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