Tips for a Successful Finals Season

Tips for a successful finals season:


Well, folks, it’s that time of the semester again. Yes, the gut wrenching, caffeine addiction relapsing, nail biting, lead-holder busting finals week! Over the four years that I’ve spent at Cornell University, I’m certainly less stressed than I was during my first finals. Now that I know what to expect, and I’m a seasoned finals veteran, I can share with you my tips and tricks for a successful finals season.


Tip 1:

Strategize your time! There’s only so little time and so much to do! Sometimes it’s harder to get out of your own head, so try writing down the kinds of things you have to do on a piece of paper. I always list the drawings I have to get done for my final presentation so I can visualize my goals. And as a primarily visual and creative person, it helps a TON.

Tip 2:

Make goals. Working towards something small each day is a lot easier to stay focused doing than working towards some grand ultimatum.

Tip 3.

Take regular breaks. No one got through finals season by spending all day and night at their desk. While we may be guilty of cramming every now and then, it’s best to keep your head above the noise by pulling out every once and a while. It gives you the perspective to gauge your progress and think level headedly.

Tip 4:

SLEEP. Please sleep. Please. So many finals tragedies arise when people don’t sleep for a day…or two…or five. Its scientifically proven to help you concentrate better and increase brain function if you sleep! So catch your Z’s.

Tip 5:

Keep your desk neat. Document your work early and clear out the mess. It makes things a whole lot easier to see, find, and remember.


Remember all these tips, keep focused on your goals, and you’ll be okay. May the odds be ever in your favor!

Of, On and About the Metropolis

Cornell AAP NYC’s pure gold lies in the electives. This is where you get a taste of the delectable offerings outside of the Ithacan tundra. One of which, I am glad to be enrolled in, is James Lowder’s critical investigation of NYC and the metropolis. Lowder is just one of many fantastic imports from the surrounding metropolitan area. His stomping ground? Cooper Union.

The Man, The Myth, The Legend

Each week the class files in, fifteen independent thinkers whose minds are overflowing with the unraveled texts of masterminds in art criticism and architecture, film and theory galore. Lowder, spitting gall and gab, throws out questions from the digital archive of emails he received at the toll of yesterday’s midnight. And the matches begin. Students clamor with questions of frustration–some coming from a place of misunderstanding–others coming from a fundamental difference in principle. Here, problematization of academia is a good thing. Each week has a spotlight thinker or theme, which a lone student or tag team of design-savvy sages work to present in a clear and analytic format.

Image from Exodus, or The Voluntary Prisoners of Architecture, a recent reading from the Koolhaas series.

 For our final project, we are posed to propose a class–a full syllabus which is meant to open up the wound of theory to understand its anatomy in more colors and more detail. Luckily, we have hundred upon hundreds of names to base our studies off of. Its ramping up to be an exciting and generative finals season at Cornell AAP NYC!

Envision Baruch

Buckle up, Lower East Siders, it’s time for final reviews. After months spent in studio designing a community engagement tool for potential infill development opportunities on New York City Public Housing Authority (NYCHA)’s Baruch campus, we decided to give our simulation a test run.

Envision Baruch, as we named it, is a multi-player simulation that calls for residents, developers, the city and NYCHA to band together to imagine where development could occur in the Lower East Side. Players are assigned a navigator to help guide them through the development process as they propose new buildings and open spaces. All decisions are recorded on an interactive spreadsheet which documents incoming revenue as well as indicators such as community vitality and affordability.


In the last few weeks, we broke into smaller groups and looked at ways to take this exercise further. Topics explored included:

  • Using the Tygron software previously mentioned to test development decisions
  • Developing a youth curriculum around teaching school children about the real estate development process in their neighborhood
  • Utilizing Participatory Budgeting to give power to residents over real money and real projects
  • Creating 2 urban design proposals of proposed new, infill and open space development

My group looked at participatory budgeting as a tool NYCHA could use to empower residents to have greater access to the way funds are allocated and spent using online voting.

What is PB 1

PB Sample Ballot

The visiting critics, or players of our simulation, were composed of affordable housing advocates, former NYCHA employees, developers and community advocates. As a collective studio, we hope our ideas can help NYCHA and other housing authorities engage stakeholders in a more collaborative and transparent way to better envision potential infill development opportunities in the Lower East Side and beyond.

The Intern Life

Many of us opted to spend our Tuesdays and Wednesdays interning at various firms, organizations, and agencies across the city this semester. I’m trying to spend this year learning more about transportation planning, so it was only appropriate that I intern with Sam Schwartz Engineering, a leading traffic engineering and planning firm here in New York City. While it can sometimes get difficult to balance both classes and work, the opportunity to see how an office is run firsthand and doing on-the-ground fieldwork for high-profile projects around the city has been an invaluable experience for me personally.

Lessons Learned

Between the 14 of us M.R.P. and M.L.A. students doing internships, many are in the private sector, but some are with public agencies and non-profit organizations. Because this semester has been so professional development focused, many of us found it useful to see the process of managing a public project from start to finish.

A mix of policy, research and design, here is an overview of the types of internship organizations our class held this Fall
A mix of policy, research, and design, here is an overview of the types of internship organizations our class held this fall.


Siba, an M.R.P./M.L.A. dual degree student, chose to work at Stantec Consulting, an interdisciplinary engineering and design firm.

“At my internship, it is interesting to be in a very professional, corporate setting, specifically regarding the logistics and to see how work is divided. Getting to see how project management is actually done is an experience I’ve never really had before.”
Siba El-Samra | Landscape Architecture | Stantec Consulting

Others opted to continue a relationship already built over the past summer. Anni, a 2nd-year M.R.P. participant, spoke highly of the mentorship aspect of her summer internship experience, which led to her continuing in the fall with Enterprise Community Partners.

“I went in…knowing almost nothing about affordable housing. But I learned a tremendous amount during my summer internship, and felt like there was much more to still understand both about the field and the organization, which is wide in its geographic and programmatic reach. More importantly, I found the relationship with my supervisor and others in the department incredibly rewarding – there was a real sense of mentorship and investment in my personal professional development. The people who I was supporting/who reviewed my work clearly invested time in providing feedback on my work, and also accounting for my personal interests – looping me in on meetings and incorporating my thoughts in choosing projects or deciding the direction of them. So a lot of staying on for the fall was wanting to develop these professional relationships.”
- Anni Zhu | City & Regional Planning | Enterprise

Being able to intern as a part of the program helped me break into a field that I didn’t come in knowing much about – transportation planning. I hope to complement this experience with previous internships in community planning to launch a career that combines integrates land use, alternative transportation and urban design.

Field Trippin’

Descending from the train.

At AAP NYC, there’s a lot more local spillover in terms of instruction than there is in Ithaca. While in the latter, Cornell students get taught by lots of internationally acclaimed instructors, whereas the New York program makes good use of its immediate surroundings. My theory class, CRITICAL NYC : PROJECTIVE DISCOURSES IN, ON, AND OF THE METROPOLIS, taught by James Lowder, aims to conquer the origins and implications of discourse ‘in, on, and of the metropolis,’ and we have done a lot of talking about how to talk about architecture thus far. Our exploration stems mainly from our investigation into the annals that are modern art – more specifically modern painting and sculpture – and the critique upon modern art that has been fostered by the Kantian dialectic: “this is one idea, this is another conflicting idea, the two ideas butt heads, and produce a synthesis.”

Walking into Dia: Beacon

We are a well-read group; anyone from Krauss, to Greenberg, to Judd and Rowe have been speculated about, frowned upon, torn asunder and/or lauded. After scrutinizing case study after case study, we were finally put to practice this weekend when we forked over the forty bucks it took to ship off to Dia: Beacon.

Geometric Durges by Michael Heizer

A sanctuary to ‘specific objects’ (what’s good Donald Judd?), Dia: Beacon is sited in the old printing factory for the National Biscuit Company, commonly appropriated as Nabisco. Each exhibit is dedicated to the lone artist, and each installation is (site) specific to the space in which it is exhibited. It’s a huge blank canvas in which specific art objects perform specific moves upon the site, and the site responds specifically upon those objects. It’s a pretty ambitious and large undertaking, and the sheer scale of the work and the museum itself are fascinating.

Light at the end of the tunnel

Like explorers in an abandoned sugarcoated wasteland, we dredged through the concrete halls, peering upon Sol Lewitts and Dan Flavins. We found a place among Carl Andre sculptures, enjoyed the silence created by Beuys’ stacks of felt, and got tangled among Fred Sandback’s prescriptive yarn installations. Each piece has its own unique rhythm and medium carving out space in the factory at Beacon.

Between two Serras

Each artist was pertinent to our previous readings of them in class and on our own time. It was lucky that after all of the hours upon hours of dimly lit text stare-downs we finally got to put a face to the words. Only in such a centralized, rich, cultural locale could these kinds of trips be possible. It’s all in a day’s work here in NYC.

Dia: Eden