Academic Excellence Award Student News

Sam Cooperman receives Academic Excellence Award

A life-long interest in design led Sam Cooperman to explore a career in architecture.

“I was always fascinated with not only how design comes together, but also with how designers can imbue meaning into everyday objects and experiences,” he said.

During his senior year at Edina High School, Cooperman participated in “May Term,” a program that allowed students to engage in a learning project outside of class. He used the opportunity to shadow an Architectural Designer at Vujovich Design-Build in Minneapolis. For a few weeks, “I saw how the sausage was made,” he joked, but the architectural process intrigued him. The designer he observed, John Stoll, graduated from Dunwoody’s Architectural Drafting & Estimating program in 2003 and encouraged Cooperman to check out the program.

“If it wasn’t for Vujovich and specifically John, I probably wouldn’t have felt as empowered to jump straight into architecture at Dunwoody,” Cooperman said.

The hands-on nature of the program appealed to Cooperman.

“As I went through my K-12 education, I saw it become increasingly digital and impersonal,” he said. “Mostly out of curiosity I wanted to try a program that balanced new technology with traditional analog processes.”

The Dunwoody Bachelor of Architecture degree is a 5 year program (two-year associate degree plus a three year Bachelor of Architecture completion degree). Students are immersed in architectural history, concepts, and practice, and grounded in the professional software standard throughout the industry. But an integral part of the program involves creating physical models and collaborating on fabrication and design-build projects across a variety of technical disciplines. 

“In one studio, I spent months studying traditional plaster molding techniques and combined that process with cutting-edge 3D modeling and CNC milling to make mass producible, modular units,” he said.

Cooperman received an Academic Excellence Award for the School of Design. James Wheeler, Senior Instructor of Architecture, nominated him for the award.

“In addition to regular high academic achievement in each year of the program and across various aspects of the professional degree, his greatest achievement is a commitment to lifting his peers up across the program and extending an inexhaustible kindness,” Wheeler said. “Sam is one of the finest examples of a Dunwoody student that we can graduate into the professional workplace.”

The award was gratifying to Cooperman. He cites his cohorts as inspiration.

“Dunwoody really encourages positive collaboration and learning from each other,” he said. “I’m always getting ideas for my projects from impromptu critiques given by fellow students.”

Cooperman has had notable achievements outside of the classroom. He served on the board of the American Institute of Architecture Students (AIAS) for four years and was president of the group in 2021-2023.  In this role, he managed events and sat on the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Minnesota board alongside professionals, advocating for student architects. He also helped reestablish Dunwoody’s connection to Freedom By Design, an AIAS sub-group, in which architectural students take on real design and construction projects that serve their community. In addition, he held part-time design positions with PRG and DOM Interiors in Minneapolis.

In 2023, Cooperman secured a highly sought-after summer internship with the prestigious international architectural firm KPF. Working from their midtown Manhattan office, he was able to freely observe meetings and engage in active projects, working directly with full-time staff.

One notable project he worked on was ‘One Island Drive’, a luxury skyscraper in Miami that featured a unique curve over Biscayne Bay.

“By the end of the summer I was coordinating design studies and consultant work for the main (tallest) tower, built out a system to digitally model the railings and fascia for all the balconies, and co-wrote a script that made reshaping both towers a lot easier,“ he said.

“I’ve kept a 3D print of that tower at my desk throughout my entire fifth year.”

In his free time, Cooperman finds insight and motivation through a range of other art and design mediums “I really appreciate music,” he said. “I’m often browsing inspiration in fashion or furniture, and I have a lot of fun exploring photography.”

After graduation, Cooperman has a busy travel schedule. He will attend his sister’s graduation in California, and has a European trip starting at the end of May.

Then, it’s off to New York again. He accepted a permanent position with KPF, starting in July, as a Level 1 Architectural Designer.

What would he tell someone who was considering Dunwoody for a technical education?

 “If you come to Dunwoody with intent and fascination, you’ll graduate with direction and purpose,” he said. “Dunwoody represents a school that invested just as much in me as I invested in it.”