There is a lack of beauty in today’s culture. Cookie-cutter architectural designs dot cities, while older, more beautiful pieces of art are ignored or, worse, bulldozed away — including the churches of our past. For siblings Sean (’14) and Nicole (’17) LaRochelle, these trends must be reversed. Together, they are both starting graduate school studies at Clemson University this fall with those goals in mind, with Sean entering the architecture program and Nicole the historic preservation program. While they are studying different subjects, they are both relying on each other and their shared Christendom background, as it helps them pursue what is “true and meaningful” in and out of the classroom.
The LaRochelles already have many shared experiences in their professional careers. Both graduated from Christendom, with Sean earning his Bachelor’s degree in political science and economics and Nicole earning hers in history, and both later worked for G.D. Nielson Construction Inc., a firm that specialized in civil and environmental construction in Napa Valley, California. After working there a number of years, they both felt the tug to continue their education and applied to Clemson — another shared experience, which is already proving to be a blessing.
“At Christendom, I grew accustomed to in-depth discussions with my classmates, and while I do dialogue with my cohort, our approach to education is quite different,” says Nicole. “That being said, conversing with Sean about our experiences has enabled me to understand my classes better, and gives me the opportunity to expand upon what I am taught. Sean has also been extremely supportive throughout the transition into graduate school; knowing that someone has your back in a new environment is quite reassuring.”
Nicole is enrolled in Clemson’s two-year Master of Science in Historic Preservation program. When she first started looking into graduate programs that suited her interests and abilities, Christendom history professor Dr. Michael Kelly provided insight and guidance in finding the right program, while history professor Dr. Brendan McGuire and English language and literature professor Sharon Hickson gave her resources with which to work as well. Kelly and McGuire both wrote letters of recommendation to the program for Nicole, helping her ultimately get accepted.
While Nicole has only been in her new classes for a month, she already feels that her Christendom background is helping her find success.
“The standards instilled by Christendom’s education have been instrumental in my success,” says Nicole. “I am confident in my capabilities and am able to bring insight from undergrad into class discussions. Additionally, historic preservation has a varied curriculum – incorporating history, labs, law and theory – and due to Christendom’s integrated core, I am able to maneuver between classes with ease and better understand and apply their complementary nature.”
That integrated core curriculum has been helpful for Sean as well. He is currently enrolled in Clemson’s M-ARCH I program, a three-year program designed for those with non-design backgrounds to pursue a master’s degree in architecture. The readings and assignments have already proven to be complex, but Sean’s formation at Christendom has helped him abstract ideas from assigned works and write about them clearly.
“Christendom provided great formation when it came to setting core foundations,” says Sean, who previously worked for The Walt Disney Company initially after graduation from Christendom. “The value of Christendom’s rigorous education has been noticeable during the first few weeks at Clemson. Specifically, I am employing the learned skills of reading complex works of literature, abstracting ideas from said works, relating those ideas to architecture, and writing clearly. I am heavily using the history and philosophy learned at Christendom.”
Sean received support from Christendom professor Sharon Hickson and political science and economics professor Dr. Bracy Bersnak when applying to the program, receiving letters of recommendation from them and from vice president for student affairs Amanda Graf. The support he is now receiving from his sibling, Nicole, is proving invaluable as well.
“It is comforting to know that you have someone as close as a sibling going through a similar experience,” says Sean. “Even though our programs are different, they are in the same department. As such, there are similarities to what we are discussing. Conferring with a sibling that you know has your best interests at heart is a blessing.”
The LaRochelles are both at the beginning of their graduate school careers but they already have ideas for what they want to pursue with their new degrees. Sean feels drawn to the fields of theme park design and sacred architecture and believes that he will have opportunities to pursue either when the time comes. For Nicole, she envisions working with an architecture firm that specializes in historic preservation following graduation, eventually using her degree and expertise to work primarily with preserving historic churches.
They both have a long road ahead of them, but the LaRochelles are driven by a shared desire to bring beauty into the world through their knowledge, their expertise, and their passion.
“The further away I am from graduation, the more grateful I am for [Christendom’s] influence. Christendom provided clear direction to pursuing that which is true and meaningful, and this guiding philosophy is difficult to come by these days. The skills of reading, writing and communication have proved pivotal to my professional career and they are proving themselves invaluable during my time as a graduate student. I am very grateful for the school, its benefactors, the faculty, and the staff who sacrifice so much for the students lucky enough to call it home,” concludes Sean.