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Co-op in the classroom: David Fannon

David Fannon, assistant professor in the School of Architecture, look on during a class in November 2016.

It was fall 2013, David Fannon’s first semester as a faculty member at Northeastern. He was teaching two courses, including a class for architecture and engineering students called “Sustainable Design and Technologies in Construction.”

Toward the end of his very first lesson, one student raised her hand and offered to organize a class field trip to East Village, a campus residence hall that was being designed with sustainability in mind. The student had just finished a six-month co-op at Suffolk Construction, the company that was working to build the 17-floor complex, and she was positive that her former colleagues would help her to arrange the tour.

A few weeks later, Fannon took his students to see the residence hall, which officially opened in January 2015 and was LEED Silver certified in June 2016.

“To me that captures in a nutshell what it’s like to teach at Northeastern,” said Fannon, assistant professor with joint appointments in the School of Architecture and the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. “The students don’t just bring their own experiences to class. They get to share them with their classmates and their professors.”

He added: “What I like most about this story is that all the students in the class benefited from the co-op even though only one student experienced it firsthand.”

The students don’t just bring their own experiences to class. They get to share them with their classmates and their professors.”
— David Fannon, assistant professor

Co-op is a popular topic of discussion in Fannon’s courses, which include “Comprehensive Design Studio,” “Environmental Systems,” and “Integrated Building Systems.” The vast majority of his students come to his classes having already worked for architecture firms like William Rawn Associates, or engineering firms like Simpson, Gumpertz, and Heger, or nonprofit organizations like the U.S. Green Building Council.

John Morana, AMD’16, did co-op at a Paris-based construction company called Oger International, where he had the opportunity to work on a renovation project at a multicultural complex known as the Pompidou Center. When Fannon showed his students a slide of the center in his Integrated Building Systems course, Morana shed light on the building’s exposed pipes and air ducts, a feature that makes it one of the best-known sights in the iconic European city.

“John was able to share some of the specific details of the exposed systems and their consequences for the longevity of the building,” Fannon recalls.

He frequently asks his students to apply what they learned on co-op to solve design problems in class, often prompting them to recall workplace challenges and how they overcame them. As he puts it, “It’s great when students make connections themselves. I see it as an obligation of a faculty member who teaches at Northeastern to seek out those kinds of revelations.”

From time to time, he will encourage his students to critique their own work through the eyes of one of their co-op supervisors. The exercise, he said, affords students the opportunity to consider how a working architect or engineer whom they trust and respect would assess the quality of their work while giving him an ally in the review process.

“I’m interested in helping students learn,” said Fannon, who has held positions at international engineering, architecture, and specialty consulting firms, where he contributed to a range of new construction, renovation, and historic restoration projects for government, higher education, and commercial clients. “I’m invested in their success and I draw on whatever resources I can to help them accomplish their goals.”