Name: Matthew Schrage

College: College of Architecture, Arts, and Design

Major: Architecture

Hometown: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Plans after graduation: Working as an architectural designer at HKS in Washington, D.C.

Favorite Virginia Tech experiences: Spending the semester at the Washington-Alexandria Architecture Center in Old Town Alexandria and designing and leading the Blind Design Workshop in 2022 and 2023

Finding solutions

An architecture student in the College of Architecture, Arts, and Design,  Schrage thought he could benefit from taking on a leadership role in one of his third-year elective courses. He volunteered to lead a complex design-build project, the ParaWall, a large wooden puzzle-piece-like display that resides in the Creativity and Innovation District’s maker space.

Each member of the team contributed to the project as Schrage himself was exposed to digital fabrication technologies, gained CNC experience, and worked with new software programs, with shared successes and challenges along the way.

“I learned how to condense everyone's ideas into a final solution, how to make sure everyone was on the same page, and how to get everything working smoothly,” Schrage said. “As a team, if there was an obstacle to finishing the project, we had to find a way.”

Schrage had the same determination when it came to identifying and clearing obstacles for people with disabilities through inclusive design. Named the College of Architecture, Arts, and Design outstanding graduate for 2023, Schrage has demonstrated his capabilities as a leader and collaborator in the college, through his involvement in community-based and campus organizations, and by his advocacy for and critical research about inclusivity in design practice and education.

Virginia Tech: One and done

Virginia Tech popped up on Schrage’s college radar midway through high school and once he visited to campus, he was sold. He didn’t even apply to any other colleges.

“I knew Virginia Tech had an excellent architecture program, and that was the main reason for me,” said Schrage. “Blacksburg was just far enough away from home, but not so far that I couldn't get back easily. I was still deciding, and then I came to the campus, and I said, ‘I'm coming here.’ This campus is very beautiful, it has an intimate feel to it, and I like that. Virginia Tech is a little secluded, but is still part of a city.”

Even though Schrage had already decided Virginia Tech would be his home for the next five years, he also received a Beyond Boundaries Scholarship, which helped offset out-of-state tuition costs.

“The Beyond Boundaries Scholarship did make a difference for me,” Schrage said. “Having the extra support … was really helpful to me, not only coming to Virginia Tech from Pennsylvania, but especially because architecture is a five-year program.”

Finding purpose

Schrage credits two of his professors for helping him determine what was important to him in his studies as well as in service, Edward Becker and Andrew Gipe-Lazarou.

“Edward Becker taught me that there's a place for everyone in architecture. Prior to that, I didn’t feel like my personality fit with architecture, despite my own reasons for getting into the program,” Schrage said. “Then, I learned there were lots of ways to be an architect, and that's the beauty of this profession. You can take it in any direction you want to take it.”

While Schrage found his place in architecture with the assistance of Becker, it was his thesis advisor, Gipe-Lazarou, a visiting professor at Virginia Tech, who helped him find his purpose as an advocate for inclusive design. Gipe-Lazarou developed the Blind Design Workshop at Virginia Tech, a collaborative effort between the College of Architecture, Arts, and Design and the Virginia Department for the Blind and Vision Impaired. Schrage volunteered as a team leader in 2022 and 2023.

“I want the Blind Design Workshop participants to join us — as architects — and tell us everything we're doing wrong,” Schrage said. “The lived experience of people with disabilities should be valued as an important form of knowledge. My perspective on the issue is so radically different from the way it is typically approached because I have the lived experience.”

Schrage, who is hard of hearing, believes there is a wave of inclusivity for people with disabilities starting at Virginia Tech. As part of his award-winning undergraduate thesis project, "Towards an Anti-Ableist Architecture,” Schrage expressed the need to celebrate “disabled people’s humanity foremost, our diversity, our communities, our cultures, our histories, our pride” and asks us to “find new ways of working and new ways of thinking that recognize disabled people as equal, valued members of society.”

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