Co-Op Talk: Andrew Pederson @ Cincinnati Zoo

said by: Leah Finley

We are excited to present a new series of #CoopTalks this semester. This interview series provides an opportunity for students to share co-op experiences with students, faculty, staff and beyond. We speak to fellow students who we collectively admire to hear what co-op means to them and the insight into what has contributed to their growth as a student at The School of Architecture and Interior Design at DAAP.

Next up in our series is Andrew Pederson. He is a fourth year in the B.S. Architecture program. Andrew had a unique first co-op experience as an intern at the Cincinnati Zoo. Here is an edited conversation with Andrew about working for the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden

Check back for our next interview in this series or read our previous interviews here.


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 Why did you decide to work there?

I went there for my first co-op because it was the last choice I had. I didn’t get my job until January. So, I got the job seven days before I started. I didn’t even know about it until Alex Christoforidis called me and was like “hey, we have this job opening at the zoo”. I was actual the first co-op that Dean Violetta, the Zoo’s head of planning, had. I came back the second time because Ware Malcomb, my second co-op, laid off people half way through the semester.

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What was it like being their first co-op?

It was a lot different because there was a lot of things going on. Initially I started working in a building in the zoo, where the offices were. Half way through the semester our entire facilities staff moved out of that building and into a house right outside of the zoo. That was kind of a fun thing. We had to move all our stuff. I got to be a part of that. It was an actual house too. The zoo rents out several different houses around the zoo for different purposes. I helped figure out the layouts of furniture and offices in the new house.

Because I was Dean’s first co-op, he was very gentle on the way he would approach assignments. He knew that I was a second-year student, but he didn’t really know my exact work level. So, he was always telling me to ask as many questions as I wanted and giving me plenty of time to complete assignments. He was very forgiving with assignments too.

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What sort of projects did you work on?

During my first co-op, the big thing I did was a master plan study. I took a square footage analysis of the entire zoo. All the pathways, exhibits, guest amenities and back of house areas. When I figured out all the square footage, I did a huge graphic presentation. It was an evaluation of the square footage we had in 2006 compared to what we had in 2016. Then I did some forecasting. For example, if we had this amount of square footage in 2006, and we have this amount in 2016, in 2020 we should have this amount. I covered a lot of area figuring out what we had and what we needed. I worked in primarily AutoCAD for all the calculations and measurements. Then I’d take it into Photoshop and I’d add graphics and make it into a presentation. I did several types of things like that. I also did a lot of layouts and calculations in Excel. Those were the main three medians I worked with. Dean would give me a lot of side projects too. Mostly, stuff like redesigns for exhibits, or for buildings that are part of exhibits. For that, I would go into AutoCAD and work with those layouts.

I did one project where we had printed out PDFs of a building, but we didn’t have the AutoCAD we needed. All we had were the scanned, hand drawn, PDFs. So, it was not a vector image, it was a raster image. I had to take measurements from the PDF images and get measurements from the actual building; the birdhouse. That was pretty fun. Well, it was fun at first. After eight times of going back to the birdhouse, I started to hate the sound and the smell of the birds. It started to get really annoying. There were a couple projects where I had to take actual measurements of exhibits and put them into AutoCAD.

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Does the zoo have a whole planning department?

Yes. I was hired by the zoo. I wasn’t hired by Dean. He’s not independent of the zoo. All the pay and benefits I got were through the zoo. I was a zoo employee. The zoo does have several departments though. They have a horticulture department and a facilities department. There’s also a graphic department that does all the signage for the zoo, all the marketing and graphic kind of stuff. The facilities department house’s any architectural people. Dean was the only architecture and planning person in that department.

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Was Dean the whole department?

He was the whole planning and exhibit department pretty much, along with any other interns he has. They have a couple of other guys in the facilities department. They had Tony, who ran the facilities, but he was more of a management person, and Mark Fisher, who was more of an engineering environmental guy. They recently hired a construction management person as well. Originally, all the departments were in one building in the zoo. Then we got the house outside the zoo and we moved part of the facilities department to that house.

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What was your favorite project?

Probably the master plan. That is the overall project I was talking about earlier. It really kept me involved. Dean gave me a lot of responsibility with that too. I learned a lot about how I should think about things. It’s cool because Mark Fisher and Dean both kept telling me that the master plan was really going to help the zoo and help them figure out what they should have within the next few years or even next 10 years. They gave me very positive feedback about that project.

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What did you like most about working there?

The people, for sure. Especially the people who were in that house with me. It was me, Dean, Tony, Mark, this guy named Ken, he was the best. We’d always joke around. The people in that house were just awesome to communicate with and be around. Dean Violetta is a great guy and he’s an awesome mentor. You can always joke around with him. Out of my three co-ops he’s definitely my favorite mentor.

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Did you feel prepared for this co-op?

Yes. It was very different from an architecture firm. Program wise, I didn’t need to know Revit or Rhino, they didn’t use that. All I did was basic AutoCAD. That was easy to work with and to learn. Professional etiquette was also easy to learn. I’m typically a pretty polite, nice guy so it was easy to get accustomed office communication.

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How is it different from an architectural firm?

The environment is obviously different. You’re in a frickin zoo. You look outside your window and there’s animals. When we were in the office in the zoo, I could look outside and see people walking and I could see the giraffes. We were right outside the Africa exhibit. None of the people I worked with were architects either. Me and Dean were the only architecture people there and Dean really focused more on planning. He was the only person I could go to for direction on anything architecture related. The projects we had were different. It was mainly planning stuff. I didn’t do a lot of things with buildings. I’d say only half of my work was building related stuff. I feel like a lot of architecture students, during their first co-op, were doing a lot of red-lining and Revit work, and I was not doing that.

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In what ways have you grown?

I learned a lot of AutoCAD. I hadn’t really worked with AutoCAD before. Program wise, that really helped. I work mostly in AutoCAD even now. I know most people don’t like AutoCAD, but I love it. It was a great office environment. It was actually kind of upsetting going from that environment to Ware Malcolm, my second co-op, because it was less exciting, and I really didn’t get to know the people there. It was far less social. Also, the work was drier, they were doing warehouse projects mostly.

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What was most challenging?

Whenever I did have questions it was hard to get Dean. He was always in meetings. So, it was sometimes difficult to figure out what I was going to do. Especially if I really couldn’t move forward with something without his help.

The second semester I was there I had to do a lot of client communication work. Dean gave me even more responsibility that semester. He gave me a numbers and emails to contact vendors. I had really never done that before, so, I had to think about what I was going to say each time. It was kind of nerve-racking.

Was the zoo your favorite co-op?

Yes. Mostly because of they environment. When I graduate, I want to be a residential designer, so I wasn’t too excited about the work I was doing at the zoo, but, they gave me a lot of responsibility. Out of all three of my co-ops I had the most responsibility at the zoo. There was a lot of opportunity to do things your own way, and figure things out for yourself.

For anybody wanting to go to the zoo, I would do it more for the experience of working in a zoo and working with something different, not for the architectural experience. You have to know what you want from a co-op. If you want the experience of doing something you know you might not have the opportunity to do again, work at the zoo.


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