May 1st 2019

Susan Conger-Austin Wins Excellence in Teaching Award

Susan Conger-Austin, assistant dean and studio professor at Illinois Institute of Technology’s College of Architecture, has received an Excellence in Teaching Award for her outstanding contributions to the College of Architecture.

Conger-Austin’s time at Illinois Tech started in 1993, when she came on as a studio professor after a long stint in the professional world. After completing her undergrad at Stanford University in economics and art history, Conger-Austin moved to Chicago to seek work. With no formal architectural training, she wrote to many of the major firms in the city. That tenacity landed her a job as an “architect trainee” at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill.

“I learned from many of the prominent architects, in particular Bruce Graham, Dr. Fazlur Khan, and Myron Goldsmith. A year later, I was told, ‘It’s time to go back to school or you’ll be a draftsman all your life,’” says Conger-Austin. “Two years later I went to graduate school at Princeton University. After graduation, I moved to Boston and worked for SOM there. And then they were planning to close the office, so I got a call from Bruce, and he said, ‘We want you to come back to Chicago.’ So I came back in 1984, and I’ve been here ever since.”

Conger-Austin spent another 10 years at SOM before realizing she had a yearning to teach. “[At SOM] I saw what a big operation did, but I also saw limitations in how I affected the world, and I wanted to do more,” she says. “I really enjoyed the idea of sharing knowledge. When I was asked to teach a graduate studio, I jumped at the opportunity. I had so much more energy about what I thought architecture was about.”

In her years of service at Illinois Tech, Conger-Austin has been instrumental in offering professional and international opportunities for students. Just this year, she secured 20 internship opportunities at marquee firms, including SOM, Perkins+Will, and Studio Gang. Similarly, she was instrumental in creating the Louis Vuitton Spark Award and finding collaborative projects, both international and local.

“We have limited time to expose our students to everything,” says Conger-Austin, while explaining why she finds these out-of-class experiences so instrumental. “But if you can spark some sort of curiosity in a student, they might explore it later, or they’ll continue to think about it through all their projects here, or beyond. I try to train the students to think more broadly.”

“Susan Conger-Austin’s 25-year career here can be summarized with three areas of focus: community, cross disciplinary, and collaboration,” says Michelangelo Sabatino, dean of the College of Architecture. “With the utmost commitment toward the undergraduate and graduate educational experience, Professor Conger-Austin is one of the most admired and popular professors in the advanced studio sequence at Illinois Tech.”

In receiving the award, Conger-Austin simply has this to say: “I am just touched by it. It’s rewarding to know that when a university talks about teaching as being their number one priority, that I was recognized for that. You don’t get many pats on the back but this award was huge. It reaffirmed everything that I believe education is working toward.”