M.Arch Student Michael Tokarz Can Teach Us All Something about Perseverance 

Never say never. On a college tour with his teenaged son, a father’s conversation with a student brought a decades-old dream to life.

M.Arch candidate Michael Tokarz has wanted to be an architect since junior high, but life had other plans. A high-school dropout, he joined the Navy during Operation Desert Storm and spent six years working in satellite communications. He stayed focused on his architectural goals, earning his GED in the Navy and entering a B.Arch program after discharge. It wasn’t long before his plans were thwarted, however; his local state university’s architecture program made few allowances for adult students who needed flexibility. Frustrated, Michael instead followed the path he’d already been on and earned his bachelor’s in information systems.

Despite a successful telecommunications career that spanned 20 years, Michael never forgot his first love. In 2019, his teenaged son’s budding interest in architecture led them both to the Open House Chicago architectural festival. They also took the opportunity to tour colleges in the Chicago area. At one school, a chance conversation with a student introduced Michael to a concept he hadn’t heard about: M.Arch. Track III programs, which are designed for students who hold undergraduate degrees in other disciplines.

Galvanized by this information and determined to make his dream a reality, he again turned to his local state school — only to be rejected from its track III program because he lacked a design portfolio. But Michael is nothing if not persistent. Unwilling to relocate and unable to take their advice to “go learn design for a year,” he began to research online NAAB-accredited M.Arch. Track III programs.

LTU’s superior passing scores on the Architects Registration Exam (ARE) caught Michael’s eye. Attending a technical university also aligned with his natural inclinations, so he applied to the online M.Arch Track III program. He was nervous about online study, however, doubtful that he would form the same connections with his peers and instructors as in a traditional classroom. He also worried about his untested creative abilities.

Quite the opposite of his expectations, Michael found that the high level of interactivity in his online classes was a game-changer. It fostered relationships that have evolved into study groups and friendships outside of class. It also accurately replicated the studio environment, he said. Claiming that the program culture is one of collaborative networking, Michael describes his experience at LTU as connected and friendly. And his creative skills have blossomed under his professors’ dedicated coaching and guidance. “I feel more connected to my classmates and professors at LTU than I did in either of my other campus-based degree programs,” he said.

What’s next for Michael? Now in his first year of the M.Arch program, he plans to take advantage of LTU’s participation in the Integrated Path for Architectural Licensure (IPAL) program. Because the M.Arch Track III program is designed to leave business hours free, students in the IPAL program can shorten their path to licensure by earning experience hours before they graduate. Through this program, Michael is currently applying for summer 2021 internships and looking forward to gaining practical experience in a design firm.

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