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Career Discovery Program helps orient design students

It's lunchtime in the dramatic, glass-walled design school at Harvard University, but most of the not-yet-design-students aren't in the cafeteria. They're bending over drafting tables and unrolling bulletin board displays to put the finishing touches on their end-of-summer projects - and to brace themselves for the reactions of peers and masters.

This is the Career Discovery Program, a six-week tryout under the long-necked lamps for 200 high school, college, and mid-career people who are neither designers nor preprofessional students, but shoppers for a possible career.

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The shopping is arduous.

''It's hard - long hours - terrible hours,'' sighs Pierre Guariglia, 17, a June graduate of Fordham Prep High School in the Bronx, N.Y.

At least ''everybody is in the same boat together,'' adds Paul Puciata, also 17 and a Naples, Fla., high school senior, who also worked into the night to complete his project, the design of a house.

Career Discovery is a melange of scholarly lectures, practical shoptalk, field trips, and small-group studio instruction in architecture, landscape architecture, and urban planning. Although students study a core curriculum covering all three areas, they spend most of their time specializing in one; most are in architecture. About 70 percent of those attending will pursue career studies in design, according to survey data.

Program director Scott Sebastian, himself a graduate of degree programs in architecture and landscape architecture, relishes the opportunity to work with fledglings in his field, to talk about such basic questions as: ''How are offices organized?'' ''Why do architects make so little money?'' and ''What are an architect's social responsibilities?''

''These people may or may not become designers, but they're certainly going to learn a lot about design,'' Mr. Sebastian believes. While the lectures can be broad - ''The Range of Landscape Architectural Practice'' was one title - the studio problems start small with ''A Wall,'' followed by ''A Cube.'' A wall where? A cube of what? That's part of what the students decide, and part of how they learn to think the way a designer thinks.

The real world intrudes regularly on the sheltered tension of the studio, especially through field trips (urban planners see the restoration of industrial Lowell, Mass., for example) and career counseling (one session carried the intriguing title of ''Why You Won't Figure It Out Here'').

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''I came in (to Career Discovery) thinking I was going to be an architect, but now I think I'm going into landscape architecture,'' reports Joyce Galt, 21, a senior at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. ''I found that architecture is too rigid for me. I like the design process in it, but the problem is the small space.''

''I don't feel that I have to build upward. I like the (open) space of a landscape,'' Ms. Galt explains. Nevertheless, the exposure to ''related but different aspects of design'' has helped her to think, to integrate various studio lessons into larger projects. The long hours, the ''intensity'' of Career Discovery, as she puts it, have enabled her ''to see my own progress in a way not usually possible'' in many semester-long college courses.

Although no one expects the students to produce professional-quality work, or even to continue pursuing this field, their work is exposed to tough scrutiny - a ''review process,'' Mr. Sebastian explains, ''whereby students are asked to put their work on the wall, present it, and listen to the reactions. Your soul is up there on that wall.''

All those bared souls provide Mr. Sebastian with another important opportunity in career discovery - the training of future design school teachers. Thirteen June graduates of Harvard's master's program in design run the studio sessions, supervised by three principal instructors. A key lesson for the teachers is criticism, which must be offered ''very carefully, without destroying the student's self-respect,'' but offered nonetheless, sometimes in public, Mr. Sebastian notes.

One lesson of the summer is surely that ''You live with the products of your labor, including its immaturity and defects,'' a message offered not by a struggling student, but by Harry Cobb, chairman of the design school's Department of Architecture and principal designer of such landmarks as Boston's John Hancock Tower.

In a lecture toward the end of the summer session, Professor Cobb described himself ''as one who is still discovering his career in architecture.'' He also thanked the students for coming and for adding ''to the pool of enlightened clients.''

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