Ethan Russell-Benoit on Building Positive Change

Be Orange

Architecture major Ethan Russell-Benoit ’19 crafted his student experience to include community engagement, global experiences, and rigorous academics, all so he would have the tools to design for the greater good. #BeOrange

Ethan Russell Benoit Portrait

Ethan Russell-Benoit ’19 is driven by the belief that he can make a difference in the world. Growing up in a small community near Boston, he was very introverted and shy. As he grew older, a fascination with architecture began to take shape, and his evolution as an engaged social participant began. He knew it was important to find a college where he would fit in as an individual and flourish as a student. “I chose Syracuse because it is a highly ranked school with the right balance of design and technical education,” he says. “I also sensed a great deal of pride and camaraderie in a very friendly student body. Syracuse competes with the best, but without a high pressure, competitive atmosphere.”

Syracuse provides so many ways to give back to the community and make it your own, regardless of how much time you can commit.

As Russell-Benoit immersed himself in campus life, his inhibitions faded. “When I arrived on campus, the “goon squad” transported my belongings into my dorm room, so I joined the goon squad—one of my greatest joys at Syracuse,” he says. “Student ambassadors welcomed me like a good friend, so I became a student ambassador for the School of Architecture. My peer advisors were always there with reassurance and wisdom, so I became a peer advisor to pay it forward. Syracuse provides so many ways to give back to the community and make it your own, regardless of how much time you can commit.”

Challenges and Rewards

The workload was the tough part. “My greatest challenge was adjusting to the rigorous academic program in architecture,” he admits. “I learned to manage my time and stress with the support and tough love of my peers. Syracuse is a large school made up of tightly knit communities, and the School of Architecture became my second family.” Russell-Benoit’s academic achievements led to his being named a Renée Crown Scholar, a University honors program that provides enhanced educational experiences to high achievers through civic engagement seminars and cultural events. “Many architecture classes intersect almost seamlessly with the requirements of the honors program,” he observes. “It opened me up to broader academic pursuits and made me a more well-rounded student.”

Professors have had a profound impact on his Syracuse experience. “One of the unique things about the School of Architecture is how closely students interact with faculty,” he points out. “Studio classes and electives often have as few as 14 students working and sharing dialogue with teachers who bring their own passions and interests to the table. We construct our own identities as architects, designers, and thinkers through the sum of our experiences with faculty.” 

Embracing Global Citizenship

Architecture students Ethan Russell-Benoit, right, and Billy Collins look up at drone taking aerial photographs of a famous kindergarten building designed by Giuseppe Terragni in Como, Italy. They visited the school as part of the Survey of Italian Architecture class during a semester abroad in Florence.
Architecture students Ethan Russell-Benoit, right, and Billy Collins look up at a drone taking aerial photographs of a famous kindergarten building designed by Giuseppe Terragni in Como, Italy.

Russell-Benoit spent an unforgettable semester at Syracuse University’s Florence Center in Italy. “It is an amazing experience to be fully immersed in a culture and a language that are not your own,” he reflects. “My entire Syracuse experience has transformed me into a more confident person, and traveling all over Italy studying art, architecture and culture has made me a more conscientious student and global citizen.”

A desire to put that global citizenship into practice now infuses his dreams for the future. “I intend to become a licensed architect and use my professional skills to serve a larger public good,” he says. “That could mean working with nonprofits, or creating school spaces that facilitate learning—or using design to improve healthcare delivery and patient outcomes. I don’t know exactly where my career will take me, but I do know that I love architecture, I love people, and I want to make a positive difference in people’s lives.”

Russell-Benoit values the connections he found here that made a difference in his life. “During my time at Syracuse I have met amazing people from many backgrounds,” he says. “Being Orange is about being part of a big, loud, proud family of diverse people looking to make waves in the world, and looking out for one another.”

This story was first published on March 1, 2019 and last updated on .


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