Jaylin Strub Has the Floor

Conversation with Design Challenge Winner

Jaylin Strub Has the Floor

The 17-year old winner of the Can I Be Your Neighbor Design Challenge for Affordable Housing used her free time during study halls to create the award-winning design because this year she wasn’t in a housing design class. We followed up with Jaylin Strub, a Junior at Ankeny High School, to learn more about her perspective on housing, how it has changed as a result of the competition experience, and some other insights that may surprise you.  

Congratulations again to you and Ankeny High School. You and your fellow classmates took the top three spots. What is the secret to your school’s success in consistently making the finals while creating an affordable home design to fit the needs of a fictitious family on a real site in Des Moines?
A:  We have a strong tradition around the Design Challenge. It started with Mr. Vale, who retired a few years ago, and has continued with Mr. Schmidt. Our teachers are passionate, and I believe we have a special culture at Ankeny High School. Just about everyone I know is interested in learning, working hard and doing their best. It also helped that a couple of days before the final presentation to the judges, we practiced in front of a roomful of classmates and Mr. Vale came in to provide feedback and ask questions just like the judges would.

What are some other influences in your life that may have contributed to your talent and interest in architectural design work? Are you good at art?
A: Funny thing, I’ve always struggled in art. I have fabulous ideas, but struggle with execution that matches my vision. My little sister is insanely good at art and she inspires me to continue to work harder in that area. Another influence is my dad. He has always pushed me to be my best and give 100%.  In recent years he has also been involved in the business side of investing in homes, so I think that also helped put it on my radar. 

But I think my interest in it really hit when two things happened around the same time - I took Intro to Engineering and my stepmom took me to a Women Succeeding in STEM event where she works at Corteva Agriscience. It was called Iowa Trailblazers and featured women panelists who talked about their STEM-related jobs and their lives. It really opened my eyes and got me excited about things I’d never heard of or thought about before.

What kind of classes have you taken that helped you for the Design Challenge - and what was your favorite part of the competition process?
A: Last year I took a Beginning House Design and this year I took Intro to Engineering. I really enjoy using the Revit housing design software and decided to compete in the Design Challenge for Affordable Housing even though I wasn’t in a design or any classes related to housing. Thankfully my Engineering teacher let me use some of my class time for the Design Challenge, but most of the work I was able to do on my own free time during study hall.

I’d say my favorite part of the process was when the architects and Home Builder’s Association professionals came to our class and reviewed our draft plans and provided one-on-one feedback. I loved that! They asked questions about the choices I had made, made points about how things need to work, and provided ideas for me to consider. It felt like a real-life connection to me. Nothing against Calculus class, but I still wonder when I’m going to use it. This kind of learning feels real and applicable to life right now.

I thought my least favorite part would be the final presentation to the judges because I expected to be nervous, but I really enjoyed that, too. I felt a connection to the family we were designing the house for and every choice I made to keep the house affordable and enjoyable had a purpose and had to fit within parameters to stay on budget. I also liked that the judges asked questions that gave me a chance to share even more about the design choices I made - like the moveable wall.

How has this experience changed your perspective?
A:  I was out for a run the other day and found myself studying rooflines the whole way!  But seriously, I will confess that in the past when I heard someone talking about affordable housing, I pictured a shed or something like that for a homeless person. Now I have a whole new perspective, I believe a better perspective, on affordability.  I’m not against big, beautiful brick and stone houses. They are fun to look at and dream about. But there are very few people who can afford them and more people who need houses that cost less, because the jobs they have only allow a certain amount of money to put toward housing.  Like most communities, we have the need for a lot of people to work in retail and restaurant jobs and other jobs that relatively speaking don’t pay a lot.  Now I actually look around at our mix of housing and wonder about what is getting old, like the smaller houses in the original part of Ankeny, and what is being built new, and wonder if what is new is affordable to those workers. What will happen if they can't live here and businesses don't have enough workers?

What are your future plans and any last thoughts as we wrap up our discussion?
A: I will definitely be exploring careers in engineering or architecture. My senior year I will be taking Principles of Engineering, as well as CADD (Computer Aided Drafting and Design) and Architectural CADD. As for a college, Iowa State University is a great school to consider and I have plenty of time to look around. I’m also thinking about minoring in Spanish because of an exchange trip I went on to Mexico City last year. I know of an architectural firm that does business in Puerto Rico and I’m intrigued by the idea of working in an under-developed country and I believe speaking someone’s native language is helpful to truly connecting even if they know English. 

As far as last thoughts, I have a lot of people to thank for the Design Challenge itself. The Polk County Housing Trust Fund for creating it, providing part of the $2,000 scholarship I won, and working to help everyone understand that having housing for all income levels is important. ASK Studio for coordinating everything and visiting all the schools to give us feedback on our projects. Like I said earlier, this one of my favorite parts of the whole process! The Home Builder’s Association who helped fund the scholarship award, came to our classrooms with the architects to give feedback, and was on the judging panel with great comments and questions. HOME Inc., who also gave award money and had a judge on the panel who was also awesome. And my teacher Mr. Schmidt and Mr. Vale who continues to be there for us.

And lastly, whoever helped get it into the Des Moines Register. I was so glad to see my classmates Hailee Christensen and Curtis Bragg recognized and it was fun having people recognize us and our school for our design work and support of housing affordability.