Professor at Miami Dade

Mario Ortega

Mario OrtegaEach semester, architecture professor Mario F. Ortega begins his classes at Miami Dade College by warning his new students that they're probably going to hate him for a while. But he knows that feeling won't last for long.

"They end up loving the work they've done," he says. "And they learn to appreciate the passion that goes into that work."

Ortega has built a following among architecture students, and his classes consistently fill up 15 minutes after registration starts.

What's his secret? He doesn't use a textbook, and he doesn't rely on notes. Instead, Ortega gently guides his students into discovering the inner creativity that will one day set them apart from the pack and make them great.

"I don't try to shove architecture down their throats," says Ortega, who likes to treat his students as collaborative colleagues. "We discuss ideas, and I roll up my sleeves to build models or sketch with them."

His approach is definitely working: 95 percent of his students transfer to prestigious architecture programs after graduating from Miami Dade College.

Perhaps he is so successful because his passion is to inspire his students, both in and outside of the classroom. To get them talking between classes, Ortega created the Architecture Student Society. And to have a written record of those innovative ideas, he established MDC's first-ever architecture journal, which earned an award from the Architecture Institute of America.

His most recent venture took him and a group of architecture students on a tour of Eastern Europe and Egypt to study ancient, classical and modern architecture during a study abroad program.

"It was so much work to get that to happen," he says. "In the end, it was so much fun nobody realized they were working."

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