Minnesota leveraged all of these changes when creating its new program, in which students will pursue a one-year M.S. in Research Practices after finishing their M.Arch. The M.S. confers the newly assigned 930 IDP hours, and these are rounded out by ample internship, research, and teaching hours. The internship hours can be accrued from the start of either a B.S. in Architecture or an M.Arch, depending on the student’s path. Ideally, a student who goes through the whole program will earn enough hours to complete the IDP, pass the ARE, and achieve licensure upon graduation, or at the latest six months after.

Cheng and her colleagues are waiting for the university to approve the M.S. in Research Practices degree before launching the program in Fall 2013. “We’re aiming for a small group at the beginning, maybe four to eight students,” Cheng says. She expects most to be recent M.Arch graduates from within the school, and says that interest in the degree is high.

It sounds like a co-op program that alter­nates study with work experience—and it is a co-op “hybrid,” Cheng confirms. But what sets it apart is a three-way research paradigm. Cheng and her colleagues are bringing together a consortium of firms and nonprofits that will sponsor in-house student research projects. Those projects (academic internships, under NCARB’s definition) will be supervised by faculty members; a registered architect, whether the faculty member or someone from a firm, will always be involved.

The educators/architects will collaborate with a firm or nonprofit, but the primary liaison between these two groups will be the third point on the triangle—the student, says Laura Lee, who helped Minnesota faculty create the new program. “Students and interns become the conduits for the knowledge exchange” under this model, Lee says. “Their role becomes really elevated.”

Jim Lutz, the IDP coordinator in Minnesota’s School of Architecture, describes the research projects as “curated opportunities, where we’re acting as academic matchmakers between members of the consortium and our pool of students.”

Cheng emphasizes that the “amazingly strong relationship between the practice community and the school” gave her team an important head start. Firms have different reasons for signing onto the consortium, she says. “Some are in it because they want to shorten the time to licensure; some as altruism; some see the value for their clients. Others say, ‘We want to do research, but can’t really fit it in.’ This gives [firms] a structured way” to undertake research.

Two students have already taken part in firm-sponsored research projects launched before the official start of the Research Practices degree, working on an analysis of energy modeling tools (with the Minneapolis-based firm MS&R) and on virtual reality applications for healthcare design (with HGA and its client, the Mayo Clinic.)

In addition to the research projects, students will receive personalized guidance to keep them on track with the IDP and will take the ARE as part of their course requirements. M.S. students will pay tuition, but will be eligible for tuition reductions on account of their research. They’ll be paid for their work with the firms, helping to offset tuition costs.

So far, NCARB is declaring the Minnesota plan kosher. “Based on what I’ve seen, I did not have any concerns,” says Harry Falconer Jr., AIA, NCARB’s director of internship and education. And not just kosher: In 2011, the proposal received an honorable mention in the juried NCARB Award, which honors programs that integrate practice and education.

Cheng presented the proposal, as part of the NCARB Award ceremony, to a crowd of architectural educators last November. The response was very positive overall. “Frankly, most people have been incredibly supportive,” Cheng says—noting, however, that she heard the proposal was “hotly debated” by the jury.