Charles Scott loves to learn. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Global Business Management and a Master of Business Administration, and this December, he will walk The University of New Mexico aisles as a Master of Architecture with 10 years of completed higher education under his belt. He is twice the age of the average student in the School of Architecture and Planning Department, with little prior experience. Just 25 years ago, this level of academic success would be unthinkable for Scott.
He was born in East St. Louis, Ill., in the 1980s and lived in “some of the worst zip codes in America” for the first ten years of his life. In the 1980s, the East St. Louis Projects were the murder capital of America. Before his injury, at six years old, he saw a man killed in cold blood out of a car window at the grocery store.
“I was born into a place where you don’t think about college because your life expectancy doesn’t permit it. I guess I beat all odds in that sense,” Scott reflected.
Scott himself was a victim of a violent racial hate crime at 18 years old and woke up with a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and a brand new set of neurons and neurotransmitters to rewire. The injury left him with severe mental cognitive impairment that put him on the long road to mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual recovery.
Doctors and physicians told a barely adolescent Scott that for him to regain most of the basic mental, physical, and emotional life functions would be a miracle.
“I was only 18 years old. I was heartbroken. Not because my face was broken and disfigured, nor because the cognitive testing concluded me to be mentally handicapped, nor due to the fact that myself - as I knew me - was over. Instead, my heart was broken by the thought of not being able to fulfill my promise of completing higher education,” Scott said.
Scott always had a natural aptitude for scholastics. He had perfect attendance… mainly to eat through the free lunch program, he laughed. He read ten books a week and wrote reports on them through his school library system for the reward of two free pan pizzas for his work. In a household where they often only ate tuna, mayo and mustard on a single slice of stale bread, this was a great incentive for him to learn.
At 18, he’d also vowed to be the first in his family to earn a graduate degree. He was one of seven children by his young, teenage mother who had less than a high school education and little to no prospects of gainful employment. Scott admired her determination and was compelled by how hard she fought to give her children a life. Part of the reason for Scott’s scholarly success was his promise to himself to complete higher education.
Post-injury, he didn’t consider college until he was 30 and rehabilitated. Before then, he’d found himself in social isolation as he parsed through 9ways to deal with such a diagnosis.
“It happened right at my 19th birthday. For years - at least a decade - I was really low. Your chemistry has changed due to different firing of your neurons and transmitters. I have a different brain.”
However, this shift in brain chemistry certainly worked in Scott’s favor in the end. The insatiable scholar has a limitless appetite for discovery.
Scott already has an M.B.A. and a fulfilling job he finds valuable, so, why Architecture? After the injury, he started to hear an incessant high-pitched ringing in his ear.
“It never goes off. It’s like a ringing. It’s still there all the time,” Scott revealed.
Through meditation practices and rehabilitation, Scott has come to think of the sound as his frequency. The more in tune he’s become with the ringing over the years, the more perceptive he is to how sensitive that frequency is to atmospheric elements and noise pollution.
“In the beginning, I thought it was atmospheric. I’d turn off the TV and be like man, you don't- no one hears that? It's so bizarre. I would say it's high Alpha frequency.”
Through esoteric practices and meditation, Scott noticed his “frequency” changed with his mood and environment.
“I started seeing correlations depending on which room I was in. If I’m in a library versus a restaurant, something will change. I can hear my brain cycles as they shift. It sounds bizarre, but I don't know how you prove that,” Scott breathed out.
This sensation extended to the level of different zip codes, assigning him with different feelings spurring Scott’s curiosity.
Before architecture research, he initially sought out the neuroscience field. “I wanted to figure out what was going on with my brain so maybe I could have a normal life again,” he explained,
"[...] It was like I woke up as an infant again at 19. I felt like I lost so many years in the sense of relating to other students with the age gap." - Charles Scott
He became fascinated with the brain's workings and the factors dictating triggers that alter those states. His head injury made him start to consider the possibility of the built environment being the root cause of his sensitivity.
These triggers entail working in offices versus at home, Scott went on. He pursued architecture to access the machines that test the frequency of different rooms.
“I wanted to know what I was going through after I went through this dark period and had become very isolated. Then, all I HAD was research.” Scott thought, “Some people might think of impairment as a disadvantage, but from an optimistic perspective, it could be your biggest advantage because you see things differently.”
Scott believes everything has a frequency… down to your brainwave cycles. A high beta frequency, or a fight-or-flight state of mind, is opposite an alpha frequency, which lends the brain more ideas and critical thinking skills. Scott believes tweaking the triggers of such frequencies at the architectural level is an innovative method to tune the space to the mind. As Scott coins it, this fine-tuned “Architectural Resonance” is part of a more extensive web of somatic exploration that he calls “Neuro-Architecture.”
“The capabilities are endless when you think about it,” Scott grinned. “If you master it, you could design a room or a building structure around this resonance. You can design anything, you know? A zip code could be the very thing holding you back. The implications are far too great for me to turn my back on.”
At this point, education for Scott is merely for personal inquiry.
“For graduation, I’m happy to check off the milestone,” Scott noted, “but for me, education will never end.”
“I think it's pretty inspiring. I've overcome a lot to get to where I’m at. If I give somebody a little piece of hope to keep them going, then great,” Scott said when reflecting on his career path and the life he’d never seen possible 25 years ago.
Scott is already considering pursuing his Ph.D. to explore architectural resonance further. He sees great value in the demographic impact it might have on humanity and the future of architecture.
“Now I’m moving onto the next chapter. Perhaps M.I.T., Yale, or Harvard. Perhaps my research will help many live harmoniously within their environment… wouldn’t that be something?”
For his academic journey, Scott would like to thank his role models, Chris Cornelius, Michaele Pride, Rodney Bowe, and the teaching staff at UNM’s School of Architecture & Planning department.
“I truly thank them for not giving up on me and making an extra effort to make me feel welcomed and valued as a Lob. I never told them of my circumstances, yet they always took care of me without judgment. Their support has definitely helped me reach my goal. Thank you all so much.”