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Bridging the Gap from Education to Practice: NAC Recap of FORUM 2009
Each year an AIAS Chapter hosts FORUM, the annual meeting and global gathering of architecture students. This year, the National Associates Committee (NAC) sent four of its Regional Associate Directors to FORUM in Minneapolis, MN to engage the students through a seminar on transitioning from school to practice in a tough economy, and to listen to what the students ideas, issues and concerns are, so that their needs and questions might be addressed in the NAC’s strategic plans for the coming year. The NAC recognizes the importance of embracing the voice of students, as they are soon to be associate members looking for the same support from their profession that the AIAS provided them as a student.
The NAC is comprised of an Executive Board and three committees, including; Advocacy, Communications, and Knowledge and Programming. Each of these committees and the Executive Board were represented at FORUM, and wanted to share some thoughts on how the conversations and initiatives brought forth by the students, reflected those of the NAC.
Ashley Clark, Clarice Sollog, Benjamin Burgin and Tu-Anh Bui at AIAS Forum 2009
by Ashley Clark, Assoc. AIA, South Atlantic Region RAD
Although many attendees of FORUM are getting ready to graduate into one of the worst job markets we’ve seen this century, spirits were high and I left Minneapolis feeling extremely excited about the future of our profession. The AIAS did an excellent job in highlighting all of the incredibly exciting things that are happening to our profession right now, and the innovative work that is being done in many parts of the country. I think that this recession is providing the AIA with an opportunity to promote the value of the architect to society. With so many professionals taking opportunities to use their skills in alternative ways, there is that much more exposure of their value to other professions. I think it is time for us to see that the skills provided to graduates of architecture programs give them tools to be nimble in a tough economy, and to be creative problem solvers who can apply their knowledge in a variety of situations. While dwindling registration numbers are a concern, I think that we need to support the career diversity of our profession, and use this as an opportunity to celebrate and promote the abilities of architects to society as a whole.
by Clarice Sollog, Assoc. AIA, Florida and Caribbean RAD
The theme for FORUM this year was “Connections”. I observed all possible interpretations of the theme throughout the conference. The key-note speakers highlighted several of the many different ways humans connect to, interact with and are influenced by architecture and the built environment. Students were building relationships with their peers, re-kindling and forming new friendships, networking with professionals and most importantly connecting with and growing within their profession.
I had the opportunity to engage in conversations with many attendees that were involved at all different levels within the AIAS. It did not matter if they were first time attendees, chapter leaders, graduate students, or preparing to graduate; their eagerness to learn from each other and not hesitate to ask questions of practicing professionals was inspiring. The communication element of the overarching theme was apparent. There were many discussions about successful means of communication and sharing information. Methods ranged from social networking and electronic communication to face to face meetings and print media. Students seem very willing and interested in sharing ideas and information; an element that seems to diminish as one advances in the profession.
This open dialogue observed during FORUM should encourage the AIA and NAC to collaborate with students and the AIAS. A strong alliance could provide important perspectives and creative approaches to problems the profession is facing. The topics of how best to promote communication and determining what information is pertinent to share should be a high priority. Establishing the means to foster a fluid dialogue and continue to connect and build relationships would be invaluable, not only to students but also associates and AIA members.
As these students embark on the next stage of their career, entering one of the most daunting and competitive job markets, providing them with information and forums for discussion that satisfy their needs and appeal to their creativity has the potential to maintain a high level of engagement and encourage membership in the Institute.
by Benjamin Burgin, Assoc. AIA, Mid Atlantic RAD
From an advocacy perspective, the gifts and talents of the students I spoke with at FORUM are far from being utilized to their full potential. When it comes to including students and other young professionals in national advocacy efforts related to the profession I often hear motives for doing so stopping at their ability to use modern technology. These aims not only underestimate the contribution potential of these members but also send an exclusive, even if unintentional, message about their value to the profession. I witnessed in Minneapolis a group of forward-thinking students that were highly organized, extremely adaptive, and efficient with resources. All of these qualities reveal a creative cognitive mindset that is unbounded by the realities of cost and schedule which, by there nature, have a tendency to inhibit those of us in practice. I would encourage my fellow practitioners to move beyond simply agreeing with such statements as “students are important because they are the future of the profession” to action; exploring ways to engage them while they are still students. This is especially true in regard to advocacy not only because of the positive impact they can have but also because these students are very interested in helping shape the profession they will soon enter.
by Tu-Anh Bui, Assoc. AIA, North Central RAD
The NAC Knowledge Committee focuses on maintaining high quality programming for associates as well as AIA and AIAS members. Overall, the programs at FORUM were excellent, not only for students but for all attendants. The key note speakers were well selected and from many diverse backgrounds. This allows the students to have a holistic look at our profession. Most of the students that I have talked to appreciated this exposure to not only the field of architecture but on the influence that architecture as a profession has on the community at large.
During the break-out sessions at the Council of Presidents and our Graduation: What Happens Next?!? sessions, the students expressed the need for more information regarding internship and networking. In addition, most of the students lack the understanding of what the NAC is and what we are pursuing within the Institute. These conversations will help us craft more thoughtful events and initiatives to enhance the NAC’s presence at NAAB accredited colleges as well as K-12 schools.
The energy and camaraderie within the students during the General Sessions’ roll-call really set the tone for the conference. FORUM was an active and invigorating experience for all four of us, and we have learned some great programmatic lessons for future Grassroots and Convention sessions.
For pictures and more information and pictures from AIAS Forum 2009 Minnesota, please visit: http://www.aias.org/forum09/