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Hired on the Spot

A recent graduate of Penn State’s five-year architecture program, Melissa Rodríguez, Assoc. AIA, took a nontraditional approach to getting hired and landed her first job at the AIA 2012 National Convention.

Why did you attend the AIA 2012 National Convention?

My advisor, Curt Marshall, offered several students the opportunity to attend the convention. Two of us had just graduated so the conference presented a key networking opportunity.

My main goals were to meet other architects and establish new relationships. After convention, I planned to contact them about upcoming job opportunities. 

You were hired at convention. What was your approach?

I first met representatives from Design Collective at a career fair. They offered me an on-site interview in Baltimore, and we had a great conversation. At that time they were looking for someone who had more experience and asked me to stay in touch.

When I found out I was going to the AIA National Convention, I emailed my contact to see if he would be there. We met for lunch, which turned into a second interview and a job offer.

Tell us about your new position.

I am extremely excited about working at Design Collective as an intern architect. I feel lucky because the firm’s culture and design philosophy are exactly what I was looking for.

The office also has a great city location. It’s in Baltimore's Power Plant, a renovation project the firm worked on.

How has your program prepared you for real-world practice?

I just graduated from Penn State with a Bachelor of Architecture. The program reinforces the importance of diversity in its students, professors, and projects by providing an array of software and model-making tools that are used to best reflect each student’s project.

My classes gave me real-world experience in architectural engineering, contracts, and sustainable design because I had to relate them to my thesis project.

The cornerstone of your thesis is how culture and creating an atmosphere that represents a culture intersect. How does this influence your work?

A site or building should reflect an area’s cultural atmosphere and distinctive features.

My thesis involved designing a transitional experience that would welcome tourists to a destination. The project site was a historical district in San Juan, Puerto Rico, a popular destination for cruise ship passengers. A focus was reinterpreting historical details in a more contemporary way.

What advice do you have for recent graduates who are looking for their next opportunity?

Be persistent and stay in touch with your contacts and the firms you apply to. The convention gave me an opportunity to reconnect in person with my new boss, and I think this was a key factor in getting hired.


Melissa Rodríguez, Assoc. AIA


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