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Experiences: The AIA National Convention’s Networking Opportunities Lead to a Job Offer for a New Graduate

About Melissa Rodríguez, Assoc. AIA: Originally from San Juan, P.R., Melissa Rodríguez moved to the United States to pursue a BArch at Penn State University. Melissa explored the notion of cultural identity, leading her to become the co-founder and vice-president of the National Organization of Minority Architecture Students (NOMAS). She also joined the Penn State International Dance Ensemble (PSIDE). These experiences helped drive her thesis on the physical expression of culture in Puerto Rico. Currently, Melissa lives in Baltimore, where she is working as an intern architect at Design Collective, Inc., with the goal of becoming a licensed architect.

We first met Melissa in Washington, D.C., during the AIA 2012 National Convention, where the networking opportunities available helped her land her first job. View the first interview here.

Melissa, you attended the AIA 2012 National Convention in Washington, D.C., where you were hired by Design Collective. Can you explain how that happened?

Thanks to the sponsorship of Curt Marshall, Coordinator of Multicultural Programs at Penn State, I was able to attend the convention. I had high hopes that Luis Bernardo, a principal with Design Collective (with whom I had interviewed previously), would be in attendance as well. Luis agreed to meet with me for lunch. It turned out to be a second interview.

At that moment, our conversation took a turn from the day’s events to work-related and firm-related aspirations for myself and for the future of Design Collective.

Afterwards, he disclosed that his intentions were for me to be the next intern architect at the firm. Within the next five minutes, Luis offered me the job and explained the details of the contract.

Apart from the networking opportunities that led to you being hired, what value did you find in attending?

I found great value in observing the interaction between the presenters and the attendees. I was able to see how a topic led to questions and conversations. To me, that experience was extremely valuable—helping me begin to understand how architects view an issue and what types of questions matter to them.

Since this was your first convention you’ve attended, what surprised you? How did attending the convention change your view of the profession?

I was amazed at the number of concurrent sessions the convention offered—some of them extremely focused on uncommon topics. It was a great learning experience to see how things I was taught are developed in the professional field. Also, some of what I was learning was supplemented by manufacturers at the Design Exposition. Having never been to an expo, it was a real eye-opener to see details I had been drawing in school.

You’ve been with Design Collective now for four months. Can you share some details about the projects you’ve worked on?

Since my first day, I have been part of the Inmar design team. Inmar is a 240,000 square-foot adaptive use (core and shell) renovation that will transform an old tobacco warehouse in Durham, N.C., into a state-of-the-art office building that will accommodate 1,000 employees for a national technology company.

I started in this project in schematic design, and we are now beginning the construction documents stage. I have also worked on smaller projects on the side. These are mostly pocket renovations and task orders where my assignments typically last a few days at a time.

Compared to architects who graduated 20, 15, or even 10 years ago, today's graduates begin their careers with a stronger foundation in the fields of building information modeling and building science. How has your training in those fields helped in your day-to-day work?

By the time I graduated, I wasn’t a guru using BIM software and tools, but I did felt comfortable with my skills. During my first day at work, I was introduced to the Inmar project—the model contains many linked files and is divided into various construction phases. If not for my building science background and instructive co-workers, I cannot begin to imagine how much longer it would have taken me to decipher the project.

Belonging to a 3D- and BIM-savvy generation means that we can often advise more senior teammates who are not as comfortable or proficient with BIM programs. It has been an advantageous, albeit unexpected, opportunity to learn
architectural/structural/mechanical/electrical/plumbing details and note coordination that I otherwise may not have been exposed to immediately after graduation.

The AIA places an emphasis on the needs of emerging professionals—the future of the profession. Which AIA services and resources have you found useful as a practitioner beginning your career?

I place the AIA National Convention at the top of available resources. The AIA hosts interesting lectures that I like to attend as well. However, since I do not own a car, I have to plan time for these lectures carefully. I would also like to see the AIA giving more aid to recent graduates in the architectural profession, especially employment resources.

New members of the AIA receive a free registration to the 2013 AIA National Convention. What would you say to colleagues who are considering becoming a member and attending the convention?

There is not much to think about—new graduates receive free membership for a year and all new architect and associate members are offered free registration to the AIA National Convention. Receiving an offer from my dream office was the highlight for me, but there is a lot more to the experience. The convention is filled with educational and networking opportunities.

It is intimidating to walk up to strangers and talk, but it is what we are there for and it is worth the effort. Consequently, one gains confidence and self-fulfillment by participating in the AIA National Convention. Therefore, don’t hesitate and give it a try. You have nothing to lose and a lot to gain.



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Member Spotlight

Melissa Rodríguez, Assoc. AIA
Design Collective, Inc.
601 East Pratt Street
Baltimore, MD 21202

Phone: 410-685-6655

Design Collective is an award-
winning multi-disciplinary
design firm with a diverse
portfolio of successful projects
throughout the United States
and abroad. The firm offers
expertise and national
leadership in the disciplines of
architecture, planning, urban
design, landscape architecture,
interior design and
sustainability, ensuring
comprehensive design


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