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AIA Components Expand Opportunities for Emerging Professionals

by Marilyn Kornfeld

AIA components around the country are helping emerging professionals develop their careers by providing networking and social opportunities, community involvement, Architectural Registration Examination (ARE) preparation, and most importantly, a voice at the table to influence the direction and the future of their profession. The College of Fellows is assisting with a small grants fund to help components in developing programs for young architects and associates.

“Six years ago, even before the current economic downturn, our board of directors made a serious commitment to focus more energy and resources to support emerging professionals,” says Sidney Sweeney, executive director of AIA East Bay, where two out of 11 slots on the board of directors are reserved for associate directors, one specifically representing licensure-track members.

Michele White, director of communications and public relations for AIA Florida, says it’s been important to include their associate director at the executive planning level of the board to help develop the state’s five-year plan. In addition, associate members are now included in the delegate count to the AIA Annual Convention, along with architect and emeritus members.

As a result of increased strategic involvement by associates, AIA Florida recently changed its approach to the annual state conference. Instead of holding a separate event for emerging professionals, they are now invited to the state conference, thus giving associates more opportunity to network with firm principals, practicing architects, and other leaders in the profession. In addition, a special licensure track was incorporated into the conference program.

Breaking down silos among students, interns, emerging professionals, sole proprietors, architects, and emeritus members is happening across the country.

“AIA Wisconsin events are open to members in all career stages. Some of our most successful events attract emeritus members, practicing architects, and interns, creating dynamic conversations and bridging generations and skill sets,” says Brenda Taylor, Assoc. AIA, communications manager for AIA Wisconsin, which has two associate representatives on their state board, “offering the opportunity to provide input at leadership meetings from emerging professionals.”

Mark Behm, Assoc. AIA, an associate with Mancini Duffy in New York City, embodies this holistic approach to networking and career development. Behm is working hard to pass the ARE and serves as an associate director of AIA New York where he’s co-chaired the professional practice committee for the past four years. He also works with ACE, mentoring high school students and with the Emerging New York Architects (ENYA) committee.

Behm encourages emerging professionals, students, and interns alike to get involved with the AIA, to both “reach back” and serve as a mentor, and to seek information and guidance from established architects before they retire from the profession. (Indiana’s Young Architects Forum reached out to seasoned pros this month at their fifth annual event, Asking the Successful How They Arrived.)

Of course, recent graduates and interns continue to come to their AIA local components with the question: How do I get licensed? Components offer a wide array of resources to help them survive the ARE and to untangle state licensure and IDP requirements—including lending libraries, study guides, practice materials, direct access to NCARB/IDP representatives, and discounts on ARE prep courses and workshops.

Components nationwide report an uptick in signups for the ARE, and they are stepping up to meet this demand, which in turn fuels associate membership growth. In New York City, for example, associates are the fastest growing member category. Since its inception last spring, 680 interns have attended the highly successful Emerging New York Architect ARE Boot Camp and 70 attendees who were not already members joined AIANY as new associates.

Megan Sterling Chusid, Assoc. AIA, and director of operations at Richter+Ratner in New York, is the former co-chair of the ENYA committee. She played a key role designing the ARE Boot Camp series and says she is even more proud of recent board approval of the First Annual ENYA Merit Award that recognizes the significant contributions of interns by rewarding them upon completion by reimbursing them for exam fees. The ENYA Merit Award recognizes outstanding achievement in the creation of programs for interns, associates, and emerging architect members of the New York chapter.

Connecting with communities

The overarching mission of many committees for emerging professionals, beyond producing relevant programming and giving them a voice, is to “build connective tissue” locally and across the state among students, young architects, and licensed members, through regional forums, outreach, and other activities, says Gray Dougherty, AIA, an associate at Dougherty + Dougherty Architects in Oakland and vice president for the Academy of Emerging Professionals (AEP) of the AIA California Council.

AEP is reaching out to state licensing boards and establishing quarterly meetings. “We’re hoping to develop a regular, ongoing conversation to address requirements for licensure, education, and other regulatory issues,” he says. Recently revised state licensing requirements and increased licensure fees are current topics of conversation.

AIA Florida also helps ensure good communication and NCARB/IDP coverage for the 13 components in the state. “It’s important to have a consistent message from Gainesville to Tampa to Miami,” White says.

Lisa O’Donnell, marketing and outreach manager at AIA Florida, is the dedicated staff liaison to their IDP and emerging professionals efforts, supporting volunteers and ensuring the biggest return on their time and energy investment. As with many other components, AIA Florida also coordinates with NCARB to host licensure programs for students at architecture schools.

Connecting with communities and social activism are extremely important to emerging professionals. “It’s important for [the] AIA and architects to take more of a leadership role on social issues,” Dougherty says, adding that the AEP is organizing statewide, issues-based forums. Taking a cue from the new partnership between the California Architectural Foundation and Woodbury University, the first such forum will convene in July around the topic “Water in the West,” at the Arid Lands Institute, bringing together practicing architects, students and associates from around the state to discuss solutions to this critical issue.

AIA Atlanta’s Young Architects Forum—described by executive director Susan Proper as “on-the-ball, organized, successful and highly motivated”—is extremely active in Atlanta and is helping to preserve the 28-year old Marcel Breuer designed Central Library of Atlanta by organizing a photo competition and exhibit, “YAF10: Envisioning Breuer,” which challenges student and professional photographers to creatively capture images of the building, says competition organizer Shelly-Anne Scott, Assoc. AIA, an intern architect at Leo A Daily Co.

One-on-one, networking, and mentoring

Other programs and services for emerging professionals include targeted newsletters and websites, social networking (Facebook fan pages and photo sharing), non-building design competitions, and increased programming for sole proprietors who have recently struck out on their own.

Wisconsin associates host “sketch hours” to improve drawing skills and organize building tours, featuring architect members and followed by networking socials. Speed mentoring (think speed dating) is also popular, giving students, interns and Associates an opportunity to explore different mentoring styles and get a better idea of how a mentor can help them develop professionally.

Of course, sometimes helping emerging professionals is as simple as sitting down with someone who comes to the component office with a lot of questions and confusion. A key priority for staff in the East Bay and other components is spending time one-on-one, answering these questions and untangling a maze of career options and professional and licensure requirements.

“In the long run, those 20 minutes spent sitting down and helping someone ends up becoming the door that opens their long-term relationship with the profession and the AIA,” Sweeney says.


At AIA Florida’s Annual Convention in 2009, students from local universities shadowed architect members throughout the event. Photos courtesy of AIA Florida.

AIA Wisconsin’s emerging professionals sponsored a gingerbread house building contest to raise awareness and funds for the community. Photo courtesy of AIA Wisconsin.

Speed mentoring for emerging professionals at AIA Wisconsin. Photo courtesy of AIA Wisconsin.

ARE Structures class at AIANY. Photo courtesy of AIANY.

AIA San Mateo County may be a small component, but it boasts a wide variety of programs and resources for its 17 Associate members.


Back to AIArchitect July 30, 2010 Issue

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