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Emerging Professionals Questions for AIA National Election Candidates

Don Brown, FAIA (AIA Montgomery) Candidate for AIA 2015 First Vice President/2016 President

1. What are specific examples of things you have done in your own professional activities and in your local component to build future leaders and promote active participation in the AIA by emerging professionals?

You lead by example because actions matter. Personally and professionally, I have either established or sponsored leadership development roles by young professionals at every level of the AIA.

As a chapter president, I established the first position of Intern Director in my state. As state president, I created the first similar position. Emerging professionals in my office have held the chapter and state positions. In webcasts I wrote and moderated for AIA Advocacy for several years I always paired a seasoned architect with an emerging professional to present the range of positions and excitement on the issue of advocacy and sustainability. In my ArchiPAC chair role, I worked with emerging professional leadership to develop partnerships in every state between our senior advocacy champions and young professionals. In my current Vice President leadership role, I have created a means of connecting our Knowledge Communities to emerging professional volunteers. In my own office, I have fully sponsored participation at our national conventions by my associates. In our local community, we have fully sponsored several associates in Leadership Montgomery, and other civic leadership opportunities.

Elevating opportunities at every turn for the next generation of leadership is just the smart thing to do.

2. Where do you see voids in representation of emerging professionals within the Institute and the profession, and how could filling those voids improve career development for emerging professionals in general?

The voids we all know in the profession are from the downturn of employment of younger professionals from 2008-2013. As a person on the Executive Committee for a major university architecture program, I have seen a decline of applicants due to the job market. This is beginning to turn, but this void will show up in firm leadership.

AIA participation by younger professionals has lessened because firms typically sponsored dues and time for participation. I have been surprised by many emerging professionals mentioning to me privately that they are discouraged by their firms from participating in AIA leadership or personal development roles.

Our role in AIA leadership is to share decision making and activity at every level in order to grow the next generation of leadership. An important first step is always to ask for advice from emerging professionals and listen. This is a top priority today and should continue to be.

Further, AIA should continue to offer its resources to attract and retain the interest of emerging professionals. For example, I have come to fully appreciate the wisdom our Knowledge Communities make available to our members. Access to and use of this incredible resource can be a wonderful career development opportunity.

3. While the National Design Services Act is one step, how else can the AIA take leadership in reducing the problem of skyrocketing tuition and student loan debt, and the non-linear relationship these have to low early-career salaries that are saddling our profession’s emerging professionals with significant financial hardship?

This is a tough question, and the predicament covers more than just our academic field. I have listened for several years as a board member for a school, and see the escalating costs as well as limits on raising them. They have crept up, but there are natural ceilings on further hikes. The leveler has been the available scholarships, grants, and low cost loans that top institutions produce through work with industry and alumni. There are some lower cost institutions within Design Intelligence’s listing of top schools. Schools can and should assist with work opportunities. Students must weigh all the above when they make school choices. I worked all the way through school which made it financially possible for me.

    But what about job pay? In my lifetime, except in the most vigorous economy, entry level compensation has never matched our expectations. But my experience is that young professionals can quickly prove their value and increase both responsibility and reward. That’s where AIA resources can be an invaluable asset. For example, the work being done now by Small Firm Roundtable has enormous potential to provide early practice help for those just starting out either under others or for themselves.

4. In what ways do you see the AIA more effectively educating the public on the importance of good design?

Educating the public about the value of good design and the role architects play is a constant opportunity. It requires a response both qualitatively and quantitatively.

We must seek and use the right examples of great work and connect it to added value. We must use language the public understands. Our AIA initiative on design and health is intended to generate an awareness of the positive impact on public health by evidenced-based design. Our designs for smart considerations for energy, materials, and resiliency will have a positive reaction from the public if we engage and collaborate in public processes where we can add value. Civic engagement is a powerful tool. The AIA must support our champions at every level with knowledge and best practice examples.

Secondly, we must repeat the messages often. I have been pleasantly surprised lately at the high quantity of positive messaging through the media. Our AIA staff has stepped up very well. We continue to act and tell our story at every opportunity. A month ago, I gave the commencement address at Auburn University and 20,000 people heard the message.

5. Much discussion continues to take place regarding the title of “intern.” With regard to titling and beyond, how would you propose the AIA take action to better describe and empower this essential demographic of our profession?

The first thing to do is to get a consensus from our emerging professional leadership on their recommendations. We board members have recently heard this vigorous discussion. This debate should continue until we have clear recommendations and implementation strategies we can propose within AIA and NCARB. I am told that the title “intern” was suggested to us a couple of decades ago by a similar leadership demographic. I want to get it right this time.

I know that in our daily practice, I have a hard time labeling a talented, highly educated young professional as an “intern.” To clients and the public, we refer to what they do until their registration settles the dilemma. A number of forward thinking NCARB leaders share our desire to more accurately describe our not yet licensed professionals by avoiding the use of a term that implies less capability than possessed.

I am more interested in creating and acknowledging the value of our successor leadership. It should be every architect’s role to mentor her or his replacement. We should share all we know and enjoy the partnership of continuous learning. Every successful office practices this ethic. We need to tell this story.


Back to AIArchitect June 13, 2014

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