Emerging professionals talk mentorship with Institute leaders
Three architecture mentors share their thoughts on building strong relationships in the profession.
Nancy Ludwig, FAIA, is president and senior principal at ICON and currently serves as the 2018 AIA New England College of Fellows representative chair. Jason Winters, AIA, is founding principal of Kezlo Group, immediate past moderator of the AIA Strategic Council, and 2019-2020 AIA Board of Directors Secretary. Ben Kasdan, AIA, is director of design at KTGY Group and 2018 First Vice President/President-elect of AIA California Council. Having held positions at various levels of the Institute and within practice, these three AIA members have strong leadership experience. Drawing from their different backgrounds and career stages, they each offer inspiration for emerging professionals seeking to get ahead.
Why are you a mentor? Was there an event or a person that inspired you to give back to those coming up in the profession?
Ben Kasdan, AIA: I could not imagine being in the profession and not being a mentor. Architecture requires a constant process of learning, and architects are typically great teachers. Fortunately, a lot of great people have taken their time to graciously share their knowledge with me throughout my entire career—and my whole life, for that matter. My architecture mentors include a variety of people, from my high school drafting teacher to supervisors at KTGY and fellow AIA members. I try to emulate those role models as I share my knowledge and experience with others.
Jason Winters, AIA: My father taught for 37 years, so mentorship is in our blood. There is personal satisfaction for me watching people succeed, grow, and evolve, academically and professionally. In the past, mentorship was not so out in the open and ever-present as it is today. I did not have a specific mentor; I had to aggressively align myself with people I wanted to learn from. From my perspective, mentorship has completely changed for the better. A cultural and social shift has occurred, and it is now at the forefront of academia and professional practice. Ideas in firm culture and leadership are shifting with the next generation of the workforce.
Nancy Ludwig, FAIA: When I was in high school, I was very involved in the arts. I applied to several engineering programs and was accepted into Purdue Engineering School. One of my art instructors, Sylvia, found out and was really taken aback. She met with me and said, “I don’t know if engineering will really fulfill all of your strengths.” She set up meetings for me and I eventually chose to pursue architecture. She changed my life. If she had not intervened, I would be doing something else. I will always take time to help anybody, answer questions, and make connections for people because of the example she set.
What does mentoring mean to you? Is the definition changing?
Winters: The definition of mentorship is more of a friendship or family relationship for me. It is not just bestowing knowledge or giving away your time. It is sharing knowledge and experience so that both parties can benefit. Initially, mentoring is identifying potential in someone and helping them fulfill that. I try to surround myself with people I admire and want to be around; that includes mentees. It is rewarding to look at someone you’ve mentored, see their successes, and know that you helped that happen in some small way.
Ludwig: I think mentorship is constantly evolving. You have to pay it forward to the next person and the next generation. Mentorship continues to change with the different people that come in and out of your life.
Kasdan: Mentorship is just a form of relationship. Not all relationships can be all things in all situations, which is why I have many mentors myself. In addition, I do not believe that mentorship is an arrow, but a circle. I learn as much from the people that I mentor as they learn from me.
Apart from post-graduation, when else is it important to have a mentor?
Winters: Mentorship is critical in both high school and college. Today, students have to decide early on what their strengths are and where their interests lie. Their career paths are being planned out so much earlier. This is why K-12 initiatives are so beneficial to our talent pipeline. By introducing architecture to younger students, and turning STEM programs into STEAM programs, architecture becomes a real option. We have to be there early; otherwise, it will be too late to attract the most talented students to our profession.
What traits do you consider important when seeking a mentor or mentee? How do you learn to be a better mentor?
Kasdan: Great mentors are generous, patient, and inspiring.
Ludwig: I think if you are looking for a mentor, they should represent some kind of aspiration. That doesn’t mean they have to be in the same career as you. They should have traits that you would like to imbue one day. When looking for a mentee, look for someone that wants help and who has a desire to learn.
Winters: I learned to mentor through a series of growth moments. Mentoring is a lot like parenting; there are a thousand ways to do it, with only a handful of them being wrong. The key is that mentors consider mentees’ time to be as valuable as their own. If that is not the case, the appropriate mindset is not there. You must be willing to give up your time for the benefit of someone else.
What questions should mentees ask mentors? What questions should mentors ask mentees?
Ludwig: Our profession has so many tracks that a person can follow: programming, design, construction administration. In time, you find out where your strengths lie, where your interests are, and what really gives you joy each day. As soon as you can hone in on that and get focused, you become a stronger and more capable architect and person. To get there, mentees can ask questions like: What do you see as my strengths? Are there things I can do now so I can grow? What are the organizations I should get involved in? When building a career, it is super important to develop a group of connections. Successful architects are ones who develop relationships, get projects, and maintain those connections.
Where should someone start looking for help getting involved or finding connections through AIA?
Winters: Look to your local chapter leadership to connect you with resources. From there, your landscape broadens and you can find someone that had similar experiences or is going through the same thing right now. You have to proactively go out and find what you need. Mentorship and opportunities will not just fall in your lap. Just like everything else in life, it is imperative to be aggressive in pursuing goals and objectives.
Visit the Center for Emerging Professionals for more information and resources to help you grow in your career.
Betsy Nolen, Assoc. AIA; Stephanie Herring, Assoc. AIA; and Megan Dougherty, AIA, are current and former members of the National Associates Committee, an AIA member group committed to serving Associate members.
Courtesy of ICON Architecture