To build a more diverse profession, scholarship programs give architecture students a helping hand

African-American male teaching an African-American female and Latino male student in a library.

This article was developed and written prior to recent worldwide protests and demonstrations in response to racial injustice and discrimination.  The American Institute of Architects support and are committed to efforts to ensure that our profession is part of the solution that finally dismantles systemic racial injustice and violence.

Though many architects and organizations like AIA strive to break down the barriers to entering the profession, those barriers still exist. One is money; not every student has the financial means to pursue an architecture degree, let alone to embark down the long path to licensure.

That’s where scholarships come in. For years, the Architects Foundation has been offering scholarships, fellowships, grants, and prizes. Currently, they run eight programs aimed at students, young professionals, and those underrepresented in architecture.

“It’s certainly evolved into a multifaceted, multipronged approach,” said R. Steven Lewis, FAIA, vice president of the foundation. “But we always keep the ultimate goal out in front: to increase the number of students entering the profession successfully and to broaden diversity within the profession by supporting students through a variety of different scholarships.”

The most well-known is the Diversity Advancement Scholarship, which provides up to $20,000 over five years for students enrolled in a NAAB-accredited architecture program. In discussing the impact the scholarship had on her quest to become an architect, 2020 graduate Sophie Chien said, “This scholarship gave me the self- and financial confidence necessary to thrive in the breakneck pace of architecture school and reminded me that my experience honors the people who have come before me and the people that come after me."

Of course, the Architects Foundation is not the only organization offering assistance to future architects in need. Lewis is also a member of the National Organization of Minority Architects, which has a foundation of its own – formed in 1976 – that seeks to widen the pipeline into the profession. In particular, their NOMA Foundation Fellowship looks to transform not only the students who are invited to participate but the firms as well.

The 25 firms currently involved in the Fellowship program all engage students for a 12-week paid summer internship and assign them a research project. The students get to immerse themselves in firm culture, and the firms ultimately receive a useful deliverable from an emerging professional. Lewis saw the positive results firsthand when he worked at ZGF in Los Angeles.

“The firm had roughly 100 people in the LA office, and before these students started coming in and influencing the culture, a black kid might get off the elevator and easily be mistaken for just some delivery person,” he said. “But because these kids rocked it so hard, now when a black kid walks off the elevator, everyone assumes he or she is there to bring their unique talents to the firm. It’s the kind of culture change that we need.”

Rewarding students who focus on both architecture and their community

Mike Enomoto, FAIA, also deeply values the positive effect of a scholarship or fellowship on the life of a student or young professional. As the former president of the Asian American Architects and Engineers Association (AAa/e) and current member of their foundation’s board of directors, Enomoto and his peers are always on the hunt for students who love architecture and want to give back to the community around them.

“I believe both talent and need should be considered when giving a scholarship,” he said. “That’s how AAa/e does it; we ask our applicants to write about not only why they deserve the scholarship but also their involvement in the Asian community. It’s more than just the projects or the artwork they show us. It’s about who they are as people and how our scholarship can assist them in achieving our shared goals.”

AAa/e currently offers scholarships to high school, community college, undergraduate and graduate students, along with grants to help students pay off their loans.

“We’ve already received more than 80 applications this year,” he said, though the COVID-19 pandemic has forced their in-person fundraiser to be canceled and limited the foundation to accepting donations.

When Enomoto served on the 2019 jury for the Diversity Advancement Scholarship, he was shocked by the even larger amount of applications the Architects Foundation received. Because AAa/e focuses on Asian Americans, Enomoto often gets to know his scholarship recipients personally and follows them throughout their careers, an opportunity he treasures.

“I’ve seen the results,” he said. “I know people who’ve received our scholarships and made it into the profession. I can give you several names off the top of my head. I’ve seen the fruits of our labor, seen them become successful, and it’s really great.”

“Scholarship programs like the ones offered by AAa/e and the Architects Foundation, they contribute to bringing us all together,” he added, “and they help perpetuate our profession in the appropriate way.”

As the philanthropic partner of The American Institute of Architects, the Architects Foundation attracts, inspires and invests in a next-generation design community through scholarships and exhibitions. The Architects Foundation owns the historic Octagon building in the nation’s capital, activating the space to demonstrate the value architects and architecture bring to culture.

The AIA is committed to celebrating the many cultures and heritages that represent the architecture profession. Embracing Our Differences, Changing the World is a series aimed to celebrate members that break the mold, shatter glass ceilings, and overcome preconceived implicit biases.

Image credits

African-American male teaching an African-American female and Latino male student in a library.

Getty

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