Professionally, it is a serious summer drought for in-person connections with other designers, and the incoming autumn has a foreboding forecast. Fewer internships, fewer spontaneous conversations, fewer professional relationships formed. For students seeing an architecture office for the first time outside the studio bubble, or young designers trying to learn and contribute to their workplace, the challenge of finding meaningful upward-facing relationships presents a real problem for our ongoing professional development.

In this environment, finding mentors is so critical for us as young designers trying to steer ourselves toward our short- and long-term professional goals. Earlier this summer, AIA Virginia launched a statewide mentoring program called Operation Reach-Retain-Develop, pairing architectural students with design professionals across the state due to the pandemic-induced dearth of internships and networking opportunities. At its best, successful mentoring is both intentional (such as AIA VA’s ongoing program) and organic, so here are a few questions you can consider as you approach a potential mentoring relationship:

  • Who are those I admire, both personally and professionally, from whom I might like to learn from?
  • What are the values you might share with your mentor? How might they help you cultivate those values and qualities?
  • Do you want a mentor in your firm, or outside of it?
  • How can I make it easy for the mentor to say “yes” to meeting?
  • What is an aspect of practice or design that you don’t understand well that a mentor might help you with?
  • How do each of you unplug? What are things you both enjoy outside of the office?
  • How might a mentor serve as a reflection for how others perceive you?
  • Who are other great people your mentor might introduce you to?

As a young professional, having mentors has dramatically shaped and elevated my early career. Mentors have provided reassurance when I was overwhelmed with the pressures and learning curve of studio and my first job. Mentors have tapped me for opportunities like the Emerging Leaders in Architecture program, when I would not have thought to reach out on my own. Mentors have provided advice, recommendation letters, and wisdom over lunch booths and coffee cups, as well as the warm friendship cultivated by intentional time together. While mentoring—at its best—is a two-way street, I have always felt like I gained far more than I could ever give.

If you are interested in finding a mentor but are not sure where to start, feel free to reach out, and we can work together to find you the support you need, wherever you might be.

In solidarity and action,
Michael Spory, Associate AIA

Just a Few Fun Things to Click On

Something to Peruse at Lunch: AIA National just released their revised 2020 Policy Platform, which focuses on the changing landscape of our future economy, climate action, and healthy and vibrant communities. Advocacy at every level begins here: educating ourselves on where we can put our money, time, and attention. 

Something to Listen In On: AIA Virginia is facilitating a  free panel discussion on Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2020 at 4 p.m. about the design of a new Memorial to Enslaved Laborers (MEL) on the grounds of the University of Virginia. Learn about the robust community engagement process, including descendants of the enslaved and how the shared vision informed each element of the Memorial’s design. This event is SOLD OUT but the recording will be available on their YouTube channel.

Get licensed this year: $50 2-month subscriptions to the Amber book are still available here thanks to scholarship funding made possible through a grant from The Branch Museum of Architecture & Design.

Some dates for your calendar: Take special note of your calendar on November AIA Virginia’s signature annual gatherings (ArchEX, Design Forum, Visions for Architecture Gala) are going virtual this fall under the umbrella of Foresight 2020–with lots of great (and discounted) options for educational, professional, and networking programs during the entire month of November. Take special note of the speaker lineup for Design Forum on Thursday, November 5–it’s going to be a good one, with presentations from partner Kristen Murray from Olson Kundig and David Lewis from LTL Architects, with a keynote from Steven Holl himself. Registration opens in just a few days–stay tuned!

Something to keep in your Google tab: This spreadsheet was started by designer Dong-Ping Wong, and it is a growing list of BIPOC firms across the nation. If you have a firm in Virginia that is not on this list–add it! He also specifically created it as a job-application resource for young designers of different races and ethnicities looking for BIPOC-led firms, so it also serves as a hiring resource.