Associated Thoughts: Job Shadowing: 3 Benefits + 3 Tips

In my brief time working in the architectural industry, I have seen the power of collaboration. Those in the industry reaching out and helping me become a better professional have been a key to my success. The powerful action of those that are in front of me in their careers is a gift and I am grateful to have their wisdom and advice as I grow professionally. To this end, I was inspired to give back to those coming into the industry behind and beside me. So, this year, I co-founded EmergeAEC (, a platform that supports emerging professionals across architecture, engineering, and construction so that we can build stronger foundations of communication and education across AEC while supporting each other.

This edition of Associated Thoughts is dedicated to the students and emerging professionals looking for that real-world experience in an architecture office and how we, as professionals working in architecture, can better support these future architects through job shadow opportunities.

How to Professionally Prepare Yourself for Becoming an Architect Through Short-Term Job Shadowing Opportunities

Caitlin Morgan, Assoc. AIA, CSI-EP, CDT

Job shadowing, similar to interning, allows students and recent graduates to observe architecture offices and ask questions to figure out where their passion lies within the industry. Unlike internships, however, most job shadow opportunities are more informal consisting of a few meetings. During these encounters, it is important to have a clear learning objective and communicate with your mentor so that both of you can maximize your time in an architectural office.

The first step to finding a job shadowing opportunity is to reach out to architectural firms in your local area, either over email or with a phone call. Look for architects or project managers that you admire and explain that you are a student or recent graduate looking to learn more about architectural firms and day-to-day activities. They may invite you to their office or schedule a Zoom call, but they may also direct you to some online resources about architecture – both are valuable, and don’t be discouraged if you cannot find a mentor immediately.

If architectural firms in your area are scarce, widen your search range and reach out to firms by asking for virtual job shadow opportunities. A thirty-minute Zoom call to ask questions and hear from an architect is more valuable than giving up your search. Having experience with a diverse range of firms will give you a better idea of the kind of firm and the type of work you will enjoy.

Job shadowing allows you to gain experience in an architectural firm by seeing first-hand the typical pace and process for projects coming through the office. You may also have the opportunity to gain experience, such as schematic design, or learn about which software is being used and why, such as AutoCAD, Revit, or SketchUp. Every office and mentor will be different, so here are some benefits and tips for job shadowing that you can tailor to each opportunity.

Benefit 1: Portfolios & Resumes
Take the opportunity to update your portfolio before reaching out to architectural firms so that the architect or project manager has an idea of your design experience. It also serves as a jumping-off point when you do meet with your mentor by discussing your projects and design process thinking. Throughout your time job shadowing, you and your mentor may also develop a practice project that can enhance your portfolio. Any skills or software you learn can also build your resume by showing you have firsthand experience in an office. Learning these skills and software through a short-term job shadow won’t be enough for resume proficiency, but they open the doors to spend time developing those skills on your own time and for future job shadow opportunities.

Benefit 2: Professional Development
Reaching out to an architectural firm is step one to finding a job shadow opportunity, but that first step contains some of the most important lessons in professional development: Initiative and networking. Taking the initiative to develop your professional skills will open doors that others will not know exist because you are creating your own opportunities. When others see that you have the drive to succeed and learn, people will want to help you, and that is where networking comes in. Talk to your professors who may be able to connect you with fellow architecture professionals and take the initiative to reach out and continue building relationships. Once you have found a mentor to work with, brush up on your interviewing skills; Although job shadowing isn’t an internship or job, it’s a lower-stakes opportunity to develop a professional skill that will again benefit your future job searches.

Benefit 3: Sketching Future Plans
Learn what kinds of architectural firms or projects are the best fit for you by experiencing them first-hand. Firms can range in size from one to thousands of employees, and many of these firms can have vastly different structures and work cultures. Other firms may also specialize in specific projects, such as hospitality, education, residential, etc. with different approaches to each type. Architecture has many branches and specializations, so by job shadowing in different office structures, you will not only be networking with experienced architects but also educating yourself on what office culture will best align with your future goals when you begin your job search.

Tip 1: Job shadowing is short-term.
Plan to spend a few days a week maximum with your mentor. Because you are observing, asking questions, and learning, job shadowing is typically unpaid, unless you are working on a project where your time will be billed to a client. Unpaid internships are illegal, so stay aware of any projects you are putting work into by asking questions and having an end goal for your job-shadowing experience, such as a mentor-mentee project.

Tip 2: Develop a project with your mentor.
Mentor-mentee projects are an excellent method for learning about the architectural development process because you are learning over a real-world, though the hypothetical, project. For example, your mentor may pose as a client with specific requirements for their project, and it will be your job to translate what is in their mind into a floorplan and eventually a virtual model. Having a project also serves as a medium for learning new software or applying new skills so that by the end of your job shadowing, you can highlight this project in your portfolio. To make the most of your meetings, try working on your project at home so that you and your mentor can spend more time in-person (or virtually) discussing your project, reviewing questions, and shadowing around the office.

Tip 3: Treat your job shadowing opportunity like a job.
Establish consistency and effective communication with your mentor early on. Communicate your availability, arrive on time, and act professionally in the workplace. Not only is your mentor spending their work time to support you, but you are also building a relationship for future job references or ongoing mentorship opportunities. Job shadowing is not “your job,” but it is a professional development opportunity that is teaching you skills for your future career.

I started job shadowing in high school when I was enrolled in architectural classes at my local technical center. Those opportunities gave me the confidence to reach out to architectural firms in college and earn my first internship, which turned into a full-time designer position when I graduated from college. Not every job shadowing opportunity will turn into a long-term position, but you will learn more about the industry and develop professional skills that will benefit you for years to come.

If I can offer more guidance or connect you with architectural firms across Virginia, please do not hesitate to contact me. Shoot me an email, connect with me on LinkedIn, or DM me on Instagram through EmergeAEC so we can chat. My contact information is below. Additionally, if you are a practicing architecture professional, share this Associated Thoughts with your mentees or on social media so that we can support more students and emerging professionals.

As always, I’m here for you.

Caitlin Morgan, Assoc. AIA, CSI-EP, CDT
Associate Director, AIA Virginia

Instagram: (@)emerge.aec

Associated Thoughts: Design Forum

AIA Virginia’s Design Forum, held this past June 3rd and 4th in Arlington, was the first in-person gathering for design-centric dialogue since its virtual transition in 2020. This year, the theme “South is Up!” featured Latin American designers and architects and the work they’ve done to improve not only their local communities but their countries as a whole through innovative and relationship-centric design.

Their projects, ranging from multi-family dwellings and single-family retreats to modern art museums and kindergarten school systems, emphasized the role that architecture has on society and the human condition. Thank you to Smiljan Radić – Chile, Viviana Peńa – Colombia, Alberto Kalach – Mexico, and Cazú Zegers – Chile for speaking about your experiences with AIA Virginia and our virtual attendees!

Kristen, Enid, Caitlin, and Cheyenne

Sitting among colleagues and friends as we listened to the effect architecture has made in South America was already a powerful experience, but as an emerging professional in architecture, each message behind the presentations was more impactful than the last. Viviana Peńa’s presentation, titled “Architecture as an Instrument of Transformation,” featured three case studies from her hometown in Medellin, Colombia – community kindergartens, the Medellin Modern Art Museum, and a single-family residence near a forest reserve. She walked us through each of her projects using concise bullet points that explained how Colombia’s turbulent history has changed the country’s political landscape, and how architecture has an opportunity to remedy many of their challenges. Her mission through working on community kindergartens was to elevate the children of low-income families through improved education programs, thereby eliminating the perpetual cycle of generational poverty.

Cazú Zeger had a similar message of increasing educational opportunities for her country’s children, but her passion lies in changing the architecture education curriculum so that students can become the change she wishes to see in Chile’s future. Her architecture workshop for students in Chile achieves that, because as she explained in her “Mondo Nostro – The 21st Century Agency” presentation, man is a part of the natural ecosystem, and designed to integrate into the system rather than on top of the system is a mindset our culture must learn and adapt to.

Meeting in person for Design Forum was especially valuable because it provided an opportunity for architecture students to be a part of our industry’s conversations. I was joined by three Architectural Design students from James Madison University, and the conversations we had over coffee following the conference highlighted how we envisioned our future in the built environment. Cheyenne, Enid, Kristen, and I discussed how design impacts the communities we inhabit, and how architectural academia can adapt to the rapidly-changing society and climate we live in. Students play a vital part in the future of architecture, and their participation and discussion at Design Forum were inspiring. All of this to say – Invite architecture students to AIA events and make them a part of the conversations we are having today.

Feel free to connect with me, too. What are some ways your firm is working with students and emerging professionals? Send me an email or a message on LinkedIn!

As always, I’m here for you.

Caitlin Morgan, Assoc. AIA, CSI-EP, CDT
Associate Director, AIA Virginia Board of Directors

Associated Thoughts: Following Through

Starting a new year comes with changes and resolutions. If you haven’t already taken the time to set up a few resolutions for 2022, I highly recommend setting up some professional and personal resolutions that relate to improving your mental and physical health.

Here are some resolutions I set for this year:

  1. Take life slower and more consciously by enjoying the little moments as they come along throughout the day.
  2. Be more conscientious in my consumption, specifically what I watch or listen to and acknowledging how that impacts my mental health.
  3. Capture more memories including using photography, journaling, and making art.
Caitlin Morgan, Assoc. AIA

When I made these resolutions, I made them broad enough to be able to adapt to lifestyle changes throughout the year, but also specific enough to drive my daily choices. Each day, I’ve spent the quiet morning making a fresh cup of coffee before work, waved to my neighbors and office mates, and taken the long way to work to enjoy the city, Harrisonburg, I love. I’ve also translated these resolutions to my career by reading articles about the latest trends in architecture and documenting what tasks I accomplish during the day to help retain what I’ve learned on projects. After a few weeks, I’ve felt a difference in my daily routines; I was more motivated and had a clearer head throughout the day.

As we now move through February and closer to March, it’s important to follow through with the resolutions we made at the beginning of the year. Revisiting your list and documenting the progress you’ve made is a good way to stay motivated to reach your intended results. To take it one step further, share your progress with others! You may find shared goals and can work together in following through to reach said results. I’ve shared my 2022 resolutions with you all, so feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn or over email to share your resolutions for the year. As Associate Director, my mission is to help our members grow and succeed in their careers as future architects, so let me know what AIA Virginia and I can do to help you.

As always, I’m here for you.

Caitlin Morgan, Associate AIA
Associate Director, AIA Virginia Board of Directors


Associated Thoughts: Growing

I take care of our office plants. Since we have big windows and lots of lovely northern and eastern light, the aloes and jade and funky grafted cacti are likely to do well, regardless of my tender and loving care. But still–I water them each week, check the soil, trim off the dead stuff, and occasionally re-pot them when they outgrow their surroundings. I look forward to this every week, this careful observation of living things that, magically, slowly, and consistently grow and change each week.

But my favorite is when I get to plant propagations–the little baby buds that plants send up through the soil when a plant is healthy and happy. These propagations are joyful little reminders that amidst the stillness of the soil, something magical is happening underneath–growth–that is invisible until it breaks the surface.

Michael Spory, Assoc. AIA

September is a month of transition, a switch from summer heat to autumn chill, and all the change that it brings. Design students return to school, settling into their studios, mapping out their schedules, and diving into projects. Firms are coming out of the juggle of summer vacation schedules, keeping projects afloat as best they can. Young professional architects are in the thick of projects, mapping out all that needs to be accomplished by the end of the year. September tilts forward, where the slow and often-invisible growth of the year starts to show itself.

Progress and growth can be difficult to see. In design school, you churn towards reviews and exams, sometimes struggling to see if any of the knowledge is really sticking. Professionally, staying on top of a dynamic design environment takes time and effort, let alone making space for mastering new skills while trying to take on more responsibilities, pass your exams, finish your hours, keep track of your time, and still manage to live a little outside of work. Sometimes it can seem endless, that churning without seeing tangible progress. But perhaps–like the windowsill plant–each week is a little more water, a little more sunlight, a little more knowledge and growth to be cultivated and observed. For architecture professionals at all stages of our careers, growth often happens little by little, in practicing small skills over and over, trying something slightly different, learning from the past. We learn by watching closely from someone we respect, then trying it ourselves. We grow by taking well-intentioned risks and using the good (or bad) consequences as learning opportunities.

As I water the plants today, I don’t see any new propagations, but I know they are waiting–somewhere–under the surface. And so I sit at my desk once again, look at the too-long list of things I don’t know how to deal with, and remember that growth happens in small bits, in tackling something challenging, in asking for help, in learning something new every day.

In solidarity and action,
Michael Spory, Associate AIA

Things to click on:

$50 Amber book subscriptions>>
Virginia Licensing Advisor – contact Michael Hammon, AIA with your licensing questions.
Need continuing education hours? Check out the calendar of events here>>

Associated Thoughts: The Deep End

I first learned how to swim from my cousin Jill, who was a lifeguard. She was visiting from Idaho for a few weeks and decided to give me lessons at a neighbor’s pool. In the shallow end, she taught my gangly 8-year-old self how to breathe so I didn’t get water up my nose, how to float, how to kick and move my arms, how to trust the water when my tippee toes could no longer reach the bottom. I was never a great swimmer, but her lessons helped me let go of the wall, go under the floating rope, and explore the foreboding and exhilarating world of the Deep End.

Michael Spory, Assoc. AIA

In design education, our architectural training begins in the abstract, working on theoretical building programs, undeveloped sites, imagined clients. And our studio work, thankfully, lives mostly unbuilt lives as we begin stumbling through the complexity, wonder, and gravity of architectural design while (mostly) shielded from the harsher realities of crafting buildings that will outlive us. We graduate and begin our first jobs, learning how to be professionals for the first time, entering the shallow end of our working lives. We pick up redlines on a to-be-stamped project, listen in (blankly) as our manager chats with an engineer about an uncoordinated ceiling mishap, call product reps to discuss material dimensions, track our reimbursables. It can be a great place, the shallow end, as a practice area for testing our knowledge, for soaking up advice, for having someone check your work, for throwing out ideas to push the envelope. But it is also a stepping stone, a learning opportunity, a temporary place.

Because at some point, we start treading in deeper water. Sometimes it’s a gentle foray; other times, it’s a big toss into the Olympic pool. You present directly to a client. You do code review without backup. You somehow end up leading a coordination meeting. You talk to your attorney and review a contract. You have an answer when a younger coworker asks a technical question about ceiling grids. You look down in the metaphoric pool, and you are swimming, and the bottom of the pool is far beneath you. I wonder how this happens, this gradual transformation from young professional to (semi) confident architect, and I continue to be inspired by young professionals who have stepped up over the last 18 months, and how firms and managers can proactively nurture emerging folks to swim in deeper waters to keep us from floundering. From freshest new grad to veteran partner, I wonder if that process never ends, as we all find gaps in our knowledge, create space for mentorship, and walk the fine line between confidence and humility. Learning to swim in the deep end is a never-ending process.

Sometimes I look around (either the office or the virtual attendee list) in awe at the skills and knowledge of my coworkers–the masters of code recall, the detailing experts, the meticulous managers, the boundless designers, the savvy leaders. Amidst these folks, I wonder how it looks when I ask for help or acknowledge something I don’t know. But I also am inspired when students and emerging professionals speak up and shoulder the responsibility that architecture demands. Hopefully, we can keep welcoming our forays into the deep end.

In solidarity and action,
Michael Spory, Associate AIA

Associated Thoughts: Uncomfortable Normalcy

Normal. That’s a pretty dangerous word. 

I recently read an excellent and provocative piece by Jonathan Moody, the CEO of Moody Nolan (which is the largest Black-owned architecture firm in the nation and won this year’s AIA Firm Award) in which he articulates a hesitation around the concept of normalcy. He argues for a wariness of the term, suggesting that it bears the “uneasy undertones” towards the status quo and the unquestioned comfort of the one setting the rules of the game. If things are normal, then why should they change? We have always done it this way. This makes the most sense. Just check what we did last time. This seems to be the best fit.

Michael Spory, Assoc. AIA

You have likely heard similar things before, probably even around the office. As a baseline or casual reference point, “normal” is reductive at best and–at the very least–a supremely insufficient metric for decision-making in design. What is “normal”? Who is “normal”? Who gets to decide what characteristics get to define that for you, for me, for us?

Fifteen months ago brought about a global shutdown that lasted longer than most people imagined, bringing grief and change into every corner of the world. In the 12+ months since the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, our nation has regrappled with the pernicious grips of unjust systems, of pain and racism, white supremacy and inaction. Our profession has reckoned with our own layers of complicity, of finding a “new normal,” whatever that is supposed to mean, in everything from office etiquette to paid leave policies to recruiting more Black architecture students. Where we could productively work is no longer a settled topic, and justice and equity were no longer “out there” topics but amplified conversations about the very daily work of an architecture office. Whatever normal was–or was supposed to be–is permanently fractured.

But in that fracture rushed innovation, inspired action, and the momentum that arrives when we look closely at familiar things and realize they are not adequate. This fracturing reframed those “normal” things as the still-broken things, that all the people long considered outside the standard definition of normal actually are indispensable to the rich tapestry of our built environment. I have observed grassroots energy to recenter perspectives outside the architectural mainstream–neurodiversity, experiences with disability, Black contributions to architecture, women-led design, among many–but also have seen leaders support big and small changes in this continued reckoning.

That energy feels good, but the paradox of changing normals is discomfort. Creative teams perform best given diverse perspectives, which often leads to competing vantage points and potential for conflict. Moody points out that normalcy is seductive, a professional balm that keeps our dissension out of sight and out of mind. Changing an office layout is hard enough, let alone an architectural profession stretching back to the days when only white men could vote or own property. Unlearning and unraveling the “normal” systems is uncomfortable, yet holding onto our discomfort is something that designers and our firms are surprisingly familiar within our work–and simultaneously often poor at in our practices.

I moved into a new office space last week. Granted, it is just down the hall, but still required a heap of effort–phone calls with the property manager, logistics for keys, moving boxes, a shocking amount of cords, spilled dirt from the potted plants. Even small things take effort. Tackling the big changes of our time–climate change, systemic racism, universal access, polarization, liberty, and justice for all–will continue to require grassroots folks like you and me to push our conversations away from the “normal” and towards a better world. I am trying to be uncomfortable–will you join me?

In solidarity and action,
Michael Spory, Associate AIA

Associated Thoughts: Finding Your Zone

My mom has been a kindergarten educator for over 30 years, and she is amazing at it. She really is. In the big big world of education, she has found her zone by focusing on the nuances of early childhood development, while loving learning and teaching kids to keep loving how to learn. She’s a specialist through a career of lifelong curiosity shaped by her passion.

Michael Spory, Assoc. AIA

I have always been a little jealous of experts like her, the specialists I sit next to in the office who seem to find joy in burrowing deeply into something and becoming an absolute whiz. The woman who seems to know everything about customized Revit workflows, or the person who can recall code nuances and egress exceptions with shocking ease. BIM specialists, construction gurus, material specifiers, coding hackers–I wish I could be more like you. I admire folks with that deeply mined and cultivated knowledge–but also can get a little frustrated with myself in comparison.

As a curious and well-meaning generalist in the world of design, I aspire to bring that level of dedicated focus and passion that makes me a uniquely specialized designer. But I must confess that I get overwhelmed when I see just how much more I have to learn as an architect. One of the reasons I was originally drawn to architecture was because it really seems like you have to know something about just about everything–a career that can keep expanding without ever getting boring. Architects draw on history, art, sociology, math, economics, marketing, physics, politics…the list grows even longer as I think about it. We are generalists, but that broad knowledge base has to get down to nuts and bolts much more quickly that I anticipated. As a young designer, I have often felt overwhelmed by the seemingly infinite fine-grained details I still need to learn to get better at my job, even just to take my first licensing exam or figure out how to confidently document a drawing and spec for window flashing. In that vast ocean of skills, concepts, practices, and information that architects need to know–how do I find my zone, my own unique focus?

Unlike me, maybe you have known where you wanted to focus the minute you applied to design school, and have the drive to laser in on a specific portion of the field–energy modelling, material science, interior design. Maybe you stumbled on a passion and followed it down the rabbit hole–construction detailing, marketing pitches and presentations, modelmaking. Or maybe you are a collage of experiences and curiosities–some Photoshop and aesthetic skills, perhaps a knack for communication or writing, a love of solving problems, a bit of this and that in terms of project experience. Not an empty slate, nor a Swiss army knife, nor a surgical scalpel. In our big wide world of architecture, how do we find our zone?

My mom-the-kindergarten-teacher has been honing her teaching craft for a long time. My first boss could sketch squiggly diagrams that seemed easy until I realized they were drawn at precise scales and informed by years of practical knowledge. My current coworkers are whizzes at things I still struggle with–and I am grateful and humbled by each of them. As we grow as design professionals, these experiences and passions hopefully start to crystallize, leading us to lifelong curiosity and learning about the expanding boundaries of design. I am still stumbling on, discovering that the loose threads of my experiences stitch together into something resembling the expertise of a specialist.

Finding your zone is a continuing process, sometimes halting, occasionally clear, and hopefully full of the good kind of surprises that keep us emerging professionals curious about where we can direct our unique voices and talents in our careers. Our offices and communities across Virginia–along with ourselves–will bloom when that can happen.

In solidarity and action,
Michael Spory, Associate AIA

Associated Thoughts: On Making Mistakes

Mistakes happen. They happen all the time. But they especially happen when you are doing things for the first time. Like when you forget to put north arrows or door swings during that early pinup in design
school. Or you put chairs too close together, forgetting that people have to walk between the rows. An
unpinned family in Revit. An unexamined set of meeting minutes. A wall section with the air barrier on the
wrong side of the insulation. Not backing up. Keynoting the wrong spec section. Not asking for help soon

Learning how to be an architect can be a tightrope. Not enough knowledge and experience to move
quickly, but always pressed for time. Move too fast and you miss critical details, or you have to redo
something so it takes even longer. You want to be independent and showcase your growth and initiative,
but also need to ask for help to set things up correctly the first time before you barge ahead. Things that
take your boss 10 minutes might take you an hour. Things that seem simple–a lighting grid, a corner
detail, a presentation slide–get more involved when consultants and specifications and schedules and
contracts come up. And you miss things, sometimes without even realizing it.

Michael Spory, Assoc. AIA

To be a designer is to take risks, and to take risks means to invite mistakes and expose your professional (and sometimes personal) vulnerabilities. I certainly know what it’s like to realize you are in over your head, to be given a task and a deadline with no clue how to even begin, how it is to feel alone with no one around to help you because it’s a pandemic and the only living thing nearby is a houseplant. At that moment, it can be easy to hide and sit back, but I have learned that growing as a designer means exploring your mistakes, owning them, and asking for help early and often. Getting a building planned, drawn, and built requires more knowledge, time, and attention than any one person can have, let alone young designers tackling it for the first time. So even with the most dogged quality control processes in a firm, we still learn from the redlines, the busted dimensions, the misspellings, even as we hope to never see them again.

Your growth as a young designer is the inextricable balancing act of learning quickly and working humbly,
continually asking for help when you need it, and offering it when asked. In bravely surrendering the
veneer of the having-all-the-answers kind of architect, we open ourselves up to new ideas, better
processes, established rules, and gleaned expertise from the generations of architects before us, and the
wisdom of the communities that surround us. Some designers will tread longstanding paths, while others
will break new ground, each on their own pathway towards professional excellence and vulnerability. On
our own paths, we continue to learn from our own shortcomings and share that growth with others.
Mistakes happen, and they happen to the best and worst among us. We’ve all been there, and it’s never
fun, but it is inevitable in the iterative and collaborative world of real-life design.

In solidarity and action,
Michael Spory, Associate AIA

Associated Thoughts: AIA Virginia Resources for Unlicensed Professionals

This is not the summer I was expecting—and I suspect I am not alone. I bike each day to empty rented office space, slide the door shut, and try to design via annotated snips, neverending chat boxes, texted photographs of sketches, and professional-from-the-waist-up video calls. Each week, I pray that my job as a designer is still viable when I show up to work—even as I feel that ever-present, low-grade anxiety that our firms can keep the lights on, get new contracts remotely, meet payroll, and manage to come out of this pandemic and protest-filled season. It is an anxious time to be a designer.

With so much out of our control, what do we do with our time when we as emerging designers are trying to find our way when faced with colossal uncertainty for the second time in the last 15 years? Whether we are students facing the most challenging job market in a century (something 2009 me could hardly have thought) or young designers trying to learn the professional ropes while working from your dining room table or even slightly seasoned professionals trying to take that next step—the opportunities for adding to our architectural foundations certainly look different than they did four months ago. 

No matter where you are at in your architectural career, developing new skills has never been more important. Below are a few tools from my (admittedly meagre) toolbox that perhaps you might find useful: 

  • Find a champion. A former boss asked me every week when my next ARE exam was, and the minute I told him I’d passed one, he would ask when the next one would be. Passing the ARE exams are difficult—more power to you if you think otherwise—and getting all your AXP hours requires not just effort and luck, but the scheduling, mentoring, and advocacy of the higher ups. Find a mentor who will not only support you when you need help, but will hold you accountable and push you towards your goals. 
  • Reach back to bring others with you. I am extremely privileged, and I have benefitted not just from the graciousness of mentors and colleagues, but from active systems of whiteness and patriarchy that get me further than any effort of my own could have. We begin disassembling these systems by kicking down doors for other people. Be one of those people who advocates for others to join you at the table. Or better yet, make your own table.   
  • Take aim at an actual credential.  Schedule the next exam. Take the night class. Block out two nights a week to study. Get new letters after your name.
  • Bring a non-traditional passion to work. You are a musician? Certainly useful in detailing an auditorium. Had a knack for economics? You might just be plucked for budgeting discussions. Bringing your whole self to work, with all the passions and hobbies you learned outside of studio, adds flavor that benefits your design work, and contributes to a broader expertise that might just get you promoted. 
  • Cultivate writing and speaking. Good design is communication, whether visual, verbal, written, or otherwise, and being an effective communicator means managers can trust you. Read good writing. Surround yourself with well-crafted words. Submit drafts to architectural publications. Ask smarter people for edits. Go to Toastmasters. Effective communicators get in the door, stay in the room, and bring in the work. 
  • Identify a gap and step into it. Look around and notice what tasks and roles are getting outsourced or underserved. Facilitation, spec writing, stair detailing, historic preservation analysis, or whatever it may be; being able to keep key services in-house ultimately benefits any bottom line, and those added value skills get you noticed for specialized expertise that exponentially increases your value as an employee. 
  • Ask to learn about non-design tasks. While less glamorous than elegant sketches or detailed renderings, learning the nuances of business development, staffing projections, financial statements, or marketing lingo builds a foundation towards leadership. Ask to look over drafts. Be curious about the behind-the-scenes maneuverings and decisions.
  • Build something. What wondrous insights—and humility—come from actually having to buy materials, measure, and assemble something into existence. Plus, you can always gift it to a non-designer if it ends up wonky.

An old mentor gave this advice—make yourself invaluable. Architecture is a big field with lots of ways to get crowded out when the projects run thin. Broadening your skills not only keeps you a step ahead, but keeps our creative minds from calcifying and retreating into what we already know. 

But perhaps more importantly, now is a time to also cultivate kindness and justice—attributes and skills that never fail to disappoint and elevate.

In solidarity and action,

Michael Spory, Associate AIA

Just a Few Fun Things to Click On

Something to Talk about with Your Boss and Coworkers: AIA has developed Guides for Equitable Practice, for resourcing architects to make the business and professional case for ensuring more equitable practices in our firms, particularly towards black and minority individuals and clients. This is an important baseline, especially the personal stories in this section. Ask your supervisors if your firm has discussed and implemented these guides. 

A deeply discounted Amber Book Subscription: AIA Virginia is offering a $50, 2-month subscription to the Amber Book. Sign up here.

Something to Sign Up For: AIA Virginia has formed a formal relationship with the newly launched Virginia NOMA Chapter. This is an important step, and is an effort that needs people of all skin colors to actively support minority architects. Fill out this form to show your support and interest.

Some Free Stuff for the ARE Exams: I just signed up for my last ARE exam–come join me! AIA National is offering their ARE prep course ArchiPrep FOR FREE for associate members until August 31. If you need a study buddy, please reach out! There are study groups in every corner of the state to get connected to. 

Some accounts to follow: Pascale Sablan is more than a rising star–she’s here to stay, and her design work and advocacy for Black architects are worth your Instagram follow. Also find Architecture Is Too White and BIPOC in Architecture and read the stories emerging from melanized voices in design. 

Something from AIA Richmond: AIA Richmond is partnering with Venture Richmond to launch “Picnic in a Parklet,” a program designed to assist Richmond restaurants and other businesses with Phase 2 of Forward Virginia. Through this new partnership with the City of Richmond, business owners can receive design and permitting assistance for their requests for more outdoor space, particularly parklets. If you know of similar initiatives elsewhere, please reach out.

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.  

Call for Regional Associate Director Nominees

Are you an Associate AIA Member? Are you interested in the issues confronting architecture school graduates on a path to licensure? Would you like to help the National Associates Committee address these issues? Then, you may be just the person we’re looking for.

Every two years, the AIA Region of The Virginias (Virginia and West Virginia) selects an Associate AIA member to represent the Region on the National Associates Committee. Applications are now being accepted for the National Associates Committee 2017 – 2018 Virginias Regional Associate Director. If you think you may be interested, please read on. If you know of an Associate AIA member who may be interested, please forward this information to them.

NAC Purpose
The National Associates Committee (NAC) is dedicated to serving Associate members of the AIA in the advancement of their careers.

NAC Vision
By promoting excellence, providing information and leadership, fostering inclusiveness, and encouraging individual, community, and professional development, the NAC will integrate the growing Associates community of the profession into a strong voice within the Institute. The NAC aspires to be the catalyst for progress within the Institute and the profession:

  • We ENGAGE by becoming agents of change
  • We INNOVATE by challenging the status quo
  • We CONNECT by representing our diverse membership
  • We LEAD by example, promoting mentorship, fellowship, licensure, advocacy, and service

The NAC believes its work serves to make AIA membership meaningful to Associates through services that effectively anticipate, meet, and exceed their needs.

NAC Overview
The Regional Associate Director (RAD) works with their counterparts, the YARDs, AIAS Quad Directors, Architect Licensing Advisors, and AIA Regional Representatives. RADs are responsible for gathering information about issues facing Associates within their Regions and disseminating information about national/regional activities and resources for use at the local level. Of equal importance, RADs serve as a vital link between Associates and the national organization.

RADs are the key to vertical communication, connecting Associate leaders at all levels of the Institute. RADs are also encouraged to work on various issues important to them and their regions through the NAC work groups. More information about the NAC can be found here:

This is a tremendous opportunity to take on a larger leadership role within the AIA. This rewarding experience will allow you to be actively engaged in shaping the future of the profession and to grow your network with the NAC, YAF, and the AIA both regionally and nationally.

NAC Annual Events and Commitments

  • YAF/NAC Annual Meeting, Washington, DC:  March 5–7, 2017  (Mandatory)
  • AIA Grassroots, Washington, DC:  March 8–10, 2017
  • AIA Convention, Orlando, FL:  April 27–29, 2017
  • Architecture Exchange East, Richmond, VA: November 1–3, 2017
  • NAC Full Committee Quarterly Conference Calls – 1 hour each
  • NAC Taskforce/Workgroup Conference Calls – 1 hour each/frequency TBD
  • Regional Reports – written with the assistance of the NAC
  • Attendance at Regional Emerging Professional Committee Meetings and Programs

NAC Funding
National AIA covers the costs for Regional Associate Director travel, food, and lodging to attend the NAC/YAF Annual Meeting. In addition, RADs have the opportunity to attend AIA Grassroots and the AIA Convention, but expenses for these events, along with any other costs associated with other travel or conferences, are the responsibility of the RAD.

Required Application Material

  • AIA Membership – Applicant must be an Associate AIA member in good standing within The Region of The Virginias (AIA NV, AIA RI, AIA BR, AIA CV, AIA HR, or AIA West Virginia) and must not be licensed at the time of submission.
  • Letter of Nomination/Letter of Interest – Applicant may be nominated by others or be self-nominated. The author of the nomination letter should ideally be familiar with the NAC and understand the leadership qualities of the applicant. Limit one-page.
  • Letter of Recommendation – Each application must include one letter of recommendation from an AIA Leader. Limit one-page.
  • Personal Resume – Indicate education, employment history, organizations or activity involvement, honors, and awards. Limit two pages (It is NOT in the applicant’s best interest to simply submit a firm resume with project experience).

Completed applications must be submitted by email as a single PDF to Brian J. Frickie, AIA, Region of The Virginias Representative to AIA Strategic Council ( NLT Monday, January 23, 2017.