President’s Message NOV19

A couple of weeks ago, I spent an evening at Anne Arundel Community College meeting with architects, educators and students to discuss architectural education at all levels of a student’s career. The conversation quickly turned to recruitment and retention of students. The profession of architecture is evolving and students that are intrigued by design problem-solving are often looking for creative ways to combine their interests and skillsets. There has been a push for years, through local AIA chapters and many firms and practitioners, to get into elementary and middle schools to show young students what architecture is. We need to continue expanding our outreach and give students a path through high school to keep the interest alive and provide a deeper understanding of the thinking and skills needed to obtain an accredited degree and/or become a registered architect. What we’re doing is making a dent, but we need to creatively think of a way to do more…more opportunities, more outreach, more touchpoints.

The week after, I went with my family to a Baltimore City high school open house. My son is a freshman there, and my daughter, who is currently a middle-schooler was excited to go explore her future opportunities. She hears stories from her brother daily about how serious and different high school is and she was more than willing to pretend, for the night, that it was her high school too. My son was excited to give us the tour that only a ‘local’ could give. He took us around, pointing out his friends’ lockers and showing us shortcuts from class to class, which were in fact, not at all shorter. No complaints though, as my wife and I were just excited that they both wanted to be back at school for two hours on a Tuesday night instead of texting their friends.

I had been through this open house before, twice actually, as my son was deciding where he wanted to go. So, while my energy level was up, my expectations were tempered. That feeling didn’t last long however. Just like the previous two times, I was impressed by the teaching curriculum and the devotion and energy of the faculty, but what was even more impressive were the hundreds of students who volunteered to stick around until nearly 9 pm to greet and escort visitors, share their personal experiences, answer questions in Q&A sessions, and passionately promote their school clubs. The diversity of the clubs, from sports to climate, immigration to gender inclusion, were a virtual carnival of interests and activities. We were told more than once, that if a student has the drive and is self-motivated, they can start a club about anything. It was clear, sometimes painfully clear, that these interests were personal for many of the students. As I scanned the room, taking stock of the depth of subject matter, I realized that they were many of the same topics we deal with as architects. We often address sustainability, mobility and access, gender issues, economic and social inclusion, and health and wellbeing in our projects. Sometimes it’s a small piece of a larger puzzle, and sometimes solving that one issue IS the puzzle. It made me realize that the appeal of architecture to students today may not be in the architecture at all, but in design’s societal benefit to this wide range of impacted populations. If we can get design to spark that kind of passion in students, we will continue to build the pipeline of creative, curious, analytical, diverse thinkers that we need to ensure our profession continues to grow and tackles, head on, the critical issues facing our planet. It is often not easy to find the time, but it’s not hard. It’s talking to kids about what you do and who it helps. Talking about what kind of impact architects make; what kind of changes thoughtful design brings. Your investment in talking to students, showing up at career days and bringing students to the office, is some of the best recruiting that we can do. We can make architecture cool. Can we make it high school club cool? Well there was not an architecture club in the room that night, but I will do my best to make sure there is one there next year.