July 12, 2022
As an architecture firm whose work is deeply rooted in bettering educational experiences, A4E has been designing forward-thinking schools and learning facilities since 2002. But the firm’s work goes well beyond serving clients, educators, and students day to day. As part of its mission, A4E’s leadership is also committed to advancing the profession, helping to build career paths in architecture and education design, and supporting a lifelong love of learning. This commitment is exemplified by our partners’ involvement in initiatives like the ACE Mentor Program and the American Institute of Architects Students (AIAS) CRIT Scholar Program.
ACE Mentor Program
Rachel Adams, Managing Principal and Partner of A4E, has been volunteering as an ACE mentor and ACE Team Leader for over 20 years. The national program with local chapters throughout the country provides interested high school students with an opportunity to learn about the architecture, engineering, and construction industry and participate in each given discipline, with the guidance of a dedicated professional. The program typically includes a majority of students from historically under-represented backgrounds including females and minorities. Adams has always been drawn to it because it provides a way to foster inclusivity and equity, core values of A4E.
As a mentor, Adams has led students through a variety of hands-on activities, such as drawing, building models, learning about the basics of design, visiting construction sites, and touring architecture and engineering firm offices. These activities typically comprise the first half of the yearlong program. The second half is dedicated to an ACE-wide project. One recent project challenged students to design an Olympic village, with each participating school responsible for designing a piece of programming to support a successful LA Olympic Event.
Broadening Students’ Perspective
Adams enjoys seeing students be inspired by design and feels gratified when they move on in the profession. But she also maintains that the significance of the program goes beyond helping to define career paths.
“Not every student will decide they want to pursue a professional path in architecture, and that’s fine,” said Adams. “The brilliance of the program is its ability to expose students to a whole new world of possibility. Many have never strayed far from their own neighborhood, had any interaction with the business world, or seen the inside of an office. The program broadens their world view and opens up new options – if not in architecture, then perhaps in related trades or elsewhere within the global workplace.”
After two decades of working with students and within the ACE Mentor Program, Adams feels that the benefits of participation go in both directions. While students gain valuable experience in a real-world profession, she has felt her own skills in facilitating community meetings improve. “Working with kids can be similar to engaging with the public, as A4E does in visioning, planning, and design meetings” Adams said. “Being an ACE mentor has really honed my listening skills, allowing me to empathize better and to have a firmer grasp on translating human needs into good design solutions.”
AIAS CRIT Scholar Program
A4E’s involvement in mentorship includes not only K-12 students, but also students at the university level. Olivia Graf Doyle, A4E’s Design Principal and Partner who currently serves as Vice-Chair of the American Institute of Architects’ Committee on Architecture for Education (AIA-CAE), volunteered to participate in the AIAS CRIT Scholar Program, in which university students pursuing design and architecture degrees are matched up with industry professionals who serve as mentors to guide them through a research or thesis project. Each of these students receives a $1,000 grant to fund their research.
This year, Graf Doyle was paired with Angel Coleman, a master’s student at the University of Nebraska College of Architecture who was preparing her thesis topic on education design. As a mother of two teenage children who has dealt with the ups and downs of the school experience through the pandemic, Coleman was interested in developing a design prototype for small learning communities that would revive a sense of togetherness and belonging for students. Graf Doyle and Coleman met biweekly over video calls for several months to share progress and discuss ideas.
A Collaborative Exchange
Having studied design as an undergrad, but with no professional experience in architecture, Coleman felt her research benefitted from a practicing architect’s eye. “It was great working with an actual practicing designer, particularly one that focuses just on schools,” said Coleman. “I think Olivia helped to expand my knowledge – She provided a lot of inspiration and could show me precedents for nearly every idea.”
Graf Doyle drew inspiration from Coleman’s focus on community and her passionate interest in design of learning environments. “One of the fantastic benefits of the CRIT Scholar Program is about an exchange of fresh ideas,” said Graf Doyle. “Angel brought real-life experiences of things she wanted to change not only for her own children, but to inspire her local school district. I loved the collaborative nature of this engagement and I think we were both exposed to a deeper design thinking process through our focused discussions.”
The collaboration will culminate in a remote studio crit, organized by Graf Doyle, in which Coleman will present her research for feedback from a panel of professionals. After finalizing her research, a publication of the work will be forthcoming later this year, and Angel will be presenting her work at the ACSA Conference in St. Louis, March 2023.
“I would have loved to participate in a program like this when I was a student,” said Graf Doyle. “As an AIA leader, contributing to the CRIT Scholar Program is my way to pay it forward and hopefully watch future architects not just pursue fulfilling careers, but also develop a passion for mentoring future practitioners and leaders.”
Embracing core values of inclusivity and equity, A4E’s Partners apply their passion for mentorship both internally – as day-to-day team leaders – and externally, through community involvement and volunteer opportunities that serve the architecture and design community at large. As active leaders within their own practice or in industry organizations; facilitators of community engagement meetings and student participation activities for school districts; or through volunteering roles that allow for one-on-one transfer of architectural design knowledge, Adams and Graf Doyle are successfully fostering both budding interests and deeper inquiry within the fields of architecture and education design.