The Octagon in Washington, DC, the first local headquarters of the American Institute of Architects.
Photography: Jim Darling The Octagon in Washington, DC, the first local headquarters of the American Institute of Architects.

In 1969, the AIA and the Ford Foundation each pledged $500,000 to support minority individuals pursuing an education in architecture. Today, the Architects Foundation Diversity Advancement Scholarship has been awarded to more than 2,300 students and recently received $1 million from the AIA’s board of directors to continue promoting increased diversity and equity in the profession. Below, three scholarship winners share their thoughts on what the assistance meant to them, and how it helped shape their approach to architecture.

Renee Kemp-Rotan, Assoc. AIA: “I was at my grandmother’s house in Washington, D.C., during the summer before 12th grade, and noticed a television commercial that said, ‘AIA is recruiting 20 African-American students interested in majoring in architecture.’ The commercial was clear: Architecture is a blending of the arts and sciences. I wanted to be a painter—a fine arts painter—but my family of doctors, lawyers, and educators said, ‘No starving artists.’ So architecture was the perfect compromise. I cannot put into words what that scholarship did for my life. Architecture opened my eyes to the world.”

Tammy Eagle Bull, FAIA: “When I was young, [my father] saw that I had a knack for design, for drawing and thinking in 3D. He would tell me stories about architects who would show up to the reservation and—without asking questions—interpret for themselves what the local culture was: a turtle-shaped building, a buffalo-shaped building. He explained all the negatives that can come from poor design; after that, design that makes a positive impact became my singular focus.”

Donald King, FAIA: “My story is a crazy one: nine schools in 11 years, really trying to pull the pieces together to get an architectural degree. I had a goal in mind; it was just a haphazard way of doing it. When talking to students today, I try to give them a more efficient path than the one I took. Because I didn’t have a lot of people saying, ‘Don’t do this; do that.’ Mostly what I would get is, ‘You can’t work and go to school.’ And I would say, ‘I do not have that choice.’ I was bound and determined to get that degree.”