Unveiled this summer, the NOMA Foundation Fellowship placed 30 NOMAS students in eight-week paid internships at prominent firms across the country. Largely supported by a partnership with the AIA Large Firm Roundtable, the initiative aims to further the careers of graduates of color, while inspiring the profession to see the untapped talent that has been too long neglected. Here are the stories of this year's fellows.
B.Arch 2020, Illinois Institute of Technology
In this fellowship I am focusing on healthcare architecture, which is an area where I had very little experience. I am doing research and conducting a systematic literature review about circulation in the surgical room. This really opens a new chapter in my architecture knowledge.
I think the hardest challenge for me so far is the uncertainty we have at the moment due to COVID-19. I am not sure when and which firms are still hiring, and how the way we work and think as architects is going to change. We recent graduates have to make our own paths, so it is a little scary. But the education and experience I have gotten make me more confident.
My ambition for my career is to get licensed and work for a firm that focuses on connecting people together. I think architects should be more aware of the positive impact we can provide for society.
Takumi Jordan Davis
B.Arch 2021, Masters in Urban Design 2022, Carnegie Mellon University
The NOMA Fellowship represents an opportunity for me to finally gain a foothold in the field of architecture and could potentially lead to further opportunities to boost my résumé. This was my first experience working with an architecture firm, so I feel fortunate to have earned the chance despite the disruption from COVID-19.
In the beginning I was intrigued by the design opportunities provided by the field, but then I became more motivated by the lack of representation of Black architects and other underrepresented groups. This motivated me to become a practicing architect to bring to light issues faced by underrepresented peoples.
Architecture and its proponents should focus less on promoting diversity and more on inclusivity. The extreme prejudices developed against the field in the 20th century are beginning to cause a social reckoning that architects have neglected for far too long. Now is the time for architects, like politicians, to legitimately represent their constituents.
M.Arch 2021, California Baptist University
Hord Coplan Macht
This fellowship has been a great addition to my studies and engagement with NOMA. I feel that I have improved over the last three months with connections through NOMA, the SoCal NOMA summer camp, and working for HCM. Working at HCM will be a significant investment in my thesis project for my graduate year. I am researching schools and designing for the development of a post-COVID 19 learning environment.
My ambition is to design schools from kindergarten to the university level that will engage with students as if the buildings themselves are another teacher, and that will show that the students can succeed in anything. I want to create my own firm and recruit other architects that are passionate to make a change in our lives. Architects are the movement of the future, and it all starts now when we are young.
M.Arch. 2020, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
This fellowship is a really great thing. It’s an opportunity to get into these big name firms. It’s really going to open doors for incoming graduates. It’s also going to start making firms think, “Hey, let’s start looking at these schools.”
In my personal experience, some firms just recruit from certain schools—very particular name schools. I know I have won competitions against these top-name schools, but still firms look at them. So it’s really creating that new pipeline from college to professionalism.
I was the only African American in my graduating class at Illinois. Seeing what firms are posting, seeing what a lot of people in our industry are posting, I feel like it’s trending right now. But I do respect them, firms acknowledging themselves. We need to diversify, we need to do more, but then we have to also respond. I think with firms acknowledging the current political moment, it helps influence the younger generation: “Hey, we can do this as well.”
M.Arch, 2021, Pennsylvania State University
New York City
The NOMA Foundation Fellowship is a privilege. Not only do I get to work with FXCollaborative on large-scale, complex projects, but I am able to do it with an extremely supportive team.
My goal is to become a licensed architect with a focused engagement in urban and cultural design, creating self-sustaining, net-positive spaces. This means that the spaces will be able to provide a diversity of resources (food, shelter, flexible space, etc.) for surrounding communities without being unaffordable for the occupants.
If I have learned one thing, it is that we each have our own unique background and lived experiences. This knowledge can be a valuable contribution not only to younger generations, but to our teachers, clients, and the communities that we serve. So I implore you, take the time to assist your peers with learning that new software. Invest in a recruitment effort at disadvantaged schools. Provide honest feedback to those around you. Too often, people underestimate their own power in calls for change.
M.Arch. 2020, Tulane University
For the fellowship, they send your resumes and then they match you with the firm. When I got the email from Ennead, I was so shocked. The work that they do is fantastic. What I’m working on now is an e-Lab. Most of it starts with heavy, heavy research and community engagement. I really want to open my own design-build firm that focuses on developing affordable housing in New Orleans. The work that Ennead does, it’s on a larger scale—New Orleans is very-small scale—and so what I’m learning with them is so valuable. If not for this fellowship, I don’t know whether I would have had an opportunity to work in a firm like this right off the bat. So it’s a real blessing.
If I look back, I personally didn’t feel like there was necessarily a place for me in architecture. There was no one who looked like me. It was really through NOMA that I was able to see that there is a different type of design practice, of just being able to acknowledge what tools you need to create the space that you want to see in the world. If not for NOMA, I probably wouldn’t have made it through architecture school.
B.Arch 2020, Mississippi State University's College of Architecture, Art, and Design
Wight & Company
The fellowship provides an opportunity for me, not only just by working but by being involved in research projects that have valuable outcomes. I am currently working on research that provides opportunities for clients to communicate and work better with the design field.
My dream is to become a licensed architect, own a firm, and be a prominent researcher in sustainable design. Another goal is to get more minorities involved in architecture; getting more diversity into the field is a must.
Architects listen to people's ideas and turn them into reality. I think the same should apply when it comes to the current political moment. Change has to happen. We should always be finding ways to work better to improve people's lives. At its core, architecture is all about the life, safety, and welfare of people.
Diana Hernandez Serrano
M.Arch 2022, California Baptist University
This fellowship has given me a lot of encouragement and has motivated me to continue working hard. I am learning valuable research skills, which I believe are critical in order to derive a strong design concept. I am excited to be researching the effects of the pandemic on K-12 schooling and proposing solutions.
I am a first-generation college student, and although I count on my family’s unconditional support, oftentimes they cannot help me like they wish they could. I did not have an example to look up to growing up so I’ve had to figure everything out as I go. Even now, I do not know any architect with a background quite like mine. Thankfully, my amazing mentors have assisted me every step of the way. If it weren’t for them, I do not believe I would have made it this far.
I have always believed that exemplary architecture directly responds to its current needs and context. We seem to be quick to offer innovative solutions without taking the time to truly understand the past and its destructive patterns. As architects, it should be our responsibility to research every aspect of a community, so that we may promote effective collaboration and harmony among it.
BS.Arch 2020, Kent State University
The fellowship means a lot to me because it gives me a platform to continue to learn, develop professionally, and do great things. Currently, I am working on an education research project and I am studying all 23 campuses of California State University. I am focusing on innovative learning devices and spaces that promote successful cross-functional collaboration.
The hardest challenge so far in pursuing architecture as a career is graduating during the current economic and political conditions. Although these are tough times, I am motivated to make a true difference in the world. My dream is to own an integrated design practice and help others flourish by getting involved in the community. I am already living a portion of this dream by giving back to the same school system that I was once a part of. I am teaching students about the AEC industry through the ACE Mentorship Program.
M.Arch. 2022, Illinois Institute of Technology
MASS Design Group
I’m working with Jha D Williams at MASS Design. She’s a NOMA member. So far I have been doing a little bit of research and a little bit of design work. I’m visibly Muslim and I’m an Asian woman, and so for some people that is hard for them to understand. In high school, I looked online for different resources of how I could understand what architecture was or how I could get involved. That’s when I stumbled upon the ACE Mentor Program, which connects high school students with professionals in the architecture, construction, and engineering fields. That’s where I found mentors involved in NOMA, like Richie Hands. And they introduced me to the Project Pipeline summer camp. Getting involved with ACE and NOMA as a high school student, that was such a turning point. If I hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t be in architecture.
It’s important for firms to realize that we’re so much more than our identity, but also I do want them to see my identity because that’s where I am. So while I think it’s important to make space for people of color and Black people, you should also be hiring us because we deserve to be there versus to fill a space or fill a number. The fellowship’s role in this has been super important because they’ve given us the foot in the door into these amazing firms and created this partnership program. And then these firms can see that we have so much to give.
B.Arch. 2020, University of California, Berkeley
Having a fellowship that basically puts a group of students of color or Black students in the face of the architecture field and tells them, “You wanted the talent, here is the talent,” I think is really important. Especially for Black designers, Black female designers, who are very rare in the field. It’s important for me to be a representation of the kind of power that Black women designers can have, for firms to see, OK, I can actually hire a Black woman and she’s actually going to commit and she’s going to produce really good work.
So I find the fellowship to be an amazing opportunity. It can create networks that I did not have. A lot of these students come in and they have that experience. They say, “Yeah, my uncle is a designer,” or “Yeah, my dad is a designer,” or “My dad is an architect,” or “My father owns a firm.” I think this fellowship is perfect as a prototype for more than just NOMA, to say, OK, we actually need to work directly with schools, we need to work directly with institutions that are interacting with young designers in order to find this group of students of color that is constantly struggling to make it in this design field for multiple reasons. Reasons that are definitely systemic, that are definitely entrenched in a history that is all about inequality against Black people and people of color.
B.Arch 2020, Illinois Institute of Technology
The fellowship has been a really insightful opportunity to get to understand the inner workings of a large firm like Callison RTKL, collaborating with designers all over the country on various projects. What drew me to architecture is where I am from: Lagos, Nigeria. I was interested in solving urban problems like heavy traffic congestion and improving housing quality for people that need it. My father also is an architect back in Nigeria, so it was an easy sell for me.
My dream is to become a licensed architect. Then I hope to go back to Nigeria to continue my practice designing spaces that are sustainable and indigenous to Nigerian culture. The hardest challenge so far is always realizing that I am one of the few Black students or designers in the space. Sometimes I have to remind myself that I belong in the profession and my voice should be heard without any fear or judgment.
I feel that as architects we should always try to be sensitive to who we are designing for. I am hopeful that the profession is waking up to the importance of having a staff of diverse designers who actually reflect the makeup of the cities they are designing for.
Himesh Patel, AIAS
B.Arch. 2020, New York Institute of Technology
Ayers Saint Gross
The meaning of the fellowship—and the meaning of NOMA—is to build a community and to give opportunities to build each other up. We have to work together and we have to fight for each other and advocate for each other. Especially the new generation coming up, there are a lot of powerful voices, especially toward the sustainability sector. It’s not just lowering emissions, but on the social level, it impacts people of color the most. As temperatures rise, those effects are going to become harsher and harsher. Think of people in favelas in Brazil, slums in India, these people who have lower incomes and who can’t afford proper air-conditioning systems.
I’m not going to say which firm and call them out. But at one of the [previous] firms I worked in, we had to take a group picture. There were a lot of interns and they were very diverse, and I knew that’s specifically why they were doing it. Then the VPs came and literally every single one was a white male. If you really want to make true change, then at the top levels, that’s where you need to change the people. The people who are in charge of these businesses and political leaders, that’s where diversity is most important because they’re the ones who are able to take accountability.
B.Arch 2020, Illinois Institute of Technology
The fellowship means everything to me. It's a foot in the door and is building unexpected networks. Especially considering the way COVID-19 has affected the economy and the growing uncertainty we face, it has provided an opportunity to continue to work. I'm helping to develop a holistic approach to care at homeless shelters, rethinking policies, services, and typologies as a catalyst for new partnerships and new supportive housing. It's been an exciting, refreshing, and hopeful experience.
Architects need to be fearless. Imagine what the built environment could become if more architects were involved in politics. Architecture needs to reflect our collective ideals. It's already a catalyst for change, perhaps it needs to work in more mediums than just buildings. Architecture could do so much more. Why does it not?
The rest of the fellows:
Gabriel Andrade, University of Virginia, Ennead Architects Ferdinem Bartolon, University of Detroit Mercy, KTGY Architecture + Planning
Storm Campo, Woodbury University, Cuningham Group
Carl’Drail Cannon, Kent State University, ZGF
Zai Cook, Virginia Tech, KTGY Architecture + Planning
Ngoc Linh Danh, Morgan State University, Gould Evans
Desiree Green, Ball State University, Gensler
Nancy Guerrero, Prairie View A&M, CannonDesign
Sami Jaber, University of Louisiana at Lafayette, NBBJ
Roberto Medina, Ball State University, Colloqate
Christina Meyer, North Dakota State University, LS3P
Kenny Nguyen, University of Houston, Moody Nolan and the Shepley Bulfinch Summer Experience Program.
Malachi Pursley, Louisiana State University, Ennead Architects
Rosario Rojas, California Baptist University, Rothschild Doyno Collaborative
Sydnee Sampson, Tuskegee University, EYP and the ZGF Institute
DeJanae Wright, Morgan State University, KTGY Architecture + Planning