“We are invested in the future of the profession,” states Sean Sheffler, AIA. At the beginning of the month, AIA Pittsburgh made a big announcement – that the long-defunct Foundation for Architecture has been reestablished. With a focused mission and enthusiastic, hand-selected Board of Directors (of which Sheffler is a member), the Foundation has hit the ground running in its efforts “to provide leadership development for architects and emerging architectural professionals.” Columns talked with the new board members – chair Daniel Rothschild, AIA, Jen Bee, AIA, and Sean Sheffler, AIA – about how the organization found its legs again, and what they hope for its future.
Columns: How did the Foundation come to be reformed?
Jen Bee: For quite some time, the AIA Pittsburgh Board of Directors has been looking to find new ways to engage emerging architects and develop leadership opportunities for architects within the profession and in the greater community. Executive director Anne Swager, Hon. AIA brought up the possibility of re-activating the Foundation as a source to support these efforts, and the Board agreed that this would be an excellent solution.
Columns: And how did each of you come to be involved?
Dan Rothschild: I was drawn to the new focus of the mission, leadership development for emerging professionals. That topic is both personally exciting and something we have worked hard on within our firm (Rothschild Doyno Collaborative). At this point in my career, I feel like I have something to contribute and can hopefully leave a legacy.
JB: I was a board member when discussions of the Foundation began. I was very excited about the idea of bringing the Foundation back to life – we have a wonderful opportunity here! It is the start of new possibilities for the profession in our region.
Sean Sheffler: Most people that know me through the AIA know that my primary focus (or “platform,” if you will) has always been the championship and support of the emerging professionals in our region. It’s been something that I’ve been able to pursue at both the state and national level, but I’ve always been interested in how I can continue to create new opportunities for Pittsburgh’s young architects.
In describing the foundation to me, Anne painted a picture of an organization that could truly be anything that we need it to be at any given time. The possibilities are truly endless… I’m fortunate to have found that my colleagues (Dan and Jen) both came to the table with the same interest in promoting young professionals as I did. Our common values have created a unified direction for the foundation’s next several years.
Columns: What are your hopes and goals for the Foundation as it moves forward?
DR: We hope that the programming can help create a group of leaders that would further their own paths but also work together to improve the leadership of the AIA and of architects in our region. Architectural education is sometimes challenged at teaching professional practice. When practice is taught, it focuses on a technical or legal side; leadership is not often touched on. Trying to fill that void is an excellent opportunity for our architectural community.
SS: And empowerment of our young professionals is only one side of it; succession planning is one of the biggest challenges facing the profession. Our plans for the Leadership Development program will help to define the next generation of leadership in this region, meaning that the Foundation will be playing a role in the upper management of practically every major firm in Pittsburgh.
JB: I hope to see the foundation fuel new self-sustaining, long lasting programs that further the efforts of architects and emerging architects in our region. Our inaugural series, the Leadership Institute, will commence this fall, more on that coming soon!
For right now, though, the Foundation is offering one emerging professional a stipend of $1,200 to attend the AIA Convention in Philadelphia next month. Interested applicants* are asked to submit a 500 word essay answering the question “What is Leadership?” We’re excited to read what is written.
DR: Leadership is not necessarily something you are born with. We may have qualities of it within us, but it can be taught as well, you can be taught how to become an effective leader. We hope that the new focus of the Foundation will be an opportunity for people to get a sense of what their leadership potential is. We could do more as a profession to focus on this, and now AIA Pittsburgh’s Foundation for Architecture is doing just that.