Within the profession, it’s the dreaded “I” word — Intern architect. It’s that glorious period after graduation, after securing that first real job with the paycheck, before becoming a registered professional. Each seasoned professional can tell at least one story of a time during that period of their career that was good, even extraordinary; a story that was bad, so bad it shouldn’t be repeated; and perhaps even a story that was downright ugly. At IKM, it took a culture shift at the firm to make the experience award-winning.
The American Institute of Architects announced IKM Incorporated as a recipient of the National Intern Development Program (IDP) Firm Award 2012-2015. This award recognizes IKM, one of only 11 firms in the U.S. selected for this honor. IKM is a 100-year old Pittsburgh-based architectural firm, known for such local projects as the Phipps Conservatory Welcome Center and Tropical Forest, UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, and Westinghouse Corporate Headquarters.
This is “a period of transition for every architect between the academia and registration,” says Stephen Lee, AIA, professor and head of the School of Architecture at Carnegie Mellon University. Upon graduation, an intern architect must complete 5,600 hours of professional practice and then complete the architectural registration exam (ARE). Equivalent to almost three years of full-time work, those hours of practice are catalogued through the National Council of Architectural Registration Board (NCARB) and the Intern Development Program, or IDP.
“I became aware of IKM’s leadership in IDP when I received a call from Tami Greene, IKM Architect’s IDP Auxiliary Coordinator giving me an update on the progress of recent CMU graduates that had been hired by IKM,” said Lee. “I am pleased IKM is providing such great leadership in that critical period for every architect. From my experience, most firms don’t fully understand the IDP program, so I was thoroughly impressed with IKM’s vision and commitment.”
“We are honored to have this recognition bestowed on our firm,” said Tami Greene, AIA, senior project manager and registered architect for IKM. “We have worked hard to improve our IDP program to serve the changing needs of our young architects and to reflect our ever-changing profession.“
The IKM program was formalized in 2006 with recognition of the need for more structured criteria to aid young architects in their preparation for the ARE. Since that time, Greene has led the program as it has grown and developed. “It was through my personal experience with the process and discussing the needs of interns in our office that I was able to identify the goals of our program,” stated Greene.
“Our IDP program goals are to:
- Provide opportunities for a well-rounded experience that efficiently fulfills the IDP requirements and develops the emerging professional;
- Supply a current library of study resources and practice tests for the Architectural Registration Exam (ARE);
- Build a culture where all the staff understand and support the efforts of the intern, contributing every possible opportunity;
- Develop a structured format to monitor interns’ experiences and give them the opportunity to voice suggestions, concerns, and questions along the way.”
IKM implemented an IDP Cohort in 2008, which consists of a group of individuals on the staff that helps to schedule events, develop resources, and keep the program growing. The result is an IKM program that provides direct experience in the field, on job sites; participation with clients at user meetings; requesting opportunities from other project managers at bi-weekly staff meetings until it became part of the office culture; regularly scheduled tours of manufacturing plants; preparing and organizing lessons-learned lunch seminars; and a standing meeting every month with the intern and their supervisor to talk just about the IDP process.
When asked about the support from the IKM program, Daniel Snider, intern architect and CMU School of Architecture graduate says, “The IKM IDP program is great, I have a supervisor I can talk to about what my concerns are; she makes sure I get the professional practice hours that I need or we can just discuss things about the architecture profession that I want to know more about.”
The Intern Development Program Advisory Committee of AIA National chose 11 firms from nationwide submissions that have demonstrated a deep commitment and innovation in the training of the next generation of graduate architects. IKM satisfied all twelve criteria for the award making it an exemplary environment for graduate interns pursuing licensure.