By: Robert Tuñón, AIA, NOMA
In recognition of the immense challenges facing architecture students of color and their extraordinary perseverance, the Minority Architects of Pittsburgh Scholarship (MAPS) awarded eight scholarships this spring:
- Oluwatomilola Adebayo, designer and photographer
- Neha Chopra, fourth year B.Arch. at CMU
- Janessa Gaston, first year M.Arch at CMU
- Elizabeth Hager, third year B.Arch. at CMU
- Camila Martinez, third year B.Arch. at CMU
- Shahzadi Padda, third year B.Arch. at CMU
- Shayla Thomas, second year M.Arch. at CMU
- Starr Wasler, third year B.Arch. at CMU
Celebrating the impact of the scholarship, MAPS Awardee Neha Chopra voiced that “as an international student, it is reassuring to know that there are steps being taken towards inclusion within the field of architecture.” She added that, “these efforts may seem small in relation to everything that stands in the way of diversity, but being a member of the MAPS cohort gives me a sense of community and the confidence to continue working towards my goals.” Neha is also an active member of CMU NOMAS, the student chapter of the National Organization of Minority Architecture Students.
The MAPS team laments that the road to becoming an architect as a person of color is often thwarted at university. “For every 100 students who enroll (in a campus-based architecture program in the US), only 20 will graduate,” reported NPR in a story about NOMA National President Sabian Pascale. ”The statistics plummet further for students of color and grow more dismal still for women of color.” We encourage you to read Pascale’s experience in architecture school to see how discouraging the architecture school environment can be for aspiring minority architects. To counteract this discouraging trend, the MAPS Spring 2023 Scholarship Round focused on giving these students a boost. MAPS Awardee Elizabeth Hager reflected that “as one of the few black women in my architecture program, it can be difficult to feel supported, understood, and cared for in my community. I am grateful to be a MAPS recipient and receive financial assistance from a team that demonstrates their commitment to supporting architecture students.” This sentiment was echoed by Camila Martinez, a third year B.Arch student at CMU: “The scholarship inspires me to keep persevering against adversities I face and it has taken away a portion of financial stress that comes with being a college student. Now I can focus on producing my best work that will help me on my path of becoming a professional architect and provide the opportunity of being an inspiration for Latina girls like me in the future.”
During the application review process, the MAPS team relies on the applicant’s responses and reference testimonials. For Oluwatomilola Adebayo, we heard from prestigious photographer Ed Massery: “I met Tomi during a photography shoot and she demonstrated a tremendous amount of enthusiasm.” After their initial meeting, Ed offered Tomi a position as his photography assistant. “She approached work with tenacity and she threw herself into learning. If she sets her mind to do something, she stays with it even if there’s obstacles in front of her.” In addition to being an emerging architectural photographer, Tomi is also an accomplished violinist with performances on WQED, a talented artist with past exhibitions in The Coloured Section, and an all-around creative who assembled a Black History Month fashion / photoshoot event with Burns Scalo. Tomi completed her undergraduate studies and is now in transition to the next steps in her journey. In response to the scholarship, Tomi shared, “This award not only provides some financial relief in my pursuit of an education in the architecture field, but also represents a welcoming of diversity in the field.” Please know that Pittsburgh is rooting for you, Tomi!
In the fourth round of scholarships, MAPS financial awards ranged from $200 to $750 and totaled $3,250. The Spring 2023 Scholarship round was not specifically aimed at women, but was the result of a collection of very strong applications and the recognition of deserving candidates. While the MAPS team was reviewing this round’s applications, it was also reckoning with the latest NCARB Demographics report. NCARB by the Numbers 2022 noted that even though five years of efforts were put into increasing diversity in the profession, Black women “continue to make up less than 1% of the total architect population in the United States.” The report called attention to the fact that the number of Asian men entering the profession has declined. While there were some highlights cited, we have to ask why more substantial progress has not been made for all racial and ethnic minority groups. While we might not feel that Pittsburgh can solve this problem for the county, we certainly can do more in our city and we have real solutions that require immediate support. NOMA PGH, its Project Pipeline program, UDream, and MAPS are all examples of where Pittsburgh’s few minority architects have been devoting tremendous amounts of effort as well as resources. We are currently asking for Pittsburgh’s support to continue our journey and lifelong goal of becoming and/or remaining architects as well as helping others achieve the same.
MAPS Board Member Prerana Paliwal commented, “Just as architecture shapes physical spaces, diversity reshapes how opportunities are perceived and distributed, leading to a more inclusive and innovative profession. The MAPS Scholarship stands as a beacon of hope, illuminating the path for aspiring architects from marginalized communities and driving them towards their dreams. Together with the Pittsburgh architecture community’s enabling contributions, we are constructing not just buildings, but a community that uplifts, empowers, and fosters inclusion. With each scholarship awarded, we lay the foundation for a more vibrant, representative, and equitable future in architecture.” Prerana Paliwal is a founding member of MAPS, an AIA Pittsburgh Board Member, and an architect at Gensler.
In its first two years of operation, MAPS has raised and distributed over $11,000 to more than 20 recipients through four scholarship rounds. MAPS seeks to dramatically increase the amount distributed each biannual round and to do so, we are requesting financial support from individuals, businesses, firms, nonprofits, and foundations to help relieve the financial burden on minority architects and students. To the Pittsburgh architecture community, we ask that you consider the following actions to support our work:
- Share about the MAPS Scholarship. The next scholarship round will open on October 6th coinciding with the start of Pittsburgh Architecture Week, and will close on November 5th.
- Interact with MAPS via firstname.lastname@example.org, @mapspgh on Instagram, and Minority Architects of Pittsburgh Scholarship on Facebook
- Make a donation to MAPS
The MAPS Team would like to extend a special thanks to our partners NOMA Pittsburgh, AIA Pittsburgh, and Pittsburgh Architecture Foundation who have been instrumental partners in supporting MAPS. The MAPS Team consists of Nickie Cheung, Ashley Cox, Robyn Engel, Prerana Paliwal, Robert Tuñón, and Riccardy Volcy. MAPS is a fiscally sponsored project of Side Project, Inc, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.