By: Nickie Cheung, AIA, NOMA
Minority Architects of Pittsburgh Scholarship (MAPS) is currently accepting applications for the Fall Scholarship until Sunday, November 5th. Each year, the MAPS team is committed to hosting two application windows for the Pittsburgh community to apply and receive funding toward an exploration of architecture and design. More recently, college has become an increasingly unclear guarantor of success, and identity-based admissions processes have come under scrutiny at all levels. With this in mind, we reflected on the various ways that MAPS extends beyond financial support to its prospective applicants and successful awardees. This year, the team is committed to improving the application process and building deeper connections between architecture firms, local Pittsburgh architects, and MAPS Awardees at all stages of their journey
Before the path to licensure begins, prospective first-year architecture students must have foresight and financial capacity as many accredited programs evaluate creative p
otential through applicant portfolio submissions. Students in underinvested neighborhoods struggle from significant lack of resources, while other students are able to afford university pre-college programs. Programs like Project Pipeline, ACE Mentorship, Assemble, and the Center for Architecture Explorations provide low-cost programs for students with transportation, but other students turn to art programs that provide adjacent educational experiences. Students and their families must navigate confusing hurdles, like the portfolio process, that many families are unaware of, leaving students less likely to gain attendance. MAPS strives to partner with Pittsburgh organizations to identify potential uses for scholarships that will help bolster a student’s chance to make it into the profession.
In 2022, the MAPS team connected pre-college program directors with MAPS awardee Demetrius Broadnax, a regular attendee of the Project Pipeline Summer Architecture Camp who was unable to access any other local art courses. Through the connection, Demetrius was able to successfully attend and complete the summer pre-college program. The 4-week architecture pre-college program at Carnegie Mellon University in 2023 cost $8,050 for a commuter or $10,100 for on-campus residents after fees. While MAPS was unable to fully support his tuition cost, Carnegie Mellon University awarded Demetrius a full scholarship to attend the program. In his reflection of the MAPS process, Demetrius shared that “MAPS made introductions and connections that opened doors to opportunities in the field of architecture that otherwise might not have been available to me.” Demetrius is now a first-year undergraduate student in the Interior Architecture program at Chatham University.
Following graduation from an accredited degree, the ARE exam period can be isolating and expensive. Per NCARB, the Path to Licensure begins with enrollment in an accredited higher education program and ends upon licensure. According to the 2023 NCARB By The Numbers report, it takes about 13 years for architects to complete the Path to Licensure, meaning candidates are spending between 5 to 8 years after graduating from an accredited degree to complete the ARE exams. In addition, the total cost to sit for the exams is $1,410, with $100 cancellation fees and an additional $235 per retake. Many firms will reimburse the fee for passing an exam, but usually candidates are expected to pay for the registration and any retake fees required.
Access to study materials are a key component to helping facilitate a successful licensure. Amber Book, which boasts an 80% average pass rate for enrollees, costs $410/month for individual access. Other costs for materials range from $149/month (Black Spectacles) to a $400 lump sum for a set of books from PPI2PASS. While some firms offer study resources to their employees, NCARB candidates in firms that do not must make the decision to study with less material or pay greater amounts for access to study content. Study groups offered by AIA Pittsburgh’s Young Architects Forum and NOMA Pittsburgh’s Team Develop help foster camaraderie between candidates, but resources are limited to help candidates pay for their exams. MAPS establishes a means for candidates to receive funding for exams prior to passing. Awardees are able to re-apply for the scholarship regardless of the outcome of their exam, and are only expected to sit for the exam within the next calendar year.
MAPS is committed to cultivating design curiosity, discovering career and educational pathways, and growing the next generation of diverse designers. Since its formation, MAPS has been committed to partnering with others in the community and has formed bonds with AIA Pittsburgh, NOMA Pittsburgh, and the Pittsburgh Architecture Foundation. We are also involved in the Architecture Learning Network, a group of organizations dedicated to increasing access to architectural education. When asked about community partnerships and the value of the scholarship, MAPS Chair Robert Tuñón reflected, “Pittsburgh is a special architectural community because it is small enough where everyone knows each other, and that fosters greater cross-collaboration. At the same time, Pittsburgh is small in a way that it requires us all to work together for capacity reasons, but also to achieve something greater. We’ve used that closeness to build strong relationships across our network to help MAPS awardees in intentional and unexpected ways.”
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 Fall scholarship round opened on October 6th coinciding with the start of Pittsburgh Architecture Week, and will close on November 5th.
- Interact with MAPS via email@example.com, @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.