New Scholarship for Pittsburgh’s Minority Architects

By Robert Tuñón, AIA, NOMA, EcoDistricts AP Posted on October 22, 2021

Prospective minority architects are disproportionately deterred from starting or completing the path to becoming an architect, in large part due to how financially prohibitive it can be to pursue a career in Architecture. In 2020, we held a series of conversations with members and leaders from NOMA Pittsburgh, AIA Pittsburgh, and the Pittsburgh Architecture Foundation to brainstorm possible ways to reduce the profession’s financial barriers and support the growth of a more inclusive and representative Pittsburgh Architecture community. As a result of these discussions, we formed the Minority Architects of Pittsburgh Scholarship (MAPS).

This week, we launched the inaugural MAPS application with a submission deadline of Nov. 17, 2021. MAPS is specifically for minority architects, architecture students, and high school students interested in pursuing a career in Architecture. Its purpose is to provide people of color with financial support for education, professional development, and other growth opportunities. Scholarships of $200-$2,000 will be awarded to successful applicants during this application round.

NOMA Build Team Co-chair and AIA Associate Board member, Nickie Cheung, is one of the scholarship’s six founding members. He explained that “the AIA’s 2016 Report on Diversity in the Profession of Architecture confirmed what we already knew: the associated costs to become an architect is a major financial hurdle for people of color, and financial assistance is one way we can provide support to the next generation of leaders.” Industry-supported scholarships were identified in the report as the best way to address underrepresentation of people of color in the profession. “MAPS creates a way for our profession to confront our legacy of exclusivity by increasing access through financial support to individuals in need,” added Nickie, who is also an Associate AIA member and designer for Rothschild Doyno Collaborative.

The scholarship will be opened twice a year (fall and spring) and is designed to allow applicants to express their needs. It functions more as a grant request than a typical scholarship so that applicants can state their desired amount and the desired use. The current limitations are that scholarship awards must be paid to a college or organization, not an individual, and it is limited by the amount of fundraising the MAPS Committee can achieve each year.

“It is our mission to create a scholarship that supports people experiencing economic disadvantages in their journey to become an Architect.” added Prerana Paliwal, a founding member of MAPS. “Diversity of voices and perspectives included in the design process leads to solutions that work for all of us. By focusing on equity and inclusion, we can foster a built environment that is unique and relatable to all of us.” Prerana is also an Associate AIA and designer for Desmone Architects.

We want to call attention to NOMA Pittsburgh, the organization where minority architects can find community and support; no organization does more work for the collective benefit of people of color in Architecture, and MAPS is only a complimentary initiative. The heart of the issue is that there are so few minority architects working in Pittsburgh and of the very few, an even lower percentage occupy positions of firm partner or principal. For those of us committed to the work of racial justice and social equity in the profession, this status quo is not acceptable. How many years will it take to see a more diverse and inclusive architectural profession in Pittsburgh? What will we say for ourselves if nothing changes in the years when we had the capacity to make a difference? We ask that you consider the following actions to support our work:

The MAPS Advisory Committee would like to extend a special thanks to Victoria Acevedo, Erica Cochran Hameen, Gwen Dakis, Michelle Fanzo, Chalis Sledge Henderson, and Alicia Volcy who have been instrumental in supporting the formation of MAPS.

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