Determined to Empower

YAF Chair Shares Experiences from Grassroots

By Joshua Harter, AIA Posted on April 9, 2015

JoshHarter.YAF 150x150This year’s Grassroots Leadership and Legislative Conference was my first experience participating in an AIA National event. I returned home from the conference with a confidence and passion in what the AIA does to promote our profession and a refreshed view of what it means to be a young architect member of the AIA. I left determined to empower my fellow young architects in becoming the next generation of leaders.

Everyday our colleagues are taking action, standing firm and working to defend the role of the architect, providing legislative resources towards important issues such as national model code development, empowering communities back from disaster, and working off the debt aspiring architects face.

According to the NAAB 6,347 accredited degrees were awarded in 2013; among these recent graduates will emerge tomorrow’s skilled community leaders. “Our vibrancy as a profession tomorrow depends on those starting their journeys today. It is a matter in which all of us should be deeply invested – as the AIA, as local and state chapters, and as architecture firms,” says Helene Combs Dreiling, FAIA, 2014 AIA President.

Through my conversations with component leaders at Grassroots, it is clear that fostering the future generation of leaders is an important national issue. Reappearing in this year’s talking points for the AIA Federal Agenda was the National Design Services Act (NDSA) HR4205. According to Evan Litvin, one emerging architect who created a Change.org petition supporting the NDSA as a grassroots effort, “Architects are trained to be innovative, out-of-the-box problem solvers with excellent critical thinking skills. The NDSA is an opportunity to leverage this wealth of talent for the purpose of improving our cities and neighborhoods…” We must all come to believe that people at any age can become effective leaders by passionately engaging with meaningful work. Grassroots serves to make everyone a messenger, and keynote speaker Jonah Berger’s inspiring address reinforced that AIA architects speak with confidence and passion about the full value of everything we do for our communities.

Architecture students are ready and eager to contribute their design abilities to help their communities as volunteers in trade for student loan assistance, but need Congress’s help to make that plan happen. It was surprising to consider other Federal policies are already in place that encourage medical, legal, and veterinary school graduates to work in under-served areas in exchange for student debt relief, but not architects.  To this effect, a feature workshop “Developing Leaders: Effective Component Leadership Programs” displayed exemplary cases from Portland, Baltimore, and Kansas City whose local chapters have developed robust civic leadership programs to help emerging professionals gain skills and be introduced to topics relevant to architects as business and community leaders. Witnessing these successful models was inspiring to AIA Pittsburgh’s hopes of fostering its own program for its next generation of leaders. In addition, ideas for a PA statewide mentoring program were also fostered at the convention. Subsequent planning is already taking place laying the groundwork for pilot implementation this coming fall across the state in Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, and Philadelphia, and with other chapters to follow. Furthermore, financial support has also been formed with an ARE grant program scheduled to be ready for PA applicants shortly.

My take away from the conference is that I want other young architects and emerging architecture professionals to know that the AIA is fighting for them, but we urgently need their participation to ensure a prosperous future and to inspire – through leadership with our colleagues – the creation of a better world for all people through architecture. The time is now to change the way we think. We must act in order to become a more valued, relevant profession in the public eye. We can only do it together, through our collaboration both in our practices and our involvement with AIA Pittsburgh.

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