Role Model Rant

Yesterday I skipped class to take a bus to New York City to attend a lecture given by a former professor of mine from undergrad at SUNY Buffalo.  Joyce Hwang was named an Emerging Voice of 2014 by the Architectural League and as part of the recognition, gave a lecture in NY about her work.  I had worked with her my summer after freshman year on a competition for an installation on Governor's Island and the summer after sophomore year on Bat Tower, a conspicuous house for bats installed at Griffis Sculpture Park near Buffalo.  When I was working for her, the projects seemed kind of crazy and definitely outside the boundary of what everyone told me architecture was, but I went along with it because it was fun and interesting.  Now, as a seasoned graduate student, I can look at where her work has gone in the past 5 years since then, it manifests itself as a compelling body of research with clear intentions and positioning within the discipline.  See her firm's website:

Hearing her lecture about her work last night with confidence and  enthusiasm as well as seeing her field the audience's inquiries afterward was really great.  Maybe my professors at MIT would disagree, but I think this was way more important than attending class, especially as I work towards developing my own thesis.  In my opinion, it's so important to constantly surround yourself with role models-someone you can see yourself being in 2 years, 5 years, 10 years, 30 years.  I actively seek out role models, especially career-role models so that I have an arsenal of answers when faced with a difficult or unfamiliar situation...and I can ask myself, "What Would [Role Model] Do?"

And in a career path where we are surrounded by grey-haired white men, where 15% of licensed architects in the AIA are women who make of 50% of the population, it is so important for women to seek out women role models in the profession.   And while there are many components to my identity that don't include gender--being white, middle-class, growing up in suburban Buffalo, a graduate of UB, near-sighted, right-handed, etc--the whole being a woman thing kind of stands out in this profession.  The same goes for those that identify as African American which though comprise 12% of Americans, only make up 1% of AIA licensed architects. For Hispanics, who are 16% of Americans, they represent only 3% of AIA licensed architects.  God forbid you are a mixed race African American/Hispanic woman.  For anyone who is underrepresented in the field, it is especially important to actively seek out role models with whom you identify.  Clearly white men need role models they identify with's just that they don't really need to consciously seek them out as much because they're surrounded by them.

And in the quest for role models, be sure to find someone who is as hilarious, as entertaining to hear tell stories and as good at cooking pallea as Joyce Hwang . . . and one who will organize a gathering of UB graduates in a bar in Brooklyn on a Friday night. Those are the best role models.