September 15, 2016 by 2019-2020 Equity & Diversity Task Force, 2019-2020 Sustainability & Resiliency Task Force, 2020-2021 Council of Global Representatives, 2020-2021 Learning & Teaching Culture Advisory Group, 2021-2022 Professional Development Advisory Group

Hello AIAS! It’s great to be back in the National Office after the first round of chapter visits as National President. As Rachel and I enter into our third month as officers, it’s becoming increasingly evident how important it is to get out from behind our computers and listen to members all over the country. At the end of August, I had the opportunity to drive from Virginia to Alabama, visit 12 schools and meet with hundreds of students and faculty members.

AIAS Chapter Visits allowed schools to discuss pressing issues of architecture education and the profession and where opportunities for AIAS to make a positive influence are available. From diverse insights from educators and students across the east coast and southeast, I’d like to present the highlights and plenty of paraphrased ideas to give a quick view into the exciting ideas that are emerging from schools and unveil how a huge component of serving as an AIAS Officer is synthesizing your ideas into future programs, advocacy initiatives, and a representational voice that speaks for architecture students.





Starting at the University of Virginia, the conversation started big and got bigger — “What is the role of the architect in society?” “What is the role of architecture school in preparing students for licensure versus alternative careers?” “What is the future of architecture?” “How can we further engage with our students with a global network?” With two of the AIAS committees this year being Advocacy and a Global Council, it’s so important for us to make connections between the resilience of the profession and connecting with a global perspective.



Next on tour was Virginia Tech where I was introduced to the shared role of architecture school and AIAS as a way to grow students as better team members. “Being prepared for the profession comes down to being a good team member.” This is great news because AIAS members are experts in collaboration. We build on that idea that while AIAS teaches students to collaborate, listen, work efficiently and delegate, being a truly valuable, trusted and respected team member comes down to “being really good at what you do.” So that’s where school comes in.





After a great AIAS member meeting, a tour of the studios, and a dinner in Blacksburg, VA with some AIAS members and the faculty advisor, I drove to Raleigh, North Carolina. Tuesday morning started with coffee and bagels with the North Carolina State students. Most significantly we talked about why everyone stayed in architecture school. Overwhelming, the theme was “architects and architecture students have the ability to make a positive impact on the world.” This sentiment was mirrored by the faculty advisor later who articulated that the main benefit of AIAS is “the ability to care about something outside of your education so that when you graduate, you won’t be discouraged by the business side of the profession but are still energetic by all of the ways you can use your education to make a positive difference outside of work.” Plus one to that.



From Raleigh, I traveled on to Greensboro, North Carolina, home of North Carolina Agricultural and Technological State University (NC A&T). AIAS members at NC A&T are comprised of both Architectural Engineering students and Landscape Architecture students. This diversity of education led to a discussion about the extents of our profession and how important it is to gain different experiences while in school.



That evening in Charlotte, I attended University of North Carolina Charlotte’s Exec Board meeting. I have never seen such an efficient, well-run, 2-hour board meeting… and they have them every week! No wonder UNCC operates at such a high capacity. They planned their BBQ, analyzed past events, developed a membership recruitment strategy, ran through the upcoming chapter meeting, organized mentorship activities and delegated homework for the following meeting! And then we relaxed over Thai food.



The next morning I walked into the faculty-student meeting at Central Piedmont Community College and was blown away. It was here that I asked what makes architecture students unique and got the response from an architecture technology student, Rhonda Richardson: “other designers compete against each other, architecture students compete together against the design.” These words summed up the unique studio culture community of architecture school. This put into words that although architecture students are competitive, dedicated, hard-working designers, there is a positive comradery that drives everyone to be their best for the sake of the whole. Allowing yourself — your skills, your experience, your network, your knowledge, and your friendships — to develop into the best version of yourself is the most rewarding part about architecture school.





After the most beautiful drive in the country through the Great Smoky Mountains, I arrived in Knoxville. UTK hosted a school-wide meeting introducing all architecture student organizations. I had the opportunity to talk about why joining AIAS is the best thing you’ll ever do with your architecture education and explain some of the exciting national events we have coming up this year. All I can say is, AIAS Imagine (60-at-60) is going to be amazing.  





Next was Clemson, which has a great history of outstanding AIAS and Freedom by Design (FBD) involvement. Meeting with the Director of the School of Architecture, Kate Schwennsen, and Chapter Vice President Courtney Ardis, opened my eyes up to issues of cross-year level mentorship, leadership and legacy transition.





By that evening I had made my way down to Atlanta to have a chapter dinner with both Kennesaw State University and Georgia Tech. We talked about best practices in chapter events, fundraising, FBD projects and had a great time connecting between chapters. Learning and talking with students from universities is what inspired me to join AIAS five years ago. I don’t think it will ever get old.



By this point it was already Friday! Friday meant only three more schools and four more meetings. The day started with the faculty at Georgia Tech where we discussed the interest in connecting with professionals in the area. The AIAS Design Alliance is the first national step to connect students with architecture firms. In terms of advocacy, Georgia Tech brought up that fair overtime compensation is still a big issue for recent graduates and working students. After years of advocacy work, unpaid internships and the title intern are justifiably antiquated, and there’s still work to be done. The studio habits of exhausting oneself in pursuit of perfection with no concern for personal value might be doing more harm to the reputation of our profession than good. The good news is that there’s plenty of opportunities for AIAS to continue exploring this issue. In coming years, students can look forward to more AIAS initiatives addressing studio culture in terms of how students can take ownership and pride over their work and value in order to create healthy design processes that translate into a healthy profession.





Now I’m on the home stretch, Auburn and Tuskegee! Sweet home Alabama. I made it to Auburn just in time for the classic pizza lunch chapter meeting. Being back in that lecture hall was a combination of nostalgic and an overwhelming “too soon” feeling. Knowing so much about how this chapter operates, I figured the most valuable message to present here would be a behind-the-scenes overview of the visits so far. We went through what other students and faculty have been talking about and what AIAS will be looking into this year. The rest of the chapter meeting involved upcoming events, programs such as freshmen mentorship, Freedom by Design and involving the entire chapter.



After the wonderful meeting at Auburn and grabbing a latte at my favorite coffee shop, I was off to Tuskegee! The first meeting with the Dean and Faculty Advisor exposed issues that many chapters face, chapters rely on several strong leaders to drive the interest in AIAS, but how can we make this leadership transition instated so that it’s seamless year after year? Next, the student meeting was almost all 5th years and 1st years, which is representative of the most basic benefits and needs that AIAS caters to — community and professional connections. It was a very insightful meeting and a wonderful celebration for the last chapter event. At that point my trips were done and I headed back to Auburn for a good ole fashioned AIAS *cough* night time social event.

So what’s next on the horizon?? The next trip for the National Office is Rachel’s trip across Canada and then my trip in October through the Northeast. Thank you to every school, student, administrator and educator for such an incredible experience!! See y’all again soon!


Sarah Wahlgren
President | AIAS