Caitlin Kessler, Assoc. AIA, 2017-2018 AIAS West Quadrant Director
While Boise, Idaho wasn’t on my initial list of cities I wanted to work in, I am very lucky with how I came to know and live in Boise. I met my now-firm principal at a scholarship function at my university (University of Arizona), as he was a past alumnus who established a scholarship for honors students. Having no idea what Idaho was, let alone Boise, I was hesitant when he requested I travel up there for an interview for Erstad Architects. But after a quick Google search and the prospect of a good job after graduation, I agreed to head up there to see it for myself – and it surpassed all my expectations! Boise is the perfect city for those who love a little bit of everything,and for those who like to getaway from everything and simply enjoy the wild lands Idaho is composed of. Boise is the place I never knew I needed to be, and while I came for the job, I stayed for everything it stands for: community, nature, and endless possibilities.
What sort of job opportunities are available?
Boise offers a wide range of firms for young professionals looking to expand their skill and network. I work at a small(ish) firm – there are about 16 of us. Other architecture firms in town have as few as two or as many as over 50 employees, with multiple office locations across the country. The range of work is also diverse, so there’s something for everyone. Erstad Architects specializes in community-based projects, where our team is able to work with non-profits to place their ideas into reality. Besides community work, I’ve also had hands-on experience with schools, banks, multi-family residences, zoo master planning, and stage modifications. A whole mixed bag of architectural goodness! Also, because Boise is one of the fastest growing cities in the US, the architectural possibilities are both expansive and urgent.
Tell us a little about your internship and exams. What were your successes/failures?
With the diversity of the projects happening in my firm, I’m learning something new everyday. Sometimes it’s really fun; sometimes it’s overwhelming. Because my firm is organized as a studio, I get hands-on experience with most aspects of a project. I’m learning how to navigate a variety of challenges while finding solutions through the built environment. Besides work, studying for my AREs has also pushed me out of my comfort zone in an effort to continue learning and growing. The most challenging part with studying has been maintaining a semblance of balance between work, life, and study. It’s difficult, especially when work or life gets busy, but it’s worth taking the extra time to review flash cards or read about a new topic. Understanding the bigger goal of becoming licensed motivates me on those days when studying is the last thing I want to do. Take the time and you will be rewarded.
How did you overcome your failures (if any) with the ARE/AXP?
So far, I’m happy to report that I’ve taken and passed two of the AREs – Practice Management and Project Management. I’m currently studying for my third test, Construction and Evaluation. One thing that’s been instrumental in keeping me focused has been the local support of the architecture community – especially the Aasociate AIA community. Recently, they’ve implemented monthly study groups where we review different topics and understand where we all are in our journey to becoming licensed. Being surrounding by people working hard toward a similar goal is a great motivator. I’d recommend to anyone studying for these rigorous exams to find others that are going through this journey and learn from one another.
What kind of firm support did you have for the licensure process?
Besides the local support of other young architects-to-be, my firm has been a great supporter through this journey. For the licensure process, Erstad Architects pays for each exam you pass on the first attempt. While it was super nerve-wracking taking my first exam, it was comforting to know that if I did pass, the fees would be reimbursed. These exams are costly, so this kind of financial support is very much appreciated. The firm also has study materials in the office, including the ARE Review Manual, practice questions, practice exams, and flash cards. We’ve even set up a difpgital folder system with resources others in my firm have found helpful. More experienced architects are always there to answer any questions, and they genuinely care about how your licensure process is going. Nothing’s more motive going than when your boss asks when your next exam is and is expecting a concrete answer – everyone here wants you to continue pushing forward!
What is the social scene like?
Boise is a vibrant city, which was almost unexpected when I first visited. The city itself is growing rapidly as more people move there each day, bringing in cool new businesses (like a ping pong ramen place) and forcing dense growth to occur, which helps keep the city core active and interesting. There are always events happening, and a few of my favorites include the Saturdays Farmers Market, the Idaho Shakespeare Festival, and Art in the Park. What makes Boise great in my opinion are the friendly people, the Greenbelt that connects the city through an extension of parks by the river, and the access to nature right outside the city.
How did you manage to make friends the first few months?
Honestly, I didn’t make friends right away. It was difficult to manage a new city and work schedule, and being the West Quad Director at the time kept my nights busy. However, I pushed myself to make time to build my network – friends are important, especially in a new city! I joined an organization called the Boise Young Professionals and attended one of their networking events. There, I met a few key people who have been fantastic friends, and my network expanded through getting to know their friends as well. What I love about the BYP is the diversity of professions represented – it’s not just architecture. I’ve learned a lot from the friends I’ve met through this organization and I’m happy I pushed myself to meet new people.
How did you find your apartment?
When I went up for my initial interview with Erstad Architects, I made it a point to stay a few days longer to explore the city. I knew right away that I loved this place, so part of my exploration included touring apartments. I was lucky to land on one that was right next to the Greenbelt in the heart of the city. The best way to look for housing in a new city is to explore the city and find areas you’re drawn to. It’s crucial that you get a feel for the place that you’re going to make part of your daily life. I also reached out to my soon-to-be coworkers to get their take on areas of the city.
What is your favorite part about Boise?
I’ve mentioned a few of my favorite parts of Boise – but overall, it comes down to the friendly community, the easy commuting along the Greenbelt, and the access to nature. It’s a city that is growing, but it’s also rooted in rich history. The brewery scene is amazing, too. Right outside of town, there are wineries to explore. Foothills line the city core for residents to enjoy afternoon hikes or trail runs. The Bogus Basin Ski resort is a thirty minute drive from downtown. There is something for everyone, which is why I invite anyone and everyone to come check it out for themselves. Who knew Boise wasn’t just surrounded by piles of potatoes??
This month, ‘I Want to Work In’ is sponsored by PPI, A Kaplan Company, the Preferred ARE Prep Provider of the AIAS.
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