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Danielle Mitchell, Assoc. AIA
Honolulu, Hawaii was never on my radar! I got very lucky and notice of a potential job came to me!
During my year serving as AIAS President in 2015-2016, I met an architect from Hawaii while serving on the AIA National Board of Directors. After working on AIA initiatives together, he informed me that his firm was hiring and we started discussing the potential of starting my career in Honolulu. My first firm principal was someone I looked up to within the AIA and I appreciated his genuine care for me as a goal-oriented individual rather than just as an employee who could crank out drawings. While debating what my next move would be, I was most concerned about the mentorship I could find within a firm. With that in mind, I knew I would be making the right first career move by going to this Honolulu based firm.
The decision to move 5,000 miles away from loved ones, family, and friends was one that was incredibly difficult. Yet, in knowing myself, I knew I would make the move to Hawaii the day the idea was introduced to me. Most of this stemmed from my fear of regret for not taking a chance on Hawaii and always wondering what could have been.
What sort of job opportunities are available?
Although Hawaii is often thought of as just a place to go for vacation, it is a major city with the same industries and job opportunities that you would expect to find in any other urban area. There are always job opportunities on the AIA Honolulu website and the architectural industry is currently hiring at a high rate due to such demand.
Tell us a little about your internship and exams. What were your successes/failures?
Studying is no fun, but I am glad I’m doing my best to finish testing now instead of later in life! I took my first exam five months after starting at a firm and have now taken one every two months or so. I am a procrastinator by nature, so I start studying hard for about two weeks before each exam. This method worked well in the beginning and I passed Construction Documents and Services and Programming, Planning and Practice.
For me, what’s worked best has been using a mix of all the study material. Architect Exam Prep study material to get a good overview of the material, then going into Ballast (PPI) and Kaplan study guides to review in greater detail. My favorite practice tests are Ballast (PPI) and I like the way they explain the test answers. I was fortunate to have received the AIA Jason Pettigrew Memorial Scholarship which includes a Black Spectacles subscriptions that also describes study material in a new and refreshing way.
How did you overcome your failures with the ARE?
I think I started to get a little too confident and didn’t study enough for my Site Planning and Design exam, and had my first failure. I retook it as soon as I could and took studying much more seriously. I thought I’d be able to pass without a problem the second time around of taking SPD, but turns out I failed again! So the double fail has been frustrating yet humbling and I’m still unsure of what my next move will be. I am constantly debating if I should switch into 5.0 testing and have yet to decide!
The biggest help has been studying alongside someone else to keep me accountable and focused while studying!
What kind of firm support did you have for the licensure process?
My first firm principal was someone I looked up to within the AIA and I appreciated his genuine care for me as a goal-oriented individual rather than just as an employee who could crank out drawings. While debating what my next move would be, I was most concerned about the mentorship I could find within a firm. With that in mind, I knew I would be making the right first career move by going to this Honolulu based firm.
What is there to do during nights/weekends?
Just about anything and everything you could think of! This is my favorite aspect of Honolulu – you can work in a challenging, competitive, and innovative architecture firm by day and then be in island paradise by night/weekend. There is an active nightlife here, with three major places to check out. Waikiki is the central location for tourists, bars, and clubs. Chinatown in Downtown Honolulu is more of the local nightlife scene. Kaka’ako is the up and coming warehouse district – full of breweries and eateries.
On the weekend you can take your pick of nature’s finest. With some of the best beaches and mountains in the world, you can hike, beach, surf, snorkel, and explore the many different wonders of the island. Once you get over how beautiful the island is, you can choose to watch Netflix all day, too.
How did you find your apartment?
Craigslist! How else do you find apartments?
This was a tough one. After trying to be tough and telling my parents I was an adult and didn’t need their help during my move, I was so thankful to hear that they’d be joining me in my first week in Honolulu anyway. I absolutely needed their help! To fit within my budget, I needed to find roommates – a task I found to be nearly impossible in Honolulu. My potential roommates from Craigslist included 3 retired crazy cat ladies, a middle-aged juggler, a surfer dude who was just too chill, and a partitioned living room in a Waikiki condo. I chose to live in someone’s living room without any full height walls because it was around the block from my office. I lasted there three months until enough was enough and I found a friend to move into a new place with. We also found our current apartment on Craigslist but this time, we didn’t have to worry about the crazy roommate situation which made the search much easier!
How did you manage to make friends the first few months?
I used an app to find friends! I moved to Honolulu knowing absolutely no one so when I first got there, I started using “Bumble BFF” in hopes of meeting others who were looking for new friends too. Bumble is known as a dating app but you can use it to just find friends – pretty odd, I have to admit, but I wasn’t sure where else to go! This is how I ended up meeting my now roommate!
I also joined every MeetUp group I could, joined the Penn State Alumni Association, and got involved in AIA and DoCoMoMo (Documentation and Conservation of the Modern Movement). This is where I ended up meeting friends that I could relate to about architecture, design, and shared outdoor hobbies which made me feel most at home.
What is your favorite part about Honolulu?
I really appreciate the scale of Honolulu and having the best of both worlds with a small, close-knit architectural community in a major urban setting. I have loved learning more about the varied cultures here and being a small part of so much diversity. This has allowed me to learn more about myself and opened my eyes to many different perspectives.
The other great thing about Honolulu is the ability to go to the other Hawaiian Islands so easily. You can take a thirty minute flight and end up in Maui, Kauai, the Big Island, Lanai, or Molokai. Each of these island offers a unique, beautiful experience and I have loved having the opportunity to appreciate the different islands.
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