Reflections for Black History Month: Ty Juan Swanson-Sawyer

Reflections for Black History Month: Ty Juan Swanson-Sawyer
Written by: Rachel Park, IKM Project Designer

Project Designer Ty Juan Swanson-Sawyer, from our Cleveland office, is a graduate of Kent State University. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Architecture and a dual Master’s degree in Architecture and Urban Design. His architectural trajectory began with participation in the Architecture, Construction, and Engineering (ACE) Mentor Program of Cleveland. Here’s a glimpse into his inspiring career path within the architecture community.

“Being an architect has always been a dream of mine since I was ten years old. My dad enrolled me in the John Hay Architecture and Design High School because he saw my passion at a young age and wanted to help me pursue it. In 2013, during my junior year of high school, I met Dan Polak (currently an Associate and Project Manager at IKM) when I joined the ACE Mentor Program of Cleveland. Dan, alongside other lifelong mentors, taught me many valuable lessons about the architecture, construction, and engineering career fields. While in the ACE program, I learned about the pathways, processes, roles, and responsibilities of being an architect. Meeting mentors like Dan greatly impacted my desire to continue pursuing architecture as my future profession.

When I enrolled in college and attended Kent State University, Dan again continued to become my mentor through the College Now program. While in the College of Architecture and Environmental Design (CAED), I struggled to acclimate myself to the curriculum and stringency of architecture school. By having him as a mentor, I was able to receive great advice and critiques on my project work, overall college experience, and architecture school in general. It was very comforting and validating to have such a positive resource in Dan while attending Kent State University. After graduating from my undergraduate program, we kept in touch and I continued to update him on my journey when I moved on to complete my graduate school program also at Kent State University. After finishing my graduate school program, I decided to stay at the firm I had initially interned at. It was a great experience learning while I was working there, but I got to a point where I wanted to expand, grow, and evolve past my prior experience. Dan had already been working at IKM Architecture’s Cleveland office for a few years and told me they were looking for emerging professionals at that time. We discussed IKM’s project types, culture, and history, to which I was very interested, and this led me to pursue an amazing opportunity with the firm. Even today, he has continued mentoring me by teaching, encouraging, and guiding me towards my passion. Dan has been a great advocate, mentor, and friend over the 10-plus years we have known each other, and I am truly grateful for it.”

When asked what aspects of architecture drove his passions, Ty Juan responds, “I enjoy the inherent connective nature of architecture. An architect needs to think about so many aspects of society when designing a building. Culture, different professions, context, geography, ecosystems, aesthetics, the users, the client, etc. are all important factors when creating a successful design. My overall goal in becoming an architect is to give a voice to design that hasn’t always been heard. In my life so far, I have only met a handful of African American architects — and fewer that are licensed. I want to inspire the next generation of black and brown youth to pursue architecture as their profession by leading by example. Throughout my life, I’ve heard many stories of African-Americans, of all ages, who wanted to pursue architecture but never thought that it was something achievable for them. The more successful and visible I become, the more I can potentially inspire someone who never was able to see themselves as an architect despite wanting to become one. I have always had a desire to impact the built environment; to be able to create something that will last for 50 to 100 plus years is fascinating to me. I want to grow with my craft and evolve with the profession as I traverse through it. My career is just getting started and I’m very excited to see where I will be when my journey reaches the finish line.”

For the past few years, Ty Juan has been vital at IKM, serving as a dedicated Project Designer. His professional journey has been characterized by a dynamic engagement with various projects and sectors, showcasing his versatility and commitment to excellence. Beyond his impactful contributions in the office, Ty Juan has extended his passion for mentorship to the ACE Mentor Program. Approaching his third year as a mentor, he continues to guide and inspire students at the same high school where he once found advocacy and leadership. His involvement in the program goes beyond imparting technical skills; it’s about instilling confidence, fostering leadership, and building a strong foundation for future professionals. As Ty Juan continues to contribute, mentor, and lead, he exemplifies the spirit of giving back and building a brighter future for the architectural community.

For additional information on the ACE Mentor Program of Cleveland, visit:

About ACE Cleveland:

ACE Mentor Program: