Walking the Walk: The AIA Leadership Institute for Emerging Professionals

Walking the Walk: The AIA Leadership Institute for Emerging Professionals

What is an “emerging professional?”

As architects, we use the term to describe any professional with 10 years of experience or less. At IKM Architecture, our “emerging professionals” represent the largest and most influential group at the firm. In many ways, their diverse backgrounds, skill sets, and technical acumen make them our go-to resource for mentoring the upcoming generation of designers and forming a symbiotic relationship with firm leadership.

No pressure, right?

Last year, the AIA Foundation launched the inaugural class of the AIA Leadership Institute for Emerging Professionals to support a cohort that is ripe with talent and ambition but remains hungry for direction.Through a competitive selection process, young designers in regional chapters apply to take part in an 8-month cycle to reflect, challenge, and grow as professionals, organizational leaders, and community members.

Four of IKM’s designers successfully completed the program in 2016, and as the Institute welcomes a new class in Pittsburgh, we came together to discuss the ways in which the program not only builds young professionals’ capacity to lead, but also helps them tackle the unfamiliar and uncomfortable territory staring back at them when they lift their heads from their ARE study guides. Despite the accomplishments of all six of our future and current alumni of the program, they continue to refine their definitions of leadership as it applies them.























Incoming Class of 2017-2018

Katelyn: Project Architect


Every person can be a leader regardless of their status or title. There is an impact that can be made throughout one’s life on a range of individuals. In my case, I have focused so much of my energy in getting registered that I forgot to explore other large horizontal goals and avenues. As I continue to grow and learn in the profession, I have developed a passion for mentorship and helping other young professionals. I started my architectural mentorship blog, Merely an Architectural Perspective, over a year ago and helped lead the initiative to bring the summer internship program back to our office. Those are small steps I have taken as a leader in my career, but I hope that the Leadership Institute helps me step out of my comfort zone to discover more about myself as a whole.”


Robyn: Project Designer


“When I was a kid, I thought leaders were the ones you could see in the public spotlight – the presidents, the politicians, the big-shot corporate CEOs.  As I’ve matured, my definition of a leader, and of (good) leadership, has evolved.  I realize what good leaders can achieve for themselves, for those around them, and for their communities at large.  To me, leadership is about emotional intelligence, motivating people to action, and creating a moral standard to which others can measure themselves. My life experiences in academics, with family, and in my workplace have provided me a clear vision of what constitutes good leadership.  I want to learn further how to do, and to apply what I’m learning into action.  I feel that the AIA Leadership Institute is an excellent armature for that growth.  Additionally, I hope to learn from motivated peers with similar goals, and share my personal and professional experiences.  Through further leadership education, I hope to acquire and expand the skills needed to be part of the next generation of community leaders.  I was drawn to IKM because I saw an opportunity to be part of something larger than myself – a reinvention of identity and an evolving vision, I plan to use this experience to further contribute to this new chapter at the firm.”


Class of 2016-2017

Alicia: Project Designer


“A huge part of my personal mission is advocacy for minorities and underrepresented groups. It’s no secret that discussions about discrimination and under-representation are typically challenging. Sometimes it’s easier to tip-toe around important issues than it is to address them head-on. The AIA Leadership Institute for Emerging Professionals challenged me early on by providing the perfect platform to share my thoughts on the subject as it relates to the city of Pittsburgh. It also opened the door for me to challenge my peers to examine their positions in society and then re-think the roles they can play to create positive change in the community. The conversations were both uncomfortable and life changing.”


Tiffany: Project Architect


“When I officially received my architecture license, I had a surprisingly tough time dealing with what that meant. My whole life (well, since third grade) had been focused around becoming an architect. My purpose in life had been to get to the point where I could say the sentence ‘I am an architect.’ When that actually happened, I was utterly lost and directionless. I had no idea what my next step was. A few weeks later, I was asked if I wanted to apply for the Leadership Institute. When I was accepted, I had no idea that it would turn out to be exactly what I needed. I learned so much more about myself, my purpose, and my passions beyond the world of architecture. I never used to think of myself as a ‘Leader’ before. I am still fairly young, very early in my career, and generally a quiet, reserved person. I thought that I had to continue to ‘pay my dues’ and work up some kind of status ladder before I could ever have real influence, or make any difference in my field and my community. Now, I know that there’s no initiation or title that makes you a leader. You’re a leader when you decide to be.


Jason: Project Architect


“The Leadership Institute showed me that even as a young architect, I have a sphere of influence that I can directly affect. As a young Architect, it can be an intimidating concept to feel like you influence anyone or anything beyond your day-to-day duties. What the Leadership Institute has helped me to not only understand, but also expand on is the realization of the positive impact we can make in our communities as both individuals and as a collective.  This has empowered me to not only begin looking at ways in which I can help to positively impact my community, through programs such as ACE Mentoring, but also allow me to begin to think about ways to affect change within IKM through enhancements in several of our design and workflow processes.”

Mindy: Project Manager


“Defining my purpose through the class changed how I approach my daily work, what type of a leader I am, and how I volunteer my time outside of work. The experience taught me the value of pushing through the awkwardness that comes with stepping outside of my comfort zone. Rather than thinking about what I was going to say next, I learned to exercise being present with co-workers, clients, and friends – changing how I can interact with them so I really hear what they are sharing. Overall, the power I now gain from working ‘on purpose’ motivates me to create that “on purpose” feeling for the people I work with in and out the office. ”


For more information on the program or its facilitator, Seth T. Hufford, please visit the AIA Pittsburgh Website.

2017 Course Schedule

09.28.17 – S1 – Building a Leadership Community
10.26.17 – S2 -Collaborating for Results
11.16.17 – S3 – Building Issue Awareness
12.21.17 – S4 – Examining Your Sphere of Influence
01.18.18 – S5 – Exploring Organizational Context
02.15.18 – S6 – Creating Impact
03.15.18 – S7 – Community Leadership Initiative I
04.19.18 – S8 – Community Leadership Initiative II
05.17.18 – S9 – Community Leadership Initiative III & Debrief