This June, CAD is once again hosting the exhibition of prize-winning entries for the 18th annual Newhouse Architectural Competition (NAC). The competition, however, extends far beyond the actual prize-winning projects. Last summer, 58 paid summer internships at architecture, engineering and construction firms were awarded to outstanding students. For many of these interns, this is their first work experience, and the relationship with their mentor is vital to their professional and academic growth. Here, Joel Berman, an architect at VOA Associates in the Santa Fe Building and a six-year volunteer for NAC, describes his role as mentor to Leroy Steward, an intern who has worked at VOA for two years.

Leroy Steward had no idea that he would end up at a glamorous job at one of Chicago’s largest and most prestigious architectural firms. A product of the Chicago Public School system and with boundless ambition, Leroy entered the Newhouse Architectural Competition in the spring of 1998 during his senior year of high school at Lane Tech. At the same time, I was busy preparing to judge the competition entries and mentor yet another high school student over the summer. Neither he nor I knew how productive and long-lasting the relationship would be.

The Newhouse Architectural Competition was initiated in 1982 by Senator Richard H. Newhouse to provide minority students from Chicago public high schools with greater access to careers in architecture and building-related fields. Since the program’s inception, almost 11,000 students have participated in the competition and more than 400 internships have been awarded. The Chicago Architectural Foundation and the Chicago Public Schools work in partnership, with volunteer assistance from private industry, to sponsor the competition. More than 900 high school students from over 20 schools registered to create projects in model-making, architectural illustration, and design which are entered into the annual competition.

During the year-long program, students participate in field trips, tours and workshops that enhance the competition curriculum and expose them to a variety of building-related careers. The highlight of the NAC is the judging and exhibition of the student entries. Many winners are awarded paid summer internships and get their first professional exposure through Newhouse.

I am just one of many architect volunteers whose efforts are critical to the success of NAC. Some volunteers solicit funding, others secure summer internships. I work directly on planning the competition, judging entries, teaching students at special CAF Newhouse seminars, and finally, directly mentoring winners and acting as their advocates. It took me a few years for me to fully understand the issues that Newhouse winners have in working at a professional workplace and ultimately finding their way into a profession. Most have never held office jobs and do not understand how ‘the system’ works. Many do not have relatives who have graduated from college, and therefore do not understand how to get into college, how state licensing works, which schools have the best architecture programs, and most of all, how to apply for scholarships and financial aid.

During the summer of 1998, Leroy worked hard and gained positive recognition. “I had no idea what the profession was like until I got to VOA,” says Stewart. “I was looking forward to gathering as much experience as possible over my six-week internship. Unbeknownst to me, I would be at VOA much longer. I am still there, which is a blessing.”

One of my roles as mentor is to encourage interns to go to college, whether in architecture of some other training. In the fall of 1998, Leroy went to Harold Washington Junior College, a school where he could not take core architecture classes that would transfer to an NCARB accredited architecture school, like University of Illinois or the Illinois Institute of Technology. I made it my mission to get Leroy into the architecture program at either of these schools. With the help of other architects at VOA and through contacts at CAF, I set up a timetable for Leroy to follow in filling out school, financial aid, and scholarship applications. Columbia College gave me a list of minority scholarship funds, and I made sure that Leroy contacted them and filled out applications on time. Finally, in the fall of 1999, Leroy was accepted to the UIC architecture school.

Meanwhile, Leroy’s skills were taking off. VOA sent him to the Northwestern Memorial Hospital construction site, where he learned Computer Aided Drafting, scheduling, and basic construction. His confidence blossomed. Suddenly, everything came together. “After working at the Northwestern Memorial Hospital construction site office, I was better able to comprehend architecture as a profession. With the aid of Newhouse and resources at VOA, my academic and professional career advanced tremendously.”

17 Jun 00  By: Joel Berman