February 27, 2014

I am a Registered Architect

::breaths out deeply::

I am a registered architect (R.A.). On this very day my birthday I can say I have completed all necessary requirements and have received my license number from New York State. It has been a long time coming. Thanks be to God! 

Following high school, I was sure I wanted to go into Architecture. God had my hand because this wasn't a profession to be taken lightly especially as an African American male. And knowing me, I was not going to go at it haphazardly. I was going to go all in, as I always do. 

Straight out of high school in 2003 to university for 5 years for my BArch and another five and a half years of experience has brought me to today. I made a goal while in university that I would become licensed before I turned 30. Mainly because life happens and the older you get, the less likely you are to attain your license. Plus most just never accomplished this task. I did it at 28. 

For those of you that are unfamiliar, to attain your license as an Architect you must have 3 components: professional degree (BArch or MArch), completion of work experience [under the national organization's (NCARB) Intern Development Program] and lastly the completion of 7 separate exams. These exams test a wide array of design and technical abilities which are meant to safe guard the public's health, safety & welfare. These three steps have taken me a total of 10.5 years. Dedication. (Yes, there are some other various routes but there is a lot of red tape and fewer succeed in these ways). 

I feel I should share a recent email I sent to a college friend about the exams that reads: 

I have to tell you, it is not easy by any means. Even without children the exams themselves can be very challenging. (I took 1 exam in 2010 and failed due to my lack of understanding of the graphic portion). I officially started my exams in 2011 and completed 4 exams prior to my son being born. That was the best thing I could have done. The whirlwind once my son was born made me hold off for almost a year before sitting for another exam. It was the Structures exam also, so I wanted to be sure I knew the material and would pass. I took another 2 exams prior to my daughter being born in Oct 2013. 
The best way to go about the exams in my opinion is to set a routine and follow it closely. My recommendation is to try and study everyday. Yes everyday. Even with my two children's unpredictable schedules, I stuck to my routine religiously. Every night after everyone is sleep I study. At least an hour, sometimes less sometimes more. I am a night person as most architecture students become following college. So this approach worked for me. Don't get me wrong this was very very difficult. It makes for very little sleep with a baby that wakes up throughout the night! What ever time frame works, you have to run with it.   

It's a lot to handle and you MUST BE FOCUSED or it will take a long time to complete. You only have 5 years.

[Note: there is a 5 year rolling clock in which you must complete all 7 exams or be faced with retakes] 

I've always said don't let your current job dictate what you do in your own career personal development. You don't know what the future holds. Be prepared for what ever it brings and learn your craft. There's a lot of late 20s & early 30s people with BArch/MArch degrees fighting for positions. And a large number of inexperienced new grads out there too. Probably 95% aren't licensed though. Less than 2% of licensed architects are African American too. I wanted to be in that 2% and now I am.

Throughout my studies and work, I've seen sly looks and heard the underhanded comments. I paid them no mind. I felt even some of my college professors did not believe in me. That is and has always been part of my motivation to progress. 

I must make mention of Jamie Palazzolo, my first year, first semester professor. He worked with me intensely to foster and cultivate the passion brewing in me for design. I never forgot the sense of accomplishment when finishing the semester. Additionally much acknowledgment to Percy Griffin, R.A. a design professor whom pushed me hard to do my best knowing how difficult the profession is and would be for a African American male being one himself. Here is an extraordinary article interviewing him: .designventurer.com - Interview with Percy Griffin, R.A..    

There was a great deal of sacrifice in attaining this license. I spent countless hours studying over the course of two and a half years. Practically ever night an hour or two of reading, practice questions & computer programs ruled my very existence. In the midst of understanding complicated theories while studying, I thought of giving up more than once. Just tired and discouraged. But I did not. My wife being at the forefront and can attest to the struggle. Though I lost time with my two beautiful children as well as my wife, I felt it necessary to push on and finish. I have and will continue to thank her publicly for standing by me. 

Recently while surveying at a New York City housing authority housing complex I came across a 30somethings man confined to a wheelchair. He was African America. He observed me as I used my binoculars and large DSLR camera. I was documenting Local Law 11 facade deterioration. He proceeded to ask, "hey where do you work and are they hiring?" I proceeded to tell him I worked for an architecture & engineering firm. He then said "hey that looks easy. I can do that." Continuing conversation, I went on to explain briefly the profession and what I was doing. He said "so you're an architect" and I replied yes, as soon as I pass all my exams. He asked "are there many of us?". I said no. He ended the conversation in a way to respectfully bow out to allow me to continue my surveying. His last comment as he wheeled away was "oh I did not know. Do your thing my brother." We both smiled and I moved on. Respect. Heaven sent motivation and encouragement when I needed it.  

I hope to do the profession and my African American roots proud as I embark on the next stage of my professional career. Above all that I know now, I openly admit I still have a lot to learn in this profession. I know 50 year old architects still learning new things. Onward and upward.  


A few links on the topic which I found interesting and enlightening: