By Krisann K. Rehbein
In May, Fariha Wajid, a Chicago Public Schools alumna, graduated from the College of Architecture at IIT. Fariha is a reminder that there are still great job training and mentoring opportunities in Chicago for the next generation of design professionals.
When Fariha and her classmates started at architecture school, there was little reason to be hopeful. The real estate market crash of 2007-08 had hollowed out the profession. Week after week, a stream of architects left their offices with boxes in hand, laid off when the work dried up due to the recession.
Back then, it seemed crazy to tell a bright young person to enter the field. The situation was dire and those of us in the design community were forced to collectively question the value of an architectural education.
Thank goodness that young people, blind in their love for design, overlooked the dim employment outlook and continued to jump headlong into architecture school. And now, recession seemingly in the past, firms are hiring again and looking for new talent. When many architecture students graduated this spring, my Facebook feed was full of success stories.
Fariha’s is a uniquely Chicago story. In her short career, she’s already worked with some of the most interesting women in the design community, including Jeanne Gang, Zoe Ryan and now, Catherine Baker at Landon Bone Baker Architects (LBBA). Early on, she took advantage of every design-related program available to CPS students, starting with the Marwen Foundation in the seventh grade. By her sophomore year, the Chicago Architecture Foundation awarded her a junior apprenticeship at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin in Spring Green, Wisconsin. During her junior year, she joined the ACE Mentor Program and was awarded a scholarship. Through her participation with CAF, she secured a coveted internship reserved for a CPS student at Studio Gang.
That’s right, she worked for Jeanne Gang as a high school junior. Dozens of Chicago Public School students get paid internships with prestigious firms every summer that come as a result of out-of-school programs like those at CAF and ACE Mentor. These programs depend on unsung heroes like architecture firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s senior human resources manager, Karen O’Doherty. For the past decade, Karen has reserved one or more paid summer internships for a promising student from CPS. Karen has been committed to the ideal of equity and access to the design profession, along with many other individuals and architecture firms across the city.
Recently, Fariha interned with Ryan, the chair and curator of Architecture and Design at The Art Institute of Chicago. While there, she worked with Karen Kice, the Neville Bryan assistant curator, Department of Architecture and Design, to design digital models and assist with the curation of the recent exhibit, “Architecture to Scale: Stanley Tigerman and Zago Architecture.”
As Fariha told me recently, she’d heard many stories about Stanley Tigerman and was nervous to meet him. Her fears were allayed when they had a lovely conversation one day over lunch and he inspired her to follow her intuition. Fariha and her husband, Afroz, saw him again at the exhibit opening and Tigerman mentioned to curator Kice that they were “nice kids.”
“Stanley Tigerman called us ‘nice’?” Fariha recalled. “I could hardly believe it.”
And now she works with Baker at Landon Bone Baker Architects (LBBA). Soon, Fariha will be working for the firm full-time doing outreach and communications, organizing charrettes, leading the firm’s nationally recognized CityLab, and cultivating external relationships.
LBBA’s CityLab itself creates opportunities for Chicago students. Now in its fifth year, the community workshop employs between five to six teens each summer, conducting research for the firm to meet the needs of their clients and community residents. Students are selected to participate in this program based on recommendations by CAF, the Marwen Foundation, and their community partners in the South Chicago neighborhood.
Interns will look at the current amenities South Chicago offers and explore ways to draw and retain young people. They’ll also look at the Chicago Lakeside development and explore ways South Chicago residents can benefit from it. It’s a distinctly Chicago-style summer internship.
In every fancy office in the city, someone with influence asked their golf buddy, accountant or client to give a summer internship to their kid.
Kids who have connections before they have facial hair suck up a good number of those foot-in-the-door jobs; those building blocks that build resumes and recommendations that help you land the post-graduation interview. There. I said it.
Luckily though, in the Chicago design community, as Fariha’s story illustrates, you don’t need to be born with all the right connections: you can make them for yourself.
Ben Schulman is the editor of the design section of Newcity and co-host of “A Lot You Got to Holler,” the Newcity podcast on design, architecture and urbanism. His work with Newcity is one of many ventures he engages in to communicate the value of design and cities. Ben serves as the communications director for Small Change, a real estate crowdfunding platform that works to catalyze the development of transformative real estate projects. Previously, he was the communications director for the Chicago chapter of The American Institute of Architects, editor of Chicago Architect magazine and communications director for the urban think-tank, the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU). His writing has appeared and been noted in outlets such as ARCHITECT Magazine, Belt Magazine, ICON, New Geography, Streetsblog, The National Review, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Pop City Media and as a contributor to The Urbanophile, among others. When not writing about cities, Ben serves as an editorial assistant for the journal New Media + Society, and helps head the Contraphonic Sound Series, an attempt to document cities through sound.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org | Website: benschulman.com