Mentorship: Slip Slidin’ Away v.2.0

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Paul W. Welch, Jr., Hon. AIA

On May 16th in the AIACC Sacramento office, we hosted a meeting of emerging professionals. And if the meeting begged a title, I would suggest: A Convergence of Creativity and Optimism. There was little sadness about the sputtering economy, an economy that has had the capacity to potentially tarnish their young careers. Instead, their enthusiasm for restoring the core values of a proud profession measurable impacted by years of changing technologies, and innumerable challenges in procurement and project delivery was truly inspiring. They had either not read, or believed, national media stories of doom and gloom for architects and the profession.

And what of mentoring? What of the wise and experienced soul directing and guiding the potential genius. Where has this necessary tradition gone, or why is it hiding? If mentoring is not dead, it is certainly a reasonable facsimile. However, there is great hope in a robust revival. Perhaps an unintended casualty of the economy, emerging professionals are intent on resuscitating mentoring, a hallmark attribute of the profession that was once so prevalent, it was arguably the envy of the other learned professions. Older practitioners will remember those who mentored their career development, but today’s emerging professionals lament the absence of mentors in the current workplaces. Certainly a generalization, but the issue was quickly prioritized by the leaders of the Academy for Emerging Professionals (AEP) as they explored strategic responses to AIACC’s efforts to empower Emerging Professionals to meet the challenges of the future.

Clearly, the AEP leadership is comprised of bright and committed professionals, but as I witnessed their appetite for defining the future, I wondered if their behavior was the result of mentoring they had received, or maybe their aspirational outlook was an intuitive attribute that resides within architects. I suspect both are true. And, while these characteristics likely reside in all of us, some are fortunate to know mentors who inspire creativity, promote critical thinking, and encourage an intelligent curiosity to dream of the possibilities and the courage to pursue the improbable.

Mentors come in all shapes and sizes. They might be someone with whom considerable time is shared, or perhaps someone infrequently visited. Mentoring also occurs in the absence of the spoken word. It might result from behavior in stressful situations, or perhaps it is someone’s kindness and generous nature that we seek to emulate. Mentoring extends far beyond the practice of architecture; it might be simple words of encouragement which helps someone navigate an abundance of personal challenges, such as life/work balance, challenges that always seem to litter our quest for happiness. Ask a seasoned practitioner about the most impactful advice given to them by a mentor. The answers will surprise you.

I think often about those who made a difference in my life. There are so many, but one comes quickly to mind: one who personified courage, grace and eloquence despite immeasurable challenges. An accomplished architect who had already survived these challenges by the time we met, her kindness and infectious personality gave no clue as to the hardships she faced during her career and in her life. Yet, despite her many obligations and responsibilities, She always made time for me, a 31-year-old newcomer to state government as Executive Officer of the California Board of Architectural Examiners, now known as the California Architects Board.

For me Norma Sklarek, FAIA, was a living example of what can be accomplished through patience, tolerance, and faith. Her life contributions were recognized at the AIA National Convention in Boston by National AIA, when Norma received the 2008 Whitney Young Award for best exemplifying “the profession’s responsibility toward current social issues.” Last year, the AIACC decided to emulate the goals and purposes of the Whitney Young Award, by creating the AIACC Norma Sklarek, FAIA Award. The inaugural event will be awarded at the annual meeting in November. The call for nominations will be released in July, with nomination due in September. Please take the time to consider nominating someone for the award.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
— Maya Angelou

What are your experiences with mentoring? Do you currently have a mentor? Are you currently mentoring someone? I would like to hear from you.


Paul W. Welch Jr., Hon. AIA

Paul W. Welch Jr., Hon. AIA and Executive Vice President of the AIA California Council (AIACC), is the former interim Executive Vice President and CEO of the American Institute of Architects in Washington, D.C.

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  1. avatar
    Michael F. Malinowski AIA

    Thanks Paul for this inspiring and timely message!
    I’ll be the first to admit that in the press of the day to day grind of business, people, projects and more, it’s hard to find time to set aside and be thoughtful, and grateful, and supportive … so a little nudge in that direction is always welcome …

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