Shortly after I became AIA President, Will Wittig, AIA, dean of the School of Architecture at the University of Detroit Mercy, shared with Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture president Donna Robertson, FAIA, and me a letter he wrote to Anthony Carnevale. Wittig was troubled by the negative fallout of a Georgetown University study published last year that was co-authored by Carnevale, entitled “Hard Times.” The widely read study raised questions about the value of an architectural education, because employment opportunities for those holding a degree in architecture ranked appreciably lower than general skills majors.

Although the study contained an implicit caveat—the data were collected at the height of the recession—the public perception created by the media buzz has likely turned off some talented young men and women who might have considered architecture as a career. This obviously hurts our profession. Moreover, ours is a cyclical industry; trying to make a prediction about economic conditions five or six years out based on what is happening at a particular point in time is questionable, at best. But I have a deeper quarrel with studies like this.

Whenever I see data that seem to quantify the value of architecture education only in terms of future dollars and cents, I’m bothered. Of course we have to make a living. Having navigated my own firm through the recession, I have no illusions about the value of making payroll and struggling to find new projects. Still, even under the most challenging circumstances, I would be willing to bet that most of us who choose a career in architecture do so, yes, to make a living, but even more so to make a life.

I was reminded of that by a recent AIA video that profiled this year’s recipients of the AIA Young Architects and Associates awards. In a series of interviews of the 18 individual award recipients, not one of them monetized their work; they were motivated by mission—a passion to make a positive difference in other people’s lives, and in doing so, finding a meaning or purpose in their own. Watching them describe their experiences and their beliefs was inspirational. They reminded me why I went to college and chose to be an architect.

Last month, I received an email from Adrian Carter, whom I met a few years back while he was an undergraduate student in architecture at Florida A&M University. He wanted to tell me how excited he was that he had just successfully defended his thesis at Virginia Tech and would be graduating in the spring. He wrote that he would “love the opportunity to be a voice for architecture,” and that he was “willing to do whatever it takes to make that happen.”

I thought back to the first time we met, at AIA Florida Legislative Day, where Carter shadowed me as we visited lawmakers to discuss issues. I heard his passion then. What’s different now is that his educational experience has equipped this eager and curious student to be a creative, energetic leader who is ready to make a difference in the world. Engaged educators like Wittig, the Young Architects and Associates award recipients, and future leaders like Adrian Carter demonstrate by their own lives and their contributions to the profession that choosing architecture as a field of study is more than just pursuing an occupation. It’s about building a career which enables you to make the world a better place. That passion, that optimism about the future, and that commitment to making a positive difference are why we become students of this profession. It’s why we’re architects. 

Mickey Jacob, FAIA, 2013 President

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