Gregory Cowley

In 2011, AIA San Francisco’s Board of Directors approved the ARE Pact, an incentive-based program to help architects-to-be complete all seven parts of the Architect Registration Exam (ARE) in a calendar year. The program is in its second year and AIA SF plans to run the ARE Pact as long as there is a need amongst its emerging professionals. Under the leadership of Membership Manager Michelle Railsback and Executive Director Margie O’Driscoll (above, left and right), AIASF is now working on a new program, IDP 500, to provide a path for interns to complete an additional 500 hours of Intern Development Program credit outside of the hours they receive through their internships.

In California, we’ve all been really concerned with the reality that more architects are retiring than are becoming licensed. That’s going to create a net deficit over time, and our board approved the ARE Pact to try and make it easier for interns to complete all seven parts of their exams in a single year. Participants pay $1,000 up front in exchange for an assigned study group, a group mentor, access to study materials, and a full battery of prep courses. If they sit for all seven parts of the exam, regardless of the outcome, they get that money back as well as a free one-year membership to AIA SF.

When we launched the program in 2012, we thought that maybe 25 to 30 people would sign up. But when 90 people signed up within 12 hours of the opening of registration, we realized we had a lot of work to do to scale the program up. (For 2013, 75 people enrolled, but we expect that number to climb again next year.) In addition to the review courses, which are more academic, we also run a trivia night for ARE Pact members. It’s informal, and it brings people together.

We have the support of so many of the firms in our chapter, and it feels great to create a sense of community around this initiative. Each study group is assigned a mentor—many of whom have also just completed the ARE process and have been recently licensed—and they want to pay it forward by helping folks behind them.

After the launch, we started getting calls from other chapters asking about the program, which was perfect because we intended to make the ARE Pact replicable. So it was a natural fit to apply for an AIA Innovation Fund grant, and in March 2014 we’re going to take the general idea of the ARE Pact and start a new program called IDP 500. If you’re an emerging professional with a structured role within your firm, it can be very difficult to earn core hours for IDP. The IDP 500 is an opportunity to earn those hours outside of a firm setting. —As told to William Richards

Learn more about AIA SF’s ARE Pact at