Award-winning designers on building your dream career

February 19, 2019 | 5 minute read

Graduation is around the corner, so we talked to two recent architecture grads about how they set themselves up for success early in their careers.

Gail Kubik, Assoc. AIA, took a risk when she left her internship after Superstorm Sandy to do disaster assessment for some of New York’s hardest-hit outer boroughs. Now she’s the director of resilient design & research at Fused Studios in Lowell, Massachusetts.

Jake Banton, AIA, is an associate at Mackey Mitchell Architects in St. Louis; his passion for community development penetrates not just his design work but also his interest in public policy, and he is currently running for alderman.

Both Gail and Jake are 2018 recipients of AIA’s Associates Award, which recognizes outstanding young leaders and creative thinkers who are making an impact in their communities

Below, Gail and Jake share their advice for creating the professional life you want.

  1. Visit firms during school
    While you’re still in school, use every opportunity to tour different firms, says Jake. He met a principal at Mackey Mitchell while volunteering during high school, and years later that connection helped him land an interview. Plus, you get to observe different firm environments and the types of projects they specialize in.

    Jake recommends connecting with people at those firms that spark your interest; simply introducing yourself and letting them know you want to learn more about the firm can make an important connection that can help you later.

  2. Know the culture
    Every firm is different, so seek out those with a culture that fits your personality, your goals, and your lifestyle. “It’s important that you find a firm that matches up fairly well with the values you hold as an individual,” Jake says. For example, “If volunteering is important to you, make sure you find a firm that values that, as well as one that will allow you to have that opportunity.”
  3. Never give up
    Graduating into the recession in 2010, Gail went from top of her class to unemployed to working at a low-paying job a two-hour commute away.

    But her stick-to-it attitude paid off: In 2012, after experiencing the devastation and emotional aftermath of Superstorm Sandy in New York, she discovered her passion for post-disaster rebuilding and resilient design. “At that point, I knew that if I wanted to be involved in something bigger, I’d have to make a risky move,” says Gail, who quit her job and reached out to Architecture for Humanity, eventually co-founding a New York field office that would train others to design for resiliency.

  4. Find a passion that sustains you
    Not only did Gail’s discovery create a fulfilling career path, it became a passion that drives her every day. “There will be times in our careers when the economy will not be on our side and it will get tough. But if you stay positive and true to your interests and goals, that will help get through those times,” she says.

    Jake discovered his passion shortly before graduation, when coffee with a developer helped turn him on to the idea of community development and design that improves the lives of community members. He took a crash course at the Urban Land Institute and was hooked.

    Today, Jake is running for alderman in St. Louis. “[This is an opportunity] to show how architects and their ability to think through things creatively and find solutions for problems … could be brought over to the public sector.

  5. Ask for help
    Look to other architects and designers for mentorship as well as partnership. “I’ve encountered great people who genuinely want to help and to see the young in the profession thrive,” Gail says. “It’s about not being afraid to try. Be expressive of what interests you. Don’t think you’re not qualified and will be passed over. You’d be surprised how many people are actively listening and are willing to help you.

    “For example, at her previous job, Gail’s boss asked about her volunteer work on disaster and resilience programs, and eventually connected her with leaders within the Boston Society of Architects, an AIA chapter, who helped her launch a disaster assistance program in Massachusetts.

    Your AIA chapter can also connect you to mentors and help you make professional connections in your local community.

  6. Go the extra mile
    Gail admits that finding what you want to commit your career to is intimidating. Your best bet is to explore, volunteer, take on extra projects, and attend events, such as those offered through your local AIA chapter. “If you actually go and participate in a few events, you’ll learn what it is that’s going to drive you,” she advises. “Get out there. Don’t be the person who leaves work, goes home, and sits in front of TV.”

    “It’s hard to know the exact thing you want to do right out of school,” Jake acknowledges. “Keeping your mind open to different project types right out of school is really important.”

    At Mackey Mitchell, leadership meets with staff quarterly to discuss goals, how they’re progressing, and what resources the associate might need to work toward them. Through that program, Jake and other team members initiated the process of committing the firm to the 2030 Challenge. “If you see something you want to do or want to change, express that desire and try to make it happen.”

Gail and Jake are two of the 95,000+ talented, creative members of the AIA network. Membership is your connection to the profession and a great way to find local events, networking opportunities, and education that will help you discover your passion and nurture your experience. Learn more about free AIA membership options for recent graduates here.