TU Architecture Alumnae Participates in NCARB Intern Think Tank

Dara Eskridge, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP ND is a Senior Planner, Strategist, and Innovator for the City of Saint Louis. She is a public interest urban planning and design leader working to bring collaboration, equity, conscious decision-making and forward-thinking to the revitalization of St. Louis communities that achieve a high quality of life for residents, businesses and institutions.

Dara received a Master of Community Planning with emphasis in Housing and Community Development from Columbia University after attaining a Bachelor of Architecture degree from Tuskegee University in 2009.

The criteria to participate in the National Council of Architecture Registration Board (NCARB) Intern Think Tank was applicants could not be licensed, could not have held office in any of the related architectural organizations, needed at least 320 hours in IDP and had to submit a 300 word essay answering two questions: How do you see yourself as part of the architecture profession? What is your view on the value of an architecture license? We were selected solely by our essays; the review panel did not receive any identifying information.

Central to the Think Tank format is confidentiality and honesty. Members were encouraged by NCARB's president and education and experienced staff to share openly on their approach to the profession, including criticism of the current IDP and licensing processes. Conversely, NCARB staff shared insight to challenges they face in administering IDP and facilitating licensure. While she cannot relay in detail the discussions, it was reassuring to hear that members and NCARB were very much aligned on many topics.

Participants met from 8:30am to 6:00pm, with an hour break for lunch, on a Friday and Saturday in October at NCARB's headquarters in Washington, D.C.. After the rigor of our sessions each day, NCARB hosted them for dinner to keep the conversation going and help them connect.

2015 Intern Think Tank Members:

Chair: Shannon French, AIA, NCARB (New Orleans, LA)

Gabriela Baierle-Atwood (Fargo, ND)

Joshua Barnett, Assoc. AIA (Hoboken, NJ)

Jason Derby, Assoc. AIA (Houston, TX)

Dara Eskridge, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP (St. Louis, MO)

Cesia Lopez-Angel (Pacoima, CA)

Jessica Parmenter (Chicago, IL)

Matthew Potts, Assoc. AIA (Brooklyn, NY)

Yuri Ramos (Pace, FL)

Dan Russoniello, Assoc. AIA (Arlingotn, MA)

Michelle Santos (Union City, CA)

Mary Melissa Yohn (Nashville, TN)

Matthew Zuckerman (New Haven, CT)

NCARB Director, Experience + Education Harry M. Falconer, Jr., AIA, NCARB

NCARB Assistant Director, Experience + Education Martin Smith, AIA, NCARB, LEED Green Associate - View More Images: Click Link


Dara's Essay:

As an emerging architectural professional and urban planner, I seek data-driven policy solutions to improve the quality of life in underserved communities. Though design is no panacea, many of the challenges facing our communities have solutions based in thoughtful, responsible and equitable design. I have committed my career to exploring ways to marry sound policy and design principles to the benefit of the communities I serve. I strongly believe that architects who are not only versed in form, function and aesthetics but also the social, economic and political elements that drive cities will be in great demand in the near future. More diverse—both in personal makeup and experience—design professionals will be the new face and answer to a currently struggling architecture profession. I am proud to be on the front lines of this evolution and hope that collectively the field is willing to make way for a new professional who seeks to design not only lone structures but whole communities.

Key to developing a new class of architects that can respond to the multidisciplinary needs of our communities is licensure. While NCARB has done a commendable job to modernize the path to licensure, we still fall short. The traditional path to a license—schooling, interning in a firm and examination—will become decreasingly feasible and desirable as the profession changes ethnically, socially and economically. Instead of protecting the integrity of the title of Architect, current standards diminish opportunity for a more diverse, inclusive and forward-thinking profession. I want to carry and honor the title of Architect. Yet, as the licensing process exists, I may never be able to legally identify as an architect—not because I am not experienced but because my experience does not fit the out-of-date requirements of a once more homogeneous, and arguably elitist, profession.


Q: Many emerging professionals and even seasoned professionals feel as though architecture in general is not a welcoming profession due to the many steps to become licensed and respected in the profession. Share any thoughts pertaining to this issue...

A: At times it feels as though the process is designed not to develop competent architects but to keep people-- particularly ethnic minorities and women-- out. This was echoed by many of the members. We don't mind rigor, but it has to be for a reason. Currently, there seems to be a disconnect between experience, examination and licensure. You can collect the hours, but there's no way to quantify the quality of those hours. Depending on your experience, you can get high quality and expansive training in the field in less than the required IDP time. And your time doesn't have to be spent in a traditional architecture firm to get the experience. Yet, as the system is currently set up, the shortest and least costly route to being legally considered an architect is to strictly work for a design firm. It's also possible to pass the ARE without having much experience. There's little proof that this is the lone way to create competent architects.

Q: Is NCARB working towards bettering the licensure process?

A: Absolutely. I can honestly say that the NCARB team is well aware of the process' pitfalls, and they are diligently working to create a more effective and equitable system. Over the next year, we'll see new standards and guidelines that NCARB will roll out to usher an improved process. Do they represent a complete overhaul of the system? No. But they are important, incremental changes that will lead to more rising professionals of diverse experiences being able to pursue and attain the architecture license.

Q: Women in architecture is always a hot topic because of marriage, starting families, maintaining families, etc. Do you have any words of encouragement to share with women in architecture?

Chart a plan that works for your needs, your lifestyle and stick to it. Also, surround yourself with great personal and professional supports. I'm a wife and a mom. I also work as an urban planner for local government instead of as a designer in an architecture firm. These factors combined means my road to licensure could be long and tiring. But I have a great mentor who is also a licensed architect in my workplace. With his help, I identify and get the experience I need. I don't always have time during the work day to focus on architecture, so I've committed to waking early and spending the first few hours of my mornings to my development in the field. I have a schedule with mile markers leading up to examination. Not least important, I have a partner who is completely supportive of my plan and who never fails to crawl out of bed at dawn to feed our 9 month old while I calculate loads down the hall. Life happens. Just be diligent in your pursuit.

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