By Ed Gauvreau, AIA
I knew that I was going to be in trouble when at the 2013 National Convention, the incoming Chancellor of the College of Fellows greeted me with “Ed! When are you applying for Fellowship?” Now he happened to be a colleague of long standing, having worked together on several issues while on the AIA Maryland Board of Directors. My response was “I think I’m getting a big hint!”
Over the last few years, many of my colleagues who made Fellow would give me a similar greeting. It was becoming very obvious that they all believed that my continuing advocacy for public architects within AIA merited taking the plunge. The comments increased upon my chairing the 2014 Public Architects Workshop and its subsequent success. At that point I thought “Why not me?”
First thing was to look up the Fellowship page on the AIA web site – read the initial paragraph about Fellowship being one of the highest honors the Institute can convey, and that a Fellow is one that has raised the profession of architecture in some manner. There are many ways that can occur – design, practice, service to the Institute, government and public service, and other means.
Then you click on the Submission Requirements and get your first dose of reality……20 pages of requirements! OUCH!
After reading through the need for a sponsor, letters of recommendation, format of submission, documentation of accomplishment, photo credits, etc., one could not be blamed for packing it in on the spot. However, I also knew that my home AIA Chapter, District of Columbia, has one of the most active Fellows Committees within AIA and work diligently with candidates to prepare them and their applications to be their best. Their success rate of candidates being elevated to Fellow is well over 50 percent, so that is a comfort knowing there is a support system in place. If your home chapter has a Fellows Committee, contact them and find out their process for determining and preparing candidates for nomination for Fellow.
Next was finding a sponsor – since my professional work and AIA activity has mostly been at a national level, I didn’t have a close relationship with many DC Chapter members. I did ask several DC members to sponsor me but they declined for various reasons – mostly time and other commitments. I finally reached out to the editor of the Architecture alumni column for my university – he made Fellow on his 9th attempt (perseverance is definitely a quality required for Fellowship!) and had been writing on my exploits for the past 25- years, so he knew me and my work better than anyone. He willingly accepted the challenge, even though I am in DC and he lives on Long Island, NY. To answer the question I know is coming, AIA (and DC Chapter) do not care where your sponsor is located, just so that he or she knows you well, is accessible for continuing updates and reviews, and will do the heavy lifting to get your references to get their letters written and submitted.
I refer to the FAIA application as a master’s thesis on steroids – it’s a very focused and comprehensive presentation of your professional life’s work – in no more than 40 pages. Focus is a very important facet of this process, kicking off with the 35 word statement that is the first item you submit. It needs to be a succinct, attention grabbing statement that sets the overarching theme of your application – and you will be writing and re-writing this statement all the way to the submission deadline. The chair of the DC Fellows Committee indicates that a good statement should make you slightly embarrassed by your achievements – and this is what will be read at the Fellows investiture ceremony at Convention.
It is never too early to start collecting examples of your work and accomplishments. As a public architect, the majority of the work is executed by private sector architects, so reach out to your colleagues and start collecting photos (both of projects and of people), renderings, plans, etc. Also assure that someone in the firm is willing to sign the exhibit to attest to your role in the project. If you have written articles or are mentioned in articles, get those as well – publications is a separate section of the application.
References are equally important. AIA requires seven letters of recommendation, at least five from AIA members. Your references need to know you well both personally and professionally and can attest to your accomplishments and suitability for elevation to Fellow. Don’t ask a big name architect to write a letter if they know you only in brief passings – the Fellows Jury want to see references that speak to your reasons for elevation to Fellow. Simply being a great guy or gal is not nearly as important as the quality and “ripple effect” of your work. Also, make sure you have a couple folks as back-ups – life happens and one or more of your original seven may not be able to write that letter in time.
I mention ripple effect – elevation to Fellow means that your work and accomplishments have enlightened and raised the broader profession of architecture. Ask how your work has rippled across your agency, other agencies, the architects you work with, your clients and stakeholders.
Back to the 20 pages of requirements – please read them carefully and follow them to the letter. You do not want your application disqualified for a minor item like neglecting an exhibit not being signed, not completing a requirement, etc. Speaking of which, make sure your licenses are current and paid up, along with your AIA dues. Also check on your continuing education requirements, both for overall numbers of Learning Units and HSW Units – I had to take one last HSW course to get my HSW total above the minimum required.
For doing your application – if you are not proficient on graphic design software or a bit rusty, this is not the time to start learning. Also, most public agencies either don’t have those personnel, or doing an FAIA package during duty hours is not allowed. Best suggestion – hire a graphic designer. Word of mouth or asking around usually works – can also use LinkedIn to solicit proposals. I ended up asking the daughter of a colleague who was elevated to Fellow last year – she at least knows the format and what AIA expects.
However much time you believe it will take to do this effort – you will easily double that time or more. As architects, we are always looking for that next little improvement or enhancement - multiplied by our natural tendency to procrastinate, and one is always tweaking a paragraph, debating the photo layout on an exhibit, or even changing exhibits to better convey and reinforce your statement for elevation. Many weekends were spent writing, editing, contemplating, debating, etc. Keep in touch with your sponsor – a good one will be both friend and critic. Remember that when your package is read and reviewed by the Jury, it must stand on its own merits – assume you have no friends on the jury and you have to impress them from the get-go. With between 250-300 applications to jury, they will spend 10 minutes maximum reviewing, commenting and voting on your application, so make your point directly up front and continue pushing that point through your entire application.
As to the work, you will get comments and suggestions from your sponsor, coaches, friends, colleagues – anyone you even mention the fact you are applying for Fellow. Everyone means well and wants you to succeed, but at the end it is YOUR application. An example – I had conflicting opinions on my re-writes of the statement (this is an area you will get the most comments on). Sometimes I took an entire comment to heart, sometimes only a part, and sometimes just said thank you, but it does not reflect what I want to say.
In summary, the overarching requirements for becoming a Fellow are commitment and persistence. As I noted earlier, my sponsor finally made Fellow on his 9th attempt. I originally started this effort in 2015 – after the first submission with the DC Fellows Committee, my personal and professional schedules consumed my time and energy. With consultation from the Chair of the Fellows Committee, I chose to withdraw my effort and wait until 2016 to re-start my effort. This deferral actually paid off as I now understood the magnitude of the application process and the amount of information, both written and graphic, needed to assemble a high quality submission.
By the time this piece is published, I will have made my submission, paid the fee, reclaimed my weekends…..now comes the wait until late January/early February.
Ed Gauvreau, AIA, M.SAME, is the past 2015 chair of the Public Architects Advisory Group. He is currently the Chief, Planning Branch for the Installation Support Division, Directorate of Military Programs, Headquarters, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). He currently oversees several planning programs serving the Army and other Defense agencies, including installation master planning work totaling over $200 million in 2016. Ed has served over 35 years in the public sector, starting with three different installations, Detroit District USACE, and the Food and Drug Administration. In his 22 years with USACE he has managed medical facilities program, developed programs for installation support and was the executive assistant to William Brown, Hon.AIA, when he was senior civilian leader of USACE. For eight years, he managed the Army’s career program for engineers, architects and scientists for the Chief of Engineers. He earned his B.Arch from the University of Notre Dame and an MPA from American University.
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