Applying for AIA Fellowship as a Small Firm practitioner
Fellowship is the highest membership honor you can receive from the AIA, and only approximately 3% of our members are elevated. Therefore, it’s common to feel that your work might not rise to this distinction. As a small firm practitioner, it may seem even more difficult – many believe that Fellowship is more attainable for architects who work for large firms. However, I would say that those who own or work for small firms have some distinct advantages that they may not be aware of.
Fellowship is based on the architect’s full career, but it is not an autobiography – you will create a thesis statement and support that thesis. You will not tell all that you’ve done in your life or career – it’s a very focused document that highlights the “ripple” you’ve created locally and nationally.
Often large firm practitioners work with their marketing departments to put together their submission packages, and that can work against them. The writing should come from you - it should be personal and specific to your achievements and impact. Therefore, the fact that you as a small firm practitioner will most likely be putting the submission together yourself is actually a plus, not a minus.
Also, small firm practitioners often carry out a larger variety of tasks on their projects, and due to the fact that they work on smaller teams, they are usually more directly involved at all phases. This can help with your Fellowship “story”. Your role and impact can be described in a clear and detailed way, without having to explain how you fit within a much larger team.
Finally, the Fellowship package is about YOU - it should reflect your work and your achievements. Small firm practitioners will usually have an easier time distinguishing their work from others in their firm (they may even be sole practitioners), or the firm as a whole, which will make their Fellowship package stronger.
I encourage you to strongly consider applying for Fellowship – it’s a huge undertaking, but you’ll find that it’s worth the effort. Not only is elevation a lifetime achievement, but the process allows you to look back at your career and realize the impact you’ve had on our profession.