Each One, Teach One: Fostering the Talent Pipeline at Every Career Stage

Summer is possibly LS3P’s favorite season. We’re not just celebrating vacations and sunshine; it’s when the firm’s ranks swell significantly with exuberant, talented, and hardworking summer interns. The 2022 summer intern class includes 30 students representing 16 schools; 24 are focused on architecture, four on interior design, one on construction administration, and one on technology. The firm is also hosting students from three different nonprofit programs including the ACE Mentor Program, Charlotte’s Mayor’s Youth Employment Program (MYEP), and the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA).

Bringing a diverse team of aspiring young interns together doesn’t happen by accident: it takes intensive recruiting, including outside the usual geographic boundaries and nearby “feeder” schools. In fact, nine of our schools are new to the firm this year. It’s not just about providing an educational experience for a great group of students, either: creating greater diversity in the architecture industry takes years and relies on reaching students early, when we have time to offer meaningful support and build lasting relationships. The pipeline is constructed one person at a time.

Forging New Pathways

Dan Mai, LS3P’s recruiter, is proactive about the process throughout the year. In a demanding job, he leans on the firm’s values and mission to inform his outreach strategies. How do we become an authentic part of the communities in which we work? How do we support organizations on the ground who are leading the charge in creating a more diverse talent pipeline? How do we want to evolve as a firm, and are we building a supportive culture internally as we recruit externally? Providing time and assistance all year long through events like portfolio reviews, design camps, mock interviews, or career fairs is a win/win for organizations, students, and the firm, and these efforts are worth the investment.

Learning and Exploring, Together

Karen Staskin, an Emerging Professional in LS3P’s Raleigh office, has been an ACE mentor for the last three years, and joined the ACE Associate’s Board about six months ago. “If I could only volunteer with one organization, it would be ACE,” she says. “Working with ACE students helps to keep me grounded in what I love about architecture. It’s easy to get lost in the weeds of details and project budgets during a stressful work week. ACE brings us back to the wild and crazy creative ideas that students generate. Can we make an aquarium in a floor? Why not? Let’s talk to the engineers about it.”  ACE students come to the program eager to learn, and the program is a two-way conversation energizing practitioners as well as students. One of the most significant benefits of the ACE program is that it reaches students early in their academic careers, encouraging them to explore and showing them that architecture, engineering, and construction are viable career paths for all types of people.

Carving Out a Niche

LS3P is fortunate to have relationships with ACE students that grow over time. Royce Watson joined ACE as a sophomore in high school, and was fascinated to learn about all facets of the industry – civil engineering, planning, design, zoning – and first joined LS3P in 2019 for a few weeks of summer job shadowing and exploration. Now a summer intern in LS3P’s Raleigh office who is studying architectural engineering at North Carolina A &T University, Royce is interested in both the technical and design aspects of the industry. “My program focuses on project elements such as structural and mechanical engineering for the first two years, and then on design studios for the next two years so that we can understand how systems come together into a finished design,” he explains. His dream job would combine both the design and the onsite aspects of the work; last summer he got to experience superintendent work for a construction company, and this summer he is immersed in the design side of the field.

Taking It All In

As one of the younger members of the talent pipeline this summer, Joseph Dunatov is a high school student learning about the industry in LS3P’s Raleigh office; Dan, Karen, and Royce have all been a part of his experience. Prior to his first week in the office, Joseph had taken some drafting classes and had some neighbors and friends in the industry; most of what he’s learning, however, is brand new. “It’s been really interesting seeing how REVIT is used in a real project, versus how we use it in the classroom,” he says. “It’s also been great to learn about all types of projects, from healthcare to interiors to urban environments.” His ultimate goal is to focus on themed entertainment design and amusement parks.

Finding Inspiration and Plowing Ahead

At every career stage, each of these individuals is finding inspiration in their colleagues, in the work, and in the positive changes afoot in the industry and beyond. Joseph is excited to pursue his interest in designing for theme parks, resorts, and entertainment venues, but is also eager to hone the more general skills that will allow him to thrive in any economy. Royce is excited to see significant progress towards equity in architecture. He is aware that Black architects currently comprise just 2% of the industry, and the number is even smaller for Black women in particular; however, he is excited at the number of Black women in the Raleigh office who are thriving, leading, and succeeding in the field and serving as role models for all. Karen finds inspiration in firms who are pushing the envelope and using architecture to using architecture to beautifully and boldly highlight historical events that many have been impacted by, but few are educated about, such as such as MASS Design Group’s National Memorial for Peace and Justice.

As a recruiter, Dan sees the big picture as well as the fine details, and he is inspired by the growing talent pipeline represented by people such as Karen, Royce, and Joseph. “When we’re working on solving big challenges, we have to start by being present and being involved,” he explains. “The investment in our communities, in our colleges and universities, in our team members, and in our next generation of talent feeds into our next stage of growth. As we grow with intention, how do we continue to advance our team, become more inclusive, provide programming and initiatives to foster diversity of thought, and lean into our mission and values to evolve and thrive? Where we are today is great; where we will be tomorrow is even better. Diversifying architecture is bigger than LS3P, bigger even than the industry – we want to help build a framework that will provide opportunities for all.”

About Dan, Karen, Royce, and Joyce

Dan Mai

Associate Dan Mai, NOMA, serves as the firmwide Recruiter on LS3P’s Human Resources team. He has previously practiced architecture in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and the Washington, DC metro area, and earned his Master of Architecture from Savannah College of Art and Design. As his career has evolved, he offers expertise in both technical and university recruiting, corporate partnerships, and program development, and his deep understanding of architectural practice continues to inform his work.

Dan is an active advocate for diversity and inclusion efforts in the field of architecture and has been instrumental in helping to develop LS3P’s Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Plan. He currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Atlanta Chapter of NOMA as the Academic Affairs Director to support architectural programs within the Southeast region. He is passionate about fostering an inclusive workplace culture, and champions opportunities for career development for people at all levels of the profession.

Karen Staskin

Karen Staskin, LEED GA is an Emerging Professional in LS3P’s Raleigh office. A graduate of Virginia Tech with a Bachelor of Architecture, Karen is committed to the goal of finding economical, environmentally friendly solutions to improve the quality of life in underprivileged communities. She is currently focusing on designs for higher education clients; her previous professional experience also includes healthcare and retail spaces.

Actively involved in professional and community engagement, Karen serves on the Associate’s Board of the ACE Mentor program and is active in AIA Triangle’s Women in Architecture group. She also pursues creative outlets from pottery to photography.

Royce Watson

Royce Watson is pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Architectural Engineering from North Carolina A&T State University. A “boomerang” employee who first interned at LS3P in 2019, Royce is an Honors student, a Cheatham-White Scholar, a Senator of the College of Engineering for the Student Government Association, and a recent initiate of the Beta Epsilon chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.

Joseph Dunatov

Joseph Dunatov is a rising Senior at Leesville Road High School in Raleigh, NC. As a student in the ACE Mentor program, Joseph is interested in themed entertainment design with a focus on theme parks. He is also passionate about transportation and how new technologies in that field can make everyday life easier and more efficient for everyone; he hopes to pursue a degree in architecture at UNC-Charlotte after graduation.