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New Scholarship Will Promote Diversity in Architecture

After George Floyd’s death and the protests against police brutality that followed, the San Diego Architectural Foundation (SDAF) expressed its support for the Black Lives Matter movement and a desire to do more to support diversity in architecture.

As a first step toward bringing those commitments to life, SDAF is collaborating with the currently forming San Diego chapter of the National Organization of Minority Architects (SDNOMA) to create a scholarship for a minority architectural student. SDAF’s Orchids & Onions event, coming up on Oct. 1, will give attendees the opportunity to participate in a live fundraising drive to support the new scholarship fund.

Michael Robinson AIA, NCARB

In celebration of the collaboration, we interviewed Michael D. Robinson, AIA, NCARB, an architect of African-American descent and future president of the SDNOMA Board of Directors. Robinson, principal at Robi4 Architecture & Planning, is licensed as an architect in California and Tennessee and serves on the AIA San Diego Board of Directors. Here’s what he had to say about SDNOMA’s goals in San Diego, the scholarship’s importance and partnering with Orchids & Onions 2020.

NOMA’s San Diego chapter initiated its launch in July of 2020.  What does the chapter aspire to achieve here? SDNOMA aspires to provide an opportunity for minority architects to be recognized so that people know we are here and that we exist. It’s especially important for children and students pursuing a career in architecture to see people who look like them. When they feel represented in this career field, they believe they can achieve success within it. When they see someone who looks like them — someone they can emulate — it puts their dreams within reach.

Another one of our objectives is to identify designers who want to network and join together to create change. We advocate for increased fellowship, inclusivity, diversity, equity, and excellence in design. Typically, we would do that in person, but during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic we will interact in a virtual environment. We will also seek to engage with prospective students, whom we hope to mentor, in fun virtual exercises.

What are some of the early initiatives SDNOMA is championing? One of our early initiatives is our “Project Pipeline” program, which we’ll begin by working with middle school students. The aim of this program is to empower youth in middle and high school to affect change in their communities through design. Students will use the city as their classroom and connect with professional designers and planners in San Diego.

What do you want people to know about the new scholarship? The merit-based scholarship will support one minority student, a graduating high school senior beginning their first year of architectural studies. It’s really exciting that Orchids & Onions attendees will have the opportunity to donate to it, as the scholarship will be a first for SDNOMA. In addition to financial support, we will maintain contact with the scholarship recipient — a form of community support that will help to provide a pathway to the student’s success.

Why is Orchids & Onions a good forum for unveiling the scholarship? Orchids & Onions is an exceptional event, and we’re very proud that SDAF and its flagship program would consider partnering with us in this way. Orchids & Onions sets the benchmark for high-quality design in San Diego. Linking the SDNOMA scholarship to the gala is a great way to bring diversity to SDAF’s signature event. I think it sends the message that the architectural landscape here is shifting, and that’s a wonderful thing to see. It also aligns well with our mission to inspire youth. Ideally, we’ll be able to maintain a relationship with Orchids & Onions while partnering with other SDAF programs in the future.

Robi4 Architecture and Planning provided architectural services for the Pinch District Pedestrian Bridge in Memphis, Tenn., which has not yet been built.

What are some of the challenges minority architects face in the industry? Architecture is a predominantly male and predominantly white profession. If you look at the demographic breakdowns of licensed architects in the U.S., 20 percent identify as female; 1 to 2 percent identify as African-American; and 0.3 percent identify as African-American women — a double minority. People of color remain challenged in securing and creating opportunities to gain the skills necessary not only to work in a firm, but also to become licensed as architects practicing under their own tutelage.

Self-actualization should be the goal. Minorities remain short of role models. So, if you can bring together professionals who can impact youth as role models and mentors, it can give them the guidance and influence they need to realize their goals. A built-in mentorship program also can help challenge them in the ways they need to grow and sustain an architectural career.

How will this scholarship help them meet those challenges?  Our primary goal is to inspire youth and to work with them however we can. We believe this scholarship will be an excellent step in that direction. The scholarship aligns closely with NOMA’s mission to empower local chapters to foster justice and equity in communities of color through outreach, community advocacy, professional development, and design excellence. It will be an excellent way to jump-start our efforts in San Diego, to help foster a social infrastructure that meets the needs of everyone in our community, regardless of race.

Learn more about SDAF’s exciting new collaboration with SDNOMA in our press release.

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Orchids & Onions is an educational and fundraising program of the San Diego Architectural Foundation, a 501(c)3, nonprofit organization dedicated to education and the promotion of outstanding architecture, planning and urban design throughout the San Diego region.

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