Climate change is here to stay and it’s not getting better. We cannot deny the frequency of natural disasters in the States and around the world, or the shift in seasons- the start and end of unconventional temperature and fluctuations in weather patterns. As STEM professionals, we have the opportunity to merge the countless hours of our lives spent on our careers, with an impactful cause. Have you considered your alignment with the natural environment? At the onset of my career, I weighed my focus on buildings and climate change, thanks to an eye opening experience with the US Department of Energy’s design build competition.
STEM careers are stable- there is no shortage of work- and there is a great respect for the many technical professions that take effort and persistence. STEM careers are dynamic: challenging your brain to engineer solutions will exercise your creativity, and will throw you into interdisciplinary collaboration with supplemental fields. Moreover, there will always be advances that force us to revisit and question our work!
Last year, the US House of Representatives passed a bill that officially recognized Architecture as a STEM field! As an Architect recently licensed (in New York state), I was super proud, considering Architecture is a merge of many fields: science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and the arts! I am also hopeful that this new recognition will encourage a diversity of students to pursue this field. As a Pakistani American, Muslim, and female, I am a part of several demographic groups that are not well represented in the profession of Architecture. The number of women pursuing licensure is historically low. The number of women who go on to pursue Architecture as their initial choice of study and then achieve licensure is also low. According to the NCARB By the Numbers report, conducted by the national registration board for the profession, "nearly 2 in 5 new Architects are women." And, only 35% of candidates who completed licensure core requirements in 2017, were females.
The diversity of licensure candidates is also low. Per NCARB's report, less than 1 in 5 new architects identify as a racial or ethnic minority! Furthermore, the Diversity in the Profession of Architecture: Executive Summary, released in 2016 by the American Institute of Architects, reveals that both whites and people of color perceived that people of color are very underrpresented in the profession.
Did you know that buildings contribute nearly 40% of carbon dioxide emissions in the United States? The pivotal role of Architects in emissions reductions needs to be recognized, and the natural environment necessitates an increase of Architects engaging sustainably with the built environment. There has never been a more exciting time to jump into this profession, as building energy efficiency has everyone buzzing!
An architect wears many hats, and there are tons of ways one can get involved. My previous work experience includes a large-scale implementation of energy efficient lighting and controls for public schools all across New York City. Currently, I am a building code official, with my work revolving around building energy codes- reducing energy consumption through several ways, including building heating and cooling, lighting and power, and envelope performance. In my free time, I pursue my love for renewable energy technologies, including the implementation of photovoltaic panels and wind turbine technology. So whether it’s through design, energy engineering, or hands-on work, I encourage women to jump into the niche of building energy efficiency and implementing greener design and construction. Follow up with educating clients on sustainable building operations and maintenance, to bring awareness to the architectural job growth movement!
Here are some additional tips for those wanting to pursue Architecture as a career:
FOR High school students:
Join a chapter of the national ACE Mentor Program for high school students interested in pursuing a career in architecture, construction management, or engineering.
Attend a college with a NAAB (National Architectural Accrediting Board) Accredited Program.
Be wary of college programs that offer only four year programs. This may only be a Bachelor of Science in Architecture degree, and could create issues for achieving licensure down the road.
Begin reporting your experience hours during college.
I was the leader for the student AIA (American Institute of Architects) chapter at my University, and was heavily involved in a design build competition. Volunteering and engaging in design/construction work-related opportunities will give you a head start on required experience documentation.
Track your state’s licensure requirements via NCARB’s online licensing tool:
Those looking to pursue careers in building energy can take a look at my website for professional organizations, campaigns, and advocacy groups:
For anyone who needs specific advice on their own journey to licensure, or is interested in pursuing Architecture as a field of study, feel free to reach out to me via:
Farah Ahmad, RA, LEED AP BD+C, is an Architect and Sustainability professional in government, working for The City of New York. She is an advocate for the green building movement and implements her Communications and technical background to raise awareness on energy + the environment.