How Purposeful School Design can Create Parity During Rapid District Growth
Posted on November 29, 2021
By Hollis + Miller Architects

What do you want to be when you grow up?

I remember former Hollis + Miller Partner Gene Davis asking me this question when I began as an intern with the company in August 1983. I told him my goal was to be sitting in the chair he was in one day. I didn’t imagine my journey happening quite as quickly as it did – jump-started by an offer to work full-time for Hollis + Miller right after graduating from The University of Kansas, I worked for a decade to become an associate. By the mid-90s I worked my way to partner and eventually took on the role I have today as senior partner and President. While my journey was unique, it’s not unusual for our Emerging Professionals to quickly take on important roles and shape the way we work.

When I was an intern, passive learning was critical for my development, as more experienced colleagues would often share stories of how they faced and solved various challenges. This continues to help our team members today as they build knowledge about the industry while gaining real-world experience. The Emerging Professionals program has evolved over the years to become a robust, hands-on program creating bigger and better opportunities to help designers grow and impact our communities, with some of their work even receiving national awards.

Multidisciplinary learning opportunities

Being a well-rounded employee is important at our firm and goes back to our roots with Don Hollis and Dave Miller, who would encourage architects to learn both design and build principles. I recall them even pushing architects to help design and build their own houses. That same philosophy exists today as every Emerging Professional is exposed to the various aspects of the industry. For example, we make sure an interiors student gets to work with our structural engineering department, or an architectural student might work with environmental graphics. We encourage our Emerging Professionals to collaborate in discipline teams and present to our clients. In doing this, we hope to not only arm them with knowledge of all parts of the industry, but also the skills necessary to be ready for a future career.

“We saw projects through the eyes of municipalities, engineers and construction contractors by visiting their offices and job sites and speaking with their leadership. That experience helped me to better understand all the different parts and pieces that must come together to create a successful project,” said Lauren Bennett, after her third summer as an Emerging Professional.

Growth leaving a lasting impact

Our Emerging Professionals program isn’t just about growing great architects–it’s about growing the individual as a whole because we know we have something to learn from everyone, regardless of their title or tenure. My fellow Senior Partner Scott Barton, who has been key in the program’s development and now leads the EP program, believes growing the whole person involves much more than technical skills education. We provide resources and a near-peer mentor to each Emerging Professional to help them focus on future growth. Having a clear understanding of their core motivators helps us collaborate to create a plan to achieve these goals and maximize their experience in the program.

As a research-based firm, we guide each EP as they dive into a robust research project allowing them to explore a variety of design aspects from software and programming to sustainability and exploration of new techniques and processes. One of the best parts about this is not only do our Emerging Professionals get to learn from our staff, our staff is also able to learn from them, with some EP initiatives having been implemented firm-wide. I continue to watch our industry evolve, and we strongly believe in using various perspectives as a great resource for new ideas and cross-mentoring for our staff. Scott Sonenshein says it best in his book Stretch: innovation is often driven by outsiders. Our Emerging Professionals aren’t always relying on, “This is how we’ve always done it,” thinking. Instead, their fresh perspective provides healthy challenges to established norms and practices, pushing us to rethink the “why” behind our efforts and often helping us to see new paths.

“I found myself presenting on a program from my school projects that has since been rolled out firm-wide. The fact that in half a year as an intern I had an impact on the workflow of the entire firm proved to me that Hollis + Miller is a special place that cares for each individual in every stage of their career,” said Alison Luzenske, a previous Emerging Professional who is now a full-time interiors team member.

Lasting community impacts

One of the things I love about our firm is we give back to the communities we serve, and a huge component of our community involvement is our Learnscape project which is spearheaded by the Emerging Professionals. Design efforts for the firm-wide philanthropic project are led entirely by our Emerging Professionals. Annually, each EP class has the opportunity to design and build an outdoor classroom, which provides the opportunity to design, manage and execute a project with the full force of the firm behind them, while giving back and making an impact in our local community. Throughout that process, Emerging Professionals gain important real-life experience by taking on all aspects of the project from design through budget and sequencing, and finally, construction.

“I don’t know any other internship that encourages their EPs to co-lead the design and construction of a real project for a real client. I learned a great deal about constructibility, sequencing and budgeting that I feel will give me an edge compared to other beginner architects. Hollis + Miller encourages learning through hands-on experiences and pushes EPs to find their niche, and what they are most passionate about,” said Bennett.

The program offers a variety of professional development, community involvement and mentorship opportunities throughout each Emerging Professional’s time with the company–preparing them to one day reach their goals the same way the firm allowed me to when it took me on back in ’83. In fact, many of my peers on the leadership team started as Emerging Professionals. And just like our Emerging Professionals today, their ideas, perspectives and work very much shaped the way we do business to this day. Emerging Professionals are, and always have been, the future of the industry and our firm.

Visit our website to learn more about the Emerging Professionals program or to apply today.

John Southard is a partner at Hollis + Miller Architects, an integrated architecture firm that designs the future of learning environments, including higher education, public and private K-12. Share your thoughts on Facebook, LinkedIn or on Twitter @HollisandMiller.

How Purposeful School Design can Create Parity During Rapid District Growth