The 2021 Shift: Diversity and an Intern-First Mindset
To create our new program, we asked ourselves two questions: how can we support our interns while they are here to provide the most value to them, and how can we support students and recent graduates over a longer arc, beyond the 10–12-week internship program?
We also made the intentional choice to prioritize diversity in our program; we know that as an industry, design can be made better, and we will better hear and understand our clients and communities, if we include more diverse perspectives and voices in the process. We looked for internship candidates who had compelling and formative stories and perspectives and who demonstrated a passion and curiosity about a variety of ideas.
With these goals in mind, we established our Intern Advocacy Group to provide dedicated and ongoing support to our interns throughout the program and we engaged Ambassadors from throughout the firm to help identify and share project opportunities and meaningful experiences in which interns could participate. This approach enabled our intentional mindset shift to center our interns, similar to how we develop student-centered experiences and curriculum in our design work with school district clients.
We reviewed a pool of 82 intern candidates—our second highest number of applicants ever! Our selection process included deep conversations amongst the Advocacy Group about our potential candidates as well as intentional “matchmaking” between what we learned about candidates’ interests and the opportunities our Ambassadors had identified. This helped us narrow our selection to interviewing 10 candidates, and ultimately selecting three to join with us for the summer.
The 2021 Internship Experience: Our Best-Laid Plans
Continuing our mission of intentionality in rethinking our internship program, we devised a program framework with three experiential elements for our interns: starting with immersive shadowing opportunities and then continuing to intersperse shadowing throughout the summer, project-based opportunities to work side-by-side with our BRIC teams on real-world work, and research and independent projects that leverage the bright and motivated minds of our interns. We then brainstormed a wealth of potential opportunities for each category.
Our internship program included three key experiences to create a full and enriching program.
The value of shadowing opportunities is two-fold: first, there’s the immersive experience of being in a real-world environment, such as a site visit, a client meeting, an OAC meeting, a team meeting, a coordination meeting, etc.
Then, and perhaps of greater importance, is what we’ve dubbed “the car ride home,” though this works whether we’re actually in the car coming home from a physical meeting or simply creating time and space after a virtual experience. This “car ride home” is a quick but vital 15-minute chat where our intern and the person they’re shadowing can debrief the experience, discussing major topics, action items, the folks involved, etc. This opportunity to provide context and confirm takeaways is invaluable and has the added benefit of encouraging and empowering our interns to speak up, ask questions, and seek information, which helps them get more comfortable engaging with our teams earlier in the internship program.
Homework and action items resulting from these shadowing opportunities furthers the learning potential of the experience and potentially creates a lead-in to deeper involvement in the associated project.
We planned for every shadowing opportunity to have intentional follow-ups to help make sure that experiences aren’t going over our intern’s heads and maximizing the learning opportunity.
The goal was that project-based opportunities would emerge from matchmaking by the Advocacy Group with ideas submitted by Ambassadors as well as natural follow-ups to shadowing opportunities. From the wealth of ideas brainstormed, the Advocacy Group sought to weave experiences together to create a clear and comprehensive flow crafted for each intern. As you can imagine, this is an intricate and tricky challenge of coordination!
We used Miro to start creating an intentional web of experiences for our interns. It’s an engaged and time consuming process that we’re exploring every day how to improve and leverage its value.
Our Ambassadors put forth many interesting ideas and projects that they could potentially advance with the support of an intern’s energy and engagement. Ideas include developing graphics and case studies to tell project stories, helping write and compile user guides and manuals, researching sustainable skin and shading systems, researching ways to incorporate pre-fab and other efficiencies, and more.
We may all wish for endless summer, but summer—and summer internships—must come to an end. However, even as we have reinvented our internship program we are concurrently looking beyond this moment in time, both at ways we can engage students earlier, even in elementary and middle school, and how we can continue to mentor and support students post-graduation as they emerge into the professional world. We’re looking at involvement in organizations and initiatives such as Girls Build, Architects in Schools, A4LE Schools NEXT Competition, ACE Mentorship, and more.
Meet our Interns!
As we’ve described, it’s been an exciting journey of reinventing our program and kicking off this experience. Meet the impressive students who were game to join us on this wild ride!
Bethany Woods, University of Oregon Master of Architecture Class of 2022
Bethany identifies with BRIC’s belief in that transformative power of relational, community-driven design. Through her work, she searches for solutions that create space for community at a variety of different scales.
Lucero Perez-Trancozo, University of Oregon Bachelor of Architecture Class of 2025
Lucero is inherently reflective. From academic to professional settings, Lucero has demonstrated a profound ability to identify and reconcile personal stories and experiences with what she’s learning about our industry.
Ana Yocum, Portland State University Bachelor of Architecture Class of 2020
Ana sees architecture not only as a means of assembling structures but a way to build communities. She is interested in exploring bi-cultural expressions and through her role with NOMA (National Organization of Minority Architects), she helps to uplift and amplify BIPOC voices.
Look forward to learning more about Bethany, Lucero, and Ana and their experience with BRIC later this summer!
A Process of Discovery
We know that every brave, new initiative, no matter how well thought out, may not go as planned—there may be challenges and even unique opportunities we never even dreamed up! The Advocacy Group will be monitoring our program implementation throughout the summer. We can’t wait to share with you our lessons learned as this experiment progresses in hopes of inspiring our clients and colleagues to join us thinking differently about what the future of architectural design may hold!