The 560 Black women architects working in America today represent just 0.4% of all licensed architects in the US— We’re taking action to change that.
Since 2021 Fireclay Tile has partnered with The Architects Foundation, the philanthropic partner of The American Institute of Architects (AIA), to fund a Diversity Advancement Scholarship to support the progress of aspiring Black women architects and help narrow the racial disparities in the design industry.
Why does diversity in design matter? We sat down with the Architects Foundation to learn more about what this scholarship means to the students it supports and our society at large.
“We are honored to be working with Fireclay Tile and the greater design community to help award more scholarships to deserving students,” said Architects Foundation Executive Director, Marci Reed, "Our community of scholars is full of bright, creative, driven students who will create inclusive spaces, places, and communities. Being able to put more Black women in the pipeline of future architects goes a long way in our mission as the philanthropic partner of the AIA to create a more just, equitable, and diverse profession.”
Continue on for our full interview with the Architects Foundation!
Your website says the Diversity Advancement Scholarship began in 1970. Can you tell us more about the history of the scholarship program?
The Diversity Advancement Scholarship was created in 1970 with an initial grant from the Ford Foundation and The American Institute of Architects (AIA) after civil rights leader Whitney Young Jr. challenged architects in 1968 to create a more responsible and equitable field. You can read the program report on the Architects Foundation's Website.
The award was granted to more than 2,000 students since its inception. Several years ago, the Architects Foundation changed the scholarship model to support students over multiple years. AIA invested $1 million in 2013 and 2016 to set up and grow a scholarship endowment.
What has been the Diversity Advancement Scholarship’s cumulative impact over the years?
The Architects Foundation has served more than 2,000 students under the original program model. We’ve increased our impact by expanding our support to provide multiyear tuition awards to about ten new students a year, supporting students throughout their collegiate experience.
We’re honored to partner with the Architects Foundation on the Fireclay Architecture Scholarship for Black Women. What impact has this scholarship had since we first partnered in 2021 (to date, we've raised over $120K), and how can we achieve a greater impact?
In addition to supporting women like Oni Thornell [the inaugural recipient of our Fireclay Diversity Advancement Scholarship who's currently pursuing architecture at Syracuse University], Fireclay Tile has helped raise awareness of the need to support Black Women who dream of becoming architects. According to a recent report from the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA), women represent 1 in 3 Black architecture students, as opposed to nearly two-thirds of the total Black students in higher education. Black Women account for only 1.9% of all architecture degrees in the US.
It is true that it’s hard to be what you can’t see…elevating Black Women in architecture school is a necessary step for creating an inclusive profession to serve a just, equitable, diverse, and inclusive society.
How would receiving one of these scholarships impact a future architecture student?
Our scholars tell us the ‘secret sauce’ of our program is we commit multi-year financial support over the course of their academic pursuits. They also tell us the requirement for a minimum GPA keeps them focused and committed to doing their best work. In fact, since 2015, 92% of our Diversity Advancement Scholars have either graduated or are on the path to graduating with their architecture degree.
Taylor Pinkney received the scholarship award; she is attending the University of Houston. You can read Taylor's essay here.
How does the Architects Foundation support the next-generation design community on top of these scholarships?
For our Diversity Scholars, we work to connect them with local AIA chapters for mentoring opportunities, as well as connect them with American Institute of Architecture Students (AIAS) and National Organization of Minority Architecture Students (NOMAS) chapters and programs. And each year we take a cohort to the AIA Conference on Architecture for networking and relationship-building.
Our Payette Sho-Ping Chin scholarship supports a woman who’s a junior or senior undergraduate or in graduate architecture school, and our Yann Weymouth scholarship is an award for a graduate student whose work is focused on the design intersection of resilience, sustainability, wellness and beauty.
We also have several awards to help aspiring architects pursue licensure, we recently launched a student loan relief grant fund. We also award leadership and research opportunities, including travel grants for women architects to attend the AIA Women’s Leadership Summit, as well as the Richard Morris Hunt Prize, is a premiere travel grant for preservation architects to pursue cutting-edge research in France.
Why was it important to create a scholarship specifically for Black women architecture students?
What challenges or barriers do minority architecture students face attempting to enter the industry?
We think they're threefold. First, a lack of awareness of the profession at the K-12 level prevents many children from dreaming and planning for a career in architecture. Second, a lack of belonging due to the current demographics of this industry. Third, when you add gender to ethnicity, disparities emerge regarding firm support for licensure, income gaps, and tuition debt. (NCARB/NOMA Report ‘Baseline on Belonging’)
How does diversity in architecture benefit society at large?
Architecture should reflect the diverse society it serves. All lived experiences should be able to contribute to design solutions for spaces, places, and communities, ultimately creating better societies.
Besides donating to the Diversity Advancement Scholarship, how can people help build equity and inclusion in architecture and design?