Participants from Morgan State, Hampton, and Tuskegee Universities outside of the historic DC Alumni Chapter House of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, a 2022 African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund grantee (2022).

photo by: Milan Jordan

September 15, 2022

HOPE Crew’s 'Preservation in Practice' Program Inspires Students

Preservation in Practice—a program developed by the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s HOPE (Hands-On Preservation Experience) Crew in partnership with the National Park Service and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation—connects historic preservation and conservation through a joint project with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).

The summer 2022 experience engaged additional preservation and architectural partners such as the Historic American Building Survey for documentation training and the D.C. State Historic Preservation Office for a D.C. design challenge.

According to the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards, the organization that accredits architectural education programs, there is little growth in the proportion of Black and Latinx students in architecture since 2009. In 2020 the number of licensed architects who are Black women (currently living) reached 500, which is 0.4 percent of licensed architects in the United States.

With this in mind, and to raise awareness about the importance of historic preservation and conservation, Preservation in Practice engages Black young professionals in historic preservation and related career paths such as architecture, while also emphasizing the rich cultural heritage of HBCUs. Introducing students to careers they might not have considered, the program also offers interaction with professionals who can serve as mentors and can potentially provide them with a path to highly skilled jobs. One of the program's strengths is that it brings together business, history, and heritage with career opportunities both in and out of federal, state, and local government. More importantly, it is a two-way street, helping to bring a much more inclusive group of students into fields that are traditionally not diverse.

Participants from Morgan State, Hampton, and Tuskegee Universities learn laser scanning at the historic DC Alumni Chapter House of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity (2022).

photo by: John Cotten

Participants from Morgan State, Hampton, and Tuskegee Universities learn laser scanning at the historic DC Alumni Chapter House of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity (2022).

Meet five students from the 2022 cohort and hear about their experience:

A third-year architecture student at Morgan State University, Joel Randolph is from Pittsburgh. During his junior year he changed his major from Biology to Architecture, saying that “architecture found me” after visiting the "house of Pi" and immediately finding his calling. Randolph is a talented young professional: he can render, sketch, and is never afraid to take on challenges outside of his comfort. A true designer and future architect, he will take the design world by storm.

Inari Wilson-Idris is a third-year architecture student at Morgan State University. From Silver Spring, Maryland, Wilson-Idris grew up having a creative mindset in life applies that experience to everything she does. It was at Thomas Edison High School of Technology where her teacher guided her skills in hand-drawing and design towards architecture. Her hope is to one day open an architectural firm and be an example to young Black children like her, showing them that there are more options in life than just the ones they are guided to.

Josué ‘Sway’ Woodard is a second-year architecture student at Hampton University. Growing up in Chicago, a young Woodard would be in the car with his mom, marveling at all the buildings around him. As his mom would tell him, “One of these days, I’m going to be able to go around and say ‘my son designed that,” foreshadowing his eventual decision, almost a decade later, to study architecture. Since he was a child Woodard has been involved in many artistic endeavors, and after much research, architecture became apparent as the perfect field for him. He hopes to take his work as an architect far and create a name that will inspire the future generations of black architects.

A fourth-year architecture student at Hampton University, Alanah Saunders from Atlanta is pursing a five-year master’s degree. Growing up she was interested in drawing and loved the design of buildings but knew nothing about architecture. It wasn’t until high school that she learned of the profession and fell in love with the art of building design the moment she was introduced to it. Over the years Saunders became inspired to also shape young minds; she plans to get her license and move into education where she will teach students the importance of S.T.E.A.M (science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics),and encourage the next generation of future architects.

Andrea Mejia is a fourth-year architecture student with a minor in Historic Preservation at Tuskegee University. She is originally from El Salvador and lives in Virginia. Her parents are her inspiration to follow her dreams, which they shared and once wished for themselves. With a heart for exploration and learning new things, her current goals are to showcase her culture and roots, and also to be an example to the next generation to always follow their dreams.

Prior to participating in the Preservation in Practice program, what was your exposure to historic preservation?

Randolph: I never had any prior experience in preservation; I only had a general idea of what was involved in it. This experience helped enhance my skills as a young professional in my future career. It was great to be a part of something much bigger than myself.

Wilson-Idris: Prior to the program I had no exposure [to historic preservation]. I just understood that I loved seeing craftsmanship of the historic homes around places like Baltimore and D.C. Most of my life I was told vaguely how these homes tied into most African Americans' personal history. I came in with an open mind and still wasn’t prepared for all that I not only learned but experienced firsthand.

Woodard: I had very little exposure to the topic of preservation. My professor briefly spoke on preservation in a conversation about the tragic fire at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris and my interest was piqued. There are so many possible solutions to preservation issues, and brainstorming through the pros and cons to find the best option is something I enjoy immensely. So, you can probably guess how excited I was when the opportunity to do this internship popped up. I can definitely say I was nervous, seeing as though I was only a first-year architecture student; however, after the virtual informational meetings I knew I had to apply to this internship.

Saunders: Before participating in the Preservation in Practice program, I had very little knowledge or understanding what preservation was or its importance for the future. Last year in class we touched on how preserving old buildings could qualify for certain tax credits, but we did not dive into specifics of preservation or design standards.

But there's so much more to preservation to that, and in the few short weeks [of the program] I learned the importance of preserving buildings and the historical value that these spaces hold. One thing I learned and have always remembered is George Santayan’s saying, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” It's a thought that kept coming up for me during my PIP experience, because just walking through and learning about different buildings and the people who lived there was important history a lot of us hadn't been taught in school. It was a very enlightening opportunity.

Mejia: My prior exposure to preservation was a Historic Preservation I class at Tuskegee University back in fall 2019. In this course I was introduced to the principles of historic preservation using the historic Tuskegee campus as a framework with firsthand study and discussion of preservation issues. As a team we developed a Historic Structures Report for the Drakeford House in Tuskegee, Alabama. We learned to operate a laser scanner and drone to assist in documentation; we also learned to read plans, elevations, and sand maps to create a detailed report.

Participants from Morgan State, Hampton, and Tuskegee Universities with Virginia Ali owner of Ben’s Chili Bowl in D.C. (2022)

photo by: Nizam Ali

Participants from Morgan State, Hampton, and Tuskegee Universities with Virginia Ali owner of Ben’s Chili Bowl in D.C. (2022)

Describe the experience you found most enriching to your academic and professional career.

Randolph: Working in groups with different universities and advisors was my favorite experience and the most I learned from. This taught me that I could work with anybody from any background which made me comfortable with collaborating on ideas and problem solving with groups. These are experiences that I will never forget and bonds that were created to be inseparable.

Wilson-Idris: Coming to a state that I heard so little about (Wyoming) and being surrounded by its culture, history, and architecture made me question what else the world has to offer. This opened my eyes to traveling more and learning about different styles of architecture in different cultures with different people.

Woodard: Oftentimes, my friends and I talk and really revel in the fact that we are actually professionals in our field. At the beginning of the year our professors told us time and time again that we are the only major on our campus that is an actual professional major, and that fact doesn’t quite hit until you are meeting up with your classmate for lunch because both of your internships are in the capital of the United States of America.

One lesson I definitely take away from the past year of being an architecture student is that exposure to experiences is what sets you apart from the rest. Growing up in the city of Chicago and moving to Los Angeles and now living in Oakland, I’ve had a lot of experience being surrounded by the city. In contrast, the two weeks we spent in Wyoming allowed for me to gain a whole new perspective on architecture, one from a very rural standpoint. I feel my new perspective will help to separate me from my classmates and competition and hopefully will allow me to get new opportunities to gain more perspectives.

Saunders: The experience I found most beneficial to going forward and finishing my academic career and entering my professional one is that the most sustainable building is the one that is already built. I have talked to a lot of professors and professionals who have stressed the importance of sustainability in the future and how building [new] buildings can be dangerous to the environment.

We talk a lot about reducing the harm we do to the environment as designers and builders in a more environmentally conscious era. In preservation I learned one way to really help the environment is to preserve what's already here, rehabilitating buildings that are already built, bringing them back to life. Though often easier said than done, I think it's one of the best ways to help reduce our carbon footprint. We don't have to tear down places that are already standing; just think about their potential and what they could be with a bit of love and life.

Mejia: What I found was the most enriching experience was the opportunity given to me as a whole to participate in this program; the privilege to travel to a new place to learn and explore a new environment, its sites and history, made it worth it. You learn new things every day, and what better way to acknowledge it than when you can connect it with your architecture career. In this experience I felt I was able to express myself in many ways and compare many things with my Latin roots as well as learn the value and importance of preserving a place of history.

After participating in this program, what advice do you have for other architecture students who may be interested in exploring more about historic preservation?

Randolph: My advice for someone who would partake in this program would be to never back down from what you don’t know. Take a risk and learn about things that you are ambiguous about because you never know what you might make of your experience. Don’t ever sell yourself short of what you may call a future career.

Wilson-Idris: I personally believe that it is important to not limit what kind of architecture you focus on. Even if it’s for an internship or project at school, try preservation in places you aren’t familiar with or outside the countries. It’ll change what direction you take in your professional career.

Woodard: After participating in the Preservation in Practice program, my advice for anyone who may be interested in preservation is take any opportunity you can to build your preservationist eye. Go outside and take your experience in your own hands. After I returned home from PiP, I noticed my city is chock full of historical buildings where there are helpful National Park Service members who are more than happy to give information on their site. If an amazing opportunity like Preservation in Practice is not at your disposal, do research and really build your eye to notice the unnoticeable. Hopefully, by the time you get a solid foundation on preservation you’ll be able to do an amazing internship similar to the one I was able to do.

Saunders: After participating in this program some advice I have for future students is to soak in as much information as possible in the upcoming years. The days are long and there's a lot of information being thrown at you all at once because there's so much to learn from preservation, but if you hang in there and really listen and learn you will gain so much knowledge. Next I'd say network, network, network; even if you get into it and know you don't want anything else to do with preservation, network anyway because a lot of the amazing people you meet have so much, not just field experience but life experience they can help you out so much. You just have to ask.

And that doesn't just go for the professionals; network with the students too get to know people from other schools going through the same things that you are. And last, of course, just have fun. Yes it's work, you're in a professional setting, and you're learning a lot, but enjoy yourself. It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity; take full advantage of it in any and every way that you can.

Mejia: The advice I would give to any architecture student who may be interested in exploring preservation is to fully go for it. Don’t be afraid of trying new things and getting out of your comfort zone. I’ve come to understand the emphasis on and need for preservation by just taking the time to further my knowledge of historic preservation. Preservation and architecture in my opinion go hand in hand; knowing the history of the people and community will help you develop an exceptional design. The world of architecture is so big, and there are many opportunities for you to set up and take.

Donate Today to Help Save the Places Where Our History Happened.

Donate to the National Trust for Historic Preservation today and you'll help preserve places that tell our stories, reflect our culture, and shape our shared American experience.

Milan Jordan is the director of HOPE Crew (Hands-On Preservation Experience).

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