#MentorMonday: Stephanie L. Paul, RA

Welcome to #MentorMonday! Mondays are dedicated to celebrating Black LICENSED Architects, Designers, and individuals in the profession of Architecture!

The questions asked to these individuals are to allow us into their lives and to be used as an inspiration. I hope you all enjoy this series.

Name: Stephanie L. Paul
Hometown: Queens, NY
What/who sparked your interest in Architecture and when?

At about 11 or 12 years old, I wanted to be an interior designer. However, during my freshman year of high school, I took a Design Drafting class which completely changed my perception of what my future could look like. This class combined the two subjects I was most interested in at the time – art and math. Throughout the semester, I was able to exercise and add to skills I already had, and realized that architecture was something that I would be good at and also enjoy.

What does it mean to be a black architect to you? Do you feel that you have more responsibility?

As a Black architect, I definitely feel a responsibility to reinvest in my community, especially with regard to housing. I currently work as a Project Manager for a firm whose primary focus is affordable housing. In this role, I am gaining insight into the inner workings of the affordable housing market and learning where I can use my skills to make a difference for residents.

What are some obstacles you’ve experienced or currently experiencing as a black architect/designer?

During grad school, I worked for a research center that focused on housing and justice in New York City. I remember being asked to work on a project that I felt would make me the “Black voice” on the topic in question, which I wasn’t comfortable with, so I removed myself from the situation. This was really the first time that my being Black came into play professionally, and I didn’t know what to make of it. However, over time I realized that as a Black woman, I bring a necessary and unique perspective to a traditionally White male space. So while I’m still not in favor of being the “Black voice” that speaks for the entire race, I know that my input as an individual can and will make a difference in the design world.

Should we ignore race in this profession?

Not at all. Since race is such a major factor in American life, acknowledging race and using it as an asset in client relations, construction management, design, etc will only improve the way we think about creating spaces for everyone. The beauty in the differences between races and cultures is that these differences can activate a richness in our design work that benefits the users of the spaces we design.

If you could give advice to a black student in Architecture school right now, what would it be?
1. Take care of yourself. Set timers on your phone to remind yourself to eat. You will get in the zone and forget, trust me.
2. Know that Architecture school doesn’t last forever. It can get tough, but you chose this path for a reason. Let that reason pull you through the tough moments.
3. Use your resources – including the people around you. Ask for help when you need it!
You got this!
Describe a moment you were at your lowest on your pursuit to licensure and how did you overcome it?

Growing up, I was a straight A student – like crying when I got at 87 on an exam type of student. (Yes, I was one of those.) So when it came time to take the licensure exams, I wanted to pass all 7 of them on the first try, which is pretty rare, but I was ambitious. Needless to say, reality hit, and that did not happen. There was a point where I failed 3 back to back, and I questioned if I was even meant to do this. What kept me going was my faith, my family/friends/support system, and the idea that if I quit, I would definitely not become an architect. But if I kept going, I had a chance. Each failure taught me a lesson, and I eventually passed them all.

How important is representation?
Representation is everything. My initial interest in interior design was sparked by a Black woman I went to church with who was an interior designer. A child seeing someone who looks like them doing something they want to do lets them know it’s possible.

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