#MentorMonday: Jennifer Matthews, Assoc. AIA
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: Jennifer T. Matthews, Associate AIA
About Me – Jennifer T. Matthews, Associate AIA is a Design Professional at Waldon Studio Architects in Washington, DC. With 4 years of healthcare design experience, Jennifer has served clients such as Kaiser Permanente, Children’s National, Washington Hospital Center, Johns Hopkins, and United Medical Center. She is the 2018 recipient of the Healthcare Design Magazine HCD 10 Educator Honor Award for her efforts of creating and managing Array Architects’ annual Mind the Gap event. Jennifer served as the 2013-2014 National Vice President of the American Institute of Architecture Students (AIAS), the first African American female Vice President. She is a 2013 graduate of the Tuskegee University Robert R. Taylor School of Architecture and Construction Science, receiving a Bachelor of Architecture, and a Master of Arts candidate for the Savannah College of Art and Design’s Business Design and Arts Leadership program.
Hometown: Montgomery, Alabama, Currently lives in Alexandria, VA
What/who sparked your interest in Architecture and when?
What does it mean to be a black architect to you? Do you feel that you have more responsibility?
As a rising black architect, I feel like there is more responsibility to bring awareness to the small group of professionals that represent African American women architects. After licensure, our voice and platforms become bigger as advocates for the profession, our communities, and the change we wish to see in the profession. Without our voice, the profession continues to be one that caters to the majority although minority groups are beginning to surpass that of the majority in the United States. As minority groups continue to grow, so will the environments that we live, work, and learn in. We, as black architects, must be at the forefront to communicate and produce the changes our communities need.
What are some obstacles you’ve experienced or currently experiencing as a black architect/designer?
There is a difference between being respectful and respected. I’ve never been disrespected by a contractor or engineer, but I occasionally have the feeling that I’m not respected as a knowledgeable professional. For example, I can be considered the primary point of contact for a project; however, the contractor or engineers may still prefer to communicate directly with my project manager. I’ve learned over time that it is really important to speak up or have an opinion on the work you’re doing. If you don’t speak up, those around you may consider you to be passive, uninterested, or lacking knowledge. It’s tough sometimes because there’s still so much to learn in architecture and the constant feeling of not knowing plays heavily on an emerging professional’s mind and capability to speak up. The best advice I can give is to keep learning, speak up when you can, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Sometimes a question is better than saying nothing at all.
Should we ignore race in this profession?
As nice as it would be to go about our day-to-day without regards to race, it’s an important factor that must be addressed.Without the conversations, we won’t see a shift in the numbers that represent minorities in the industry. I’ve heard many firms and organizations claim to be diverse by simply having a comparable male to female ratio but also completely turning a blind eye to the representation of various ethnicities. Its a small band aid for a larger problem that must be addressed head on.
If you could give advice to a black student in Architecture school right now, what would it be?
Leave the boundaries of your university so you can strengthen your learning. Go to as many conferences as you can, travel abroad, enter competitions, and hold local and national leadership roles. Sit in on presentations and crits at other universities in your area. Find an internship as early as your first year, or shadow for a couple of days if you can’t find a paid internship. I find that so many students succumb to the limitations that their architecture departments place on them because of a lack of funding or permissions from the University. Faculty may be able to assist with internship and job searching, but they are not responsible for securing opportunities for you. Take control of your future and your learning by investing in yourself and the opportunities you have.
Describe a moment you were at your lowest on your pursuit to licensure and how did you overcome it?
How important is representation?