While traditional summer internship programs are ending, one will continue for a full year at HOK in St. Louis to help develop more African American architects. The company’s new diversity program will use one of the most significant projects locally to cultivate skills – BJC HealthCare’s Campus Renewal Project, a partnership of BJC’s Barnes-Jewish Hospital and St. Louis Children’s Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine.
St. Louis resident Ryan Wilson, a May 2013 graduate of Washington University’s College of Architecture and Graduate School of Architecture & Urban Design, is the first participant in the paid internship program.
When Wilson was in the sixth grade at Brown Elementary in the Hazelwood School District, Wilson’s teacher asked him to write a letter listing his career goals and aspirations. Seven years later when he graduated from North County Tech, the teacher mailed the letter to Ryan. Upon opening it, he discovered one passion burning even stronger – architecture. But architecture is a field of work that has struggled with diversity. According to the American Institute of Architects, only 1 percent of licensed architects are African American.
“It’s just not well known,” said Ryan. “There are not enough role models. It’s a tough career path to sell. I stuck with it only because I’ve been fascinated by architecture since I was a kid building things with Legos and Lincoln Logs.”
Today, Wilson finds himself engaged in planning meetings for the BJC project, one of HOK’s largest assignments, while also getting a heavy dose of Revit three-dimensional design technology at HOK.
“We wanted to develop our hometown talent who could one day mentor and encourage a new generation of minority architects,” said HOK Management Principal Rebecca Nolan.
Nolan reached out to Bruce Lindsey, dean of Washington University’s College of Architecture and Graduate School of Architecture & Urban Design, to start an intensive year-long internship program for minority students. She also sought the right intern candidate for the program’s “pay it forward” strategy and found Wilson.
“Ryan’s passion for architecture goes beyond self interest,” said Nolan. “That’s what really impressed me about him. He sees his career goals as a way to help others who may just need a spark from a role model to ignite a talent to design and deliver new ideas for how we live, work and recreate.”
In addition to Nolan, HOK senior vice president and healthcare principal Paul Whitson will mentor Ryan. Whitson himself began his architectural career as an intern at HOK in 1988.