Denise Thompson is one of the individuals who spearheaded the reboot of the ADE program and has promoted volunteerism within her firm, FCA, over the past few semesters. She volunteered as a collegiate student with the program (formerly known as AIE) and was inspired to mentor young professionals in the program today. With Denise's help, FCA partnered with Lowell School over the past years in many different classrooms. Throughout the process, Denise most enjoys meeting the students and building meaningful relationships with each of them.
Q: Your involvement with the program started before you began your work on the ADE committee. Can you explain your motivation to volunteer as a college student before the program rebooted?
A: "I've always gravitated towards teaching and mentoring youth about architecture. I didn't know what architecture was until I was in high school, so I didn't know you know that it was a career opportunity. I wanted to be a million other things growing up. All these little things I'd been doing as a kid as hobbies clicked when I learned about the profession from a teacher in high school. Exposing students to when they're younger gives them an opportunity to focus on what they might think is a fun career. I knew that that was something I wanted to give back to younger students, so I got back involved as a college student and now a professional. There are a lot of opportunities to share what we know."
Q: You played a role in rebooting the ADE program in 2017. What was it like to see a past version of something you love come back to life? Give us some insight into your role in the reboot process.
A: "There was a lot of nostalgia there. I saw the program from two perspectives because I am no longer a student but now a professional. I invited younger professionals in my company to help me during the reboot. I wasn't only mentoring young professionals but teaching the students in the classroom. There is a different mindset when leading a group of professionals and students. I spent time organizing the efforts for the students and giving young people at my firm an opportunity to step up and take on a task. We encouraged them to try to do something fun out of their comfort zone that they've never done before."
Q: Why do you believe architecture and design education programs belong in school curriculum?
A: "There are a lot of opportunities for interests that students didn't know could become a profession. It's about exposure and letting students in the schools know that there are so many different careers. Design thinking is becoming crucial. Students can have the opportunity to be a part of the architecture and design world. Our goal is to help expose them and bring these new opportunities to light, especially at the young age that I work with. I'm in 3rd and 4th grade which is a fun time for them to think about things like Legos and drawing. Minecraft is a great tool for the future of the profession too. We are hoping students engage with these classes, games, or tools and that there is a light bulb that can go off for them. Even if not all the students become architects, they will still have new skill sets that can be essential in any job."
Q: We saw quite a few FCA volunteers over the past few years. How did you encourage and support architects and designers in your firm to work with K-12 students?
A: "Our firm is passionate about volunteerism and helping the community learn and grow. It is a great way for us to continue our support of the industry by teaching the next generation. We support them financially and allot time to do this during their day. We encourage them to utilize it as their volunteer hours so it can count towards their AXP processes. Overall, it builds up their experience level in many categories that they might not get day-to-day such as public speaking, presenting, and project management. Honestly, most volunteers want to do something good for the community. We support them however we can."
Q: How do you believe volunteers benefit professionally from volunteering their time within the schools?
A: "It certainly helps their public speaking skills because many of these young architects have not had the opportunity to be in front of our clients as much as the senior people in our firm. Speaking coherently in front of thirty-second graders can be a challenge. It helps break open some potential fear of public speaking in a safe way. Another skill is trying to think on their feet. When in the classroom, lessons rarely ever go as planned. Adjusting on the fly or bringing it back on task are skills that can translate to work. We may present something to the client, and they suddenly want to go in a completely different direction. It’s imperative that we can adjust quickly and think on our feet. Finally, they practice their meeting facilitation skills as they operate and run their own “meetings” in the classroom. It benefits our volunteers immensely to have this practice and skill development while giving back to the community."
Q: Throughout all your moments volunteering, on the board, or championing members of FCA to volunteer, can you think of a memory that sticks out to you the most?
A: "I always enjoy the last day of our sessions. I'm working with children that are so sweet and energetic around what they're learning. When it's time to say goodbye, although it's sad, it also makes you realize how much they appreciate you being there. I receive thank you cards and even hugs. Although it is bittersweet, that day is my favorite memory every year."
Q: What would you say to another principal at a firm interested in encouraging their firm members to volunteer?
A: "There are many positive reasons to get involved such as the benefits to the firm, public relations, knowing that you're supporting an amazing cause, and being a part of something bigger. It is helping the profession grow by exposing students to new professions and they could even be employees in the future. Who knows! I also think it helps employees feel more engaged in their day-to-day work because they have a sense of satisfaction of giving themselves in a way that other students and the community can benefit from. They can bring that back to their daily tasks and have a little bit of inspiration every day. It brings positivity to not only the students and community but the office as well."