We caught up with Shannon Carpenter Bearden, AIA, NCARB, LEED Green Associate, to chat about networking tips, tackling the ARE, and getting the most out of your internship.

What inspired you to become an architect?

I suspect it runs in my bloodline. My grandmother created blueprints for the Southwestern Bell telephone company. And at just 5 years old, I was already painting houses and other structures. It was this fascination with art that led to my first photography class in high school, where I captured a building under construction in downtown Fort Worth. I remember being so curious and intrigued by what I saw that I had to learn more.

By senior year, I knew I wanted to pursue a degree in architecture. So I did! A bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, the IDP, and seven exams later, I accomplished one of my life goals of becoming an architect. I hold an NCARB Certificate as well.

How did you tackle the ARE?

It took me a little over a year to pass all sections of the ARE. I’ll admit that I failed my first test, but it gave me the kick I needed to get back on track. A little over a month later, I passed the second exam on my list! The best advice I can give is to stick with it. Think about it this way: Once you are three tests in, you are almost halfway done. And now, test takers can retake the exam in as few as 60 days versus six months when I was testing.

There is never going to be a “good time” to take the tests. You will never be less busy and it will never be convenient. You just have to make it work, stick to your plan, and achieve the end result.

What was your strategy for navigating the path to licensure, and how did you stick with it?

My plan was to start right away. I learned early on that the longer you wait, the less likely you are to finish a task. So I found a mentor, developed a strategy, and implemented the plan as soon as I received authorization to test.

I also had great support from family and friends to help push me in the right direction. I wanted to be licensed. I wanted to call myself an architect. I wanted to be held to a higher standard, and be a role model for others. It also helped that I found a group of friends that were testing at the same time. Nothing like a little friendly competition to kick things into gear. Weekly study groups quickly became the accountability I needed to succeed.

Tell us about the biggest hurdle you faced as an intern.

The biggest hurdle is often being heard. You need to speak up and let your mentor/boss/advisor know that you want more opportunities and responsibility. Doing so lets your successors know that you are a goal seeker who is willing to push yourself to be a more knowledgeable professional.

How does having a license make you more marketable?

Being known as a licensed professional gives you a certain status and reputation with colleagues in the industry. Almost as if you “belong” in the elite group of those who have completed the grueling educational hours, the years of internship, and the numerous exams. In my opinion, it means you care about your career, your future, and the future of the profession.

As architects, we are responsible for the health, safety, and welfare of the public. As a friend once put it, people don’t seek medical attention from a person who only completed one year of med school. Instead they seek a professional, licensed to perform such duties. Why should architecture be held to any less of a standard?

What advice do you have for aspiring architects?

It’s what I tell every new intern in the office: Do not wait. You are fresh out of school and your brain is still in test mode, so get it out of the way now. If you’re not fresh out of school and haven’t finished the exams, what are you waiting for? You went through several years of school, completed thousands of hours of IDP (or will), so why stop there? Don’t you want to be able to shout, “I’m an architect! A real architect!”

Also, if you fail an exam, don’t let it get you down. Learn from that experience and try a different path. Change your study habits. Take the test on a Monday versus a Sunday. Unfortunately, the majority of test takers do not pass every exam the first time around. Fortunately, that means you are not alone!

Do you have any tried and true networking tips?

Join a committee with NCARB, AIA National, or your local AIA group. It’s in your best interest as a professional to attend events, join committees, and immerse yourself in leadership whenever possible. After all, it is the younger generation that will one day be the voice of architects—and the ones leading firms and altering the built environment.

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