Supervisor Spotlight: Shannon Christensen

Associate Principal at CTA Architect Engineers Shannon Christensen, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP BD+C, has served as an Architecture Experience Program® (AXP®) supervisor for eight (and counting) licensure candidates. We asked the Montana architect, who also serves as a local  licensing advisor, to share her experience as a supervisor, the value of good mentorship, and tips on how to best support emerging professionals.

Why is it important to mentor the next generation of architects?

I have been fortunate to have had great mentors throughout each stage of my career. By mentoring, I am able to give back to the profession and ensure that the next generation of architects have the skill set to practice successfully. I have also grown professionally with the expectation to train your replacement. We can’t each take on more and more in our own practices without relinquishing some of the things we currently do. As I mentor and coach future architects, I am able to empower them with more responsibilities and therefore take on new challenges myself. Mentoring and watching this next generation grow is one of the most rewarding and fulfilling things I get to do.

Did you choose to become an AXP supervisor or was that assigned to you by your firm?

Being an AXP supervisor was a responsibility I sought out at my firm after I gained my initial license. I wanted to be able to share my experience and help others on the path to licensure. While I now wear many other hats in our practice, being an AXP supervisor continues to be one of my favorites.

How often do you communicate and/or meet with your candidates?

I communicate with all of the licensure candidates I supervise on a weekly basis. This occurs in formal team meetings each Monday so I can check on how projects are progressing. It also happens informally throughout the week to help mentor and coach them as questions come up. I sit in close proximity to my candidates, which makes it easier to check in and see how they are doing. Having a good rapport with the candidates allows me to better understand their licensure goals and challenges to help guide and motivate them on that path. We also meet quarterly to discuss how things are going, accomplishments, challenges, goals, AXP and the Architect Registration Examination® (ARE®) progress, and anything they are needing from me or the firm. We typically review their AXP progress reports at this time and compare it to the 96 tasks that are required to complete AXP.

How does your firm support licensure candidates with the ARE?

Our firm has multiple copies of study materials for the ARE that candidates can use to help them prepare. We allow candidates to use company paid time to take each exam. We also reimburse 50 percent of each division cost upon passing. Candidates receive a bonus and salary review upon obtaining their license.

What challenges or opportunities do you see when interacting with your candidates?

Most of the challenges I see come from a candidate’s licensure path not going exactly as planned. Candidates might get derailed if they fail an ARE division. They may get stalled on gaining AXP experience in an area they need, depending on the project they are working on. As a supervisor, I am able to help them through these roadblocks and revisit their plan to keep going. The great opportunity is that the AXP and the ARE allow candidates to customize their own path. It is less prescriptive than previous versions of the experience and examination programs, with things such as concurrent testing, the exam retake policy, reduced experience areas, streamlined experience settings, and the AXP Portfolio.

You’re also a part of the Licensing Advisors Community. Tell us how your involvement with the community has benefitted your experience as an AXP supervisor.

Being a part of the Licensing Advisors Community has allowed me to better understand NCARB’s programs and their evolution to best support candidates I supervise, plus others across Montana. That in-depth understanding allows me to help candidates through the roadblocks they encounter. The community also provides me with a network of other licensing advisors that I can reach out to with questions and learn best practices from.

What advice do you have for new AXP supervisors?

Read through the AXP Guidelines and become familiar with the experience areas and 96 tasks.  The AXP is not about seat time, but about ensuring candidates are capable of performing those tasks in order to practice architecture independently. As an AXP supervisor, it is my responsibility to help candidates gain those experiences while ultimately being responsible for their work. I would also encourage you to build a rapport with the candidates you supervise. Understanding your candidate’s goals, as well as encouraging them to make a plan for their licensure path (including the AXP and ARE), providing accountability, supporting them through roadblocks, and helping celebrate their successes will all contribute to a rewarding experience not only for your candidate, but also for you as an AXP supervisor.