What's Next for Architecture Internships

We caught up with Past President Blakely Dunn, AIA, NCARB, to chat about the rationale behind updating the Intern Development Program (IDP). Plus, he shares sage advice for interns who are just getting started.

You were the first NCARB president to have completed the IDP. How did this influence your desire to re-evaluate the current program?

It was only a matter of time until the Council had a president who had completed the IDP, and it just happened to be me. In the very near future I think this will be the norm rather than the exception. In a lot of ways, it's nice when the leadership in any organization is comprised of those who have completed the organization’s programs, such as the IDP and ARE in our case. I think that having completed the IDP provided me with a degree of trust with our membership in terms of encouraging a fresh look at the program and that, whatever the outcome, any recommendations would be well thought out, justifiable, defensible, and the right thing to do.

During your tenure, you had a hand in several of the program’s recent updates—including the streamlined eligibility requirement, launch of the mobile app, and modified reporting requirement. What’s the rationale behind all of these changes?

I think no one can deny that since its inception, the IDP has been extraordinarily effective in helping ensure that newly licensed architects possess the range of knowledge and skills deemed necessary—as informed by our periodic Practice Analyses—to practice independently. Though there have been many significant enhancements and improvements made to the program, particularly of late, the fact remained that, structurally, the program was essentially the same as when it was first developed, and as it was when I went through it over 25 years ago.

Most would agree that the way architects practice today—and by extension, the opportunities intern architects* have to gain experience—has evolved since then. It was my conviction that in order to ensure the continued relevance and effectiveness of the IDP, the Council needed to take a good, hard look at the program and determine how it needed to evolve.

NCARB is moving forward with plans to streamline and overhaul the IDP. Tell us about your role in forming these proposals.

Several months prior to my becoming the FY14 NCARB President, I sat down with our CEO Michael Armstrong. I explained to him that I believed it was time for the Council to take a fresh look at the IDP, and that I intended for that to be one of the main focus points of my tenure. I asked him to set up an IDP Special Project Team similar to what was set up so successfully to assist the Board of Directors in determining the direction of the ARE 5.0.

Mike assembled a top-notch group of high-level staff to be on this team, to which I gave two charges. First, to explore and identify what, if any, options existed within the current IDP to streamline it without compromising its rigor and effectiveness at ensuring newly licensed architects can practice independently. Second, the team was charged with exploring and developing options on how the next version of the IDP needed to be structured, given modern practice and how experience can be gained.

Some referred to this task as developing an overhaul of the program, but I think it is more accurate to describe it as an evolution. The decisions made by the Board of Directors on both the streamlining and overhaul of the IDP came after multiple engagements with the IDP Special Project Team over an entire year. During this time, multiple options were evaluated by the Board based on their potential to enhance and advance the effectiveness of the program without compromising its rigor and core purpose.

Tell us how you support the path to licensure in your own firm.

At CADM Architecture, Inc., we are committed to providing the best possible environment for intern architects to learn the practice of architecture and move through to licensure. Our firm is pretty small (eight employees with three intern architects) so it is easy to provide broad exposure in all of the core experience categories of the IDP. We understand that there are often financial pressures at the beginning of one's career—we have been there. So one of the things we do is pay 100 percent of the cost for our interns’ participation in the IDP. We also reimburse the cost of the ARE following successful completion. We have been doing this for years, and I personally think every firm should do likewise.

What advice do you have for emerging professionals just getting started with the IDP?

My advice to intern architects, those in our firm and those that I have interacted with during my time in NCARB, is simple and straightforward: Own your own path to licensure. Plan it, organize it, prioritize, and then execute. It's easy to let other things distract from achieving the credential of a licensed architect … the old "life gets in the way" thing. As far as I know, life has "gotten in the way" ever since there was life. It's not a new development! If having that credential matters to you personally and professionally in the future, plan the path and do it!

*Editor’s note: Each jurisdiction sets its own laws and/or rules that address intern titles. You can always check with your state board for the latest rules and regulations.