Convention Networking Leads to a Job Offer

We first met Melissa Rodríguez in Washington, D.C., during the 2012 AIA National Convention, where the networking opportunities available helped her land her first job. Read the first interview.

Melissa, you attended the AIA 2012 National Convention in Washington, D.C., where you were hired by Design Collective. Can you explain how that happened?
Thanks to the sponsorship of Curt Marshall, Coordinator of Multicultural Programs at Penn State, I was able to attend the convention. I had high hopes that Luis Bernardo, a principal with Design Collective (with whom I had interviewed previously), would be in attendance as well. Luis agreed to meet with me for lunch. It turned out to be a second interview.

Since this was the first convention you’ve attended, what surprised you?
I was amazed at the number of concurrent sessions offered—some of them extremely focused on uncommon topics. It was a great learning experience to see how things I was taught are developed in the professional field.
Also, some of what I was learning was supplemented by manufacturers at the Design Exposition. Having never been to an expo, it was a real eye-opener to see details I had been drawing in school.

You’ve been with Design Collective now for four months. Can you share some details about the projects you’ve worked on?
Since my first day, I have been part of the Inmar design team. Inmar is a 240,000 square-foot adaptive use (core and shell) renovation that will transform an old tobacco warehouse in Durham, N.C., into a state-of-the-art office building that will accommodate 1,000 employees for a national technology company.
I started on this project in schematic design, and we are now beginning the construction documents stage. I have also worked on smaller projects on the side.
Compared to architects who graduated even 10 years ago, today's graduates begin their careers with a stronger foundation in building information modeling and building science.

How has your training in those fields helped in your day-to-day work?
By the time I graduated, I wasn’t a guru using BIM software and tools, but I felt comfortable with my skills. During my first day at work, I was introduced to the Inmar project—the model contains many linked files and is divided into various construction phases. If not for my building science background and instructive co-workers, I cannot begin to imagine how much longer it would have taken me to decipher the project.
Belonging to a 3D- and BIM-savvy generation means that we can often advise more senior teammates who are not as comfortable or proficient with BIM programs. It has been an advantageous, albeit unexpected, opportunity to learn architectural/structural/mechanical/electrical/plumbing details and note coordination that I otherwise may not have been exposed to immediately after graduation.

New members of the AIA receive a free registration to the 2013 AIA National Convention. What would you say to colleagues who are considering becoming a member and attending the convention?
There is not much to think about—new graduates receive free membership for a year and all new architect and associate members are offered free registration to the AIA National Convention. Receiving an offer from my dream office was the highlight for me, but there is a lot more to the experience. The convention is filled with educational and networking opportunities.

About Melissa Rodríguez, Assoc. AIA
Originally from San Juan, P.R., Melissa Rodríguez moved to the United States to pursue a BArch at Penn State University. Melissa explored the notion of cultural identity, leading her to become the co-founder and vice-president of the National Organization of Minority Architecture Students (NOMAS). She also joined the Penn State International Dance Ensemble (PSIDE). These experiences helped drive her thesis on the physical expression of culture in Puerto Rico. Currently, Melissa lives in Baltimore, where she is working as an intern architect at Design Collective, Inc., with the goal of becoming a licensed architect.

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