“The externship experience empowered me in a way I was not expecting,” says Kaya Orona ’23 B.Arch, as she thinks back to her recent spring break externship with The M Group Architects + Interior Architects in Washington, D.C. “I learned I am capable of being an independent person—that I am able to navigate myself in the fast-paced world of architecture.”
Orona was one of three undergraduate students in the University of Arizona College of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture to participate in the college’s inaugural externship program last spring.
Like internships, externships allow a student to learn about an organization by spending dedicated time onsite. Because of their shorter duration—in CAPLA’s case, over spring break—externships provide a more concentrated and holistic experience in which students shadow members of the firm and observe how the firm as a whole operates. Sponsored by the firms that host the students, externships benefit both the student and the organization.
“Externships and other opportunities that bring students into firms for ‘real world’ experiences are invaluable,” says Karen Lewis, a partner at The M Group who guided Orona during her weeklong experience. “Our hope is that we not only provide students with additional insight and understanding of the processes and operations of the office and its people, but also that they gain experience in applying design concepts with real details, materials and constructability, putting together a drawing set and consultant coordination.”
That’s a lot to cover in just one week, but it’s also the kind of intense experience that can be life-changing. In Orona’s case, the externship opened the door to career possibilities far from home. “The externship made me realize that I am very interested in the complexity of architecture and the urban landscape of the East Coast,” she says. “I could see myself living and working in an area I never thought I would love.”
2022 B.Arch graduate Celestin Amani stayed in Tucson for his externship with Onyx Creative, but found the experience to be equally formative. “Engaging with practicing architects and seeing how they go about designing and working as a team was very valuable,” he says. “It was a great experience, and I highly recommend it.”
At Onyx Creative, Director of Architecture David Garcia put Amani to work. “Because the duration was a week, we were unsure how to structure the time and make it work for both of us,” he says. “We asked him to shadow a couple of people in the office for the first two days so that he could see what a typical day is like. For the other three days, we assigned him a station and asked him to do some work.”
Amani was able to help on redlines for a tenant improvement and prepare design ideas for a possible expansion of Onyx Creative’s Tucson office. “He was very creative and did a good job,” Garcia says. “It was also refreshing to see his excitement and enthusiasm for the profession.”
Tucson native Anisa Hermosillo ’22 B.Arch traveled to Boise, Idaho for her externship with erstad ARCHITECTS, where she worked closely with founding partner and 1998 UArizona B.Arch graduate Andy Erstad.
“We could not have been more happy with the externship program, as well as Anisa,” Erstad says. “She hit the ground running, with virtually no professional experience, yet carried herself with poise, inquiry and a bit of adventure. She was a remarkably fast learner, engaged our culture and drank from the firehose of new experiences. I call that a great success.”
Hermosillo calls her externship a great success, as well. “It was a joy to experience the people, the city and the architecture fully,” she says. “Most valuable was being able to be so immersed in Boise and feeling like I was truly a part of the team at erstad ARCHITECTS so that I could envision myself practicing architecture in Boise.”
Given the program’s success, CAPLA plans to expand externships for Spring 2023, opening them to students from multiple programs to work with firms across the country.
“Mentoring students before graduation makes a significant difference in their professional development,” says Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Laura Hollengreen. “By providing the opportunity to shadow professionals during the day-to-day operations of firms and visit the cities the firms are located in, prospective employers and colleagues offer students the invaluable experience of being part of a team and learning the distinct tasks and responsibilities of the profession.”
The benefits are reciprocal, says Erstad. “I can honestly say that we walked away from the externship experience with renewed energy, brighter outlook and a collective reassurance that CAPLA students involved in externships are mature, driven and the type of student any firm would be better to have.”
For Lewis and The M Group, externships bring value to the student “but also can allow a firm to grow their own staff by assigning responsibility and accountability to the student in mentoring them,” she says. “Sometimes, the student may show the firm the new methods of presentations, renderings and what is being taught with emerging technologies that apply to our industry. We find great value in the student/firm relationship.”
Orona’s externship at The M Group was funded by the firm’s founder, Mitch Freedman, a 1980 graduate of the UArizona B.Arch program. For erstad ARCHITECTS, Erstad signed on to sponsor an externship to pay it forward. “I felt it was my responsibility to help students understand the profession through a real-world experience,” he says. “What better opportunity is there than through the externship program?”
Garcia and Onyx Creative sponsored Amani’s externship because of their previous positive experiences with students. “In the past, we have hired many students for the summer and have enjoyed giving them a taste of our work environment. We have been impressed with their abilities and their fresh view of architecture,” he says. “The program sounded like a good way to give students that experience as part of the education curriculum.”
The experience of that brief, intense interaction with a firm also makes a lasting impression as the student prepares to launch into their career.
“The externship was one of my favorite memories at CAPLA,” says Hermosillo. “It’s an experience I will treasure for a lifetime!”