With COVID-19 disrupting lives over the past months, a virtual architectural internship helped Gwendoline Albright Ndikumagenge fill the period between college graduation and professional life with valuable experience while preparing her to start her architecture career.
Gwendoline, a recent graduate of Andrews University School of Architecture and Interior Design, was one of eight students from Michigan’s college and university architectural schools who participated in the MAF + AIA Michigan Internship Bridge Program last summer. The goal of the six-week program was to help bridge the gap in available student architectural internships in Michigan due to COVID-19, and preserve educational, work experience, and career-boosting opportunities normally provided through the traditional internship experience.
Gwendoline did her bridge internship at Intersect Studio in Kalamazoo, with all of her work done remotely. Immediately prior, she completed a six-month internship at Intersect, as a combined in-office and virtual work experience. Between the two internships, she graduated with her Master of Architecture degree with honors and a Certificate in Leadership from Andrews University. Early last Fall, she accepted a position as an architectural designer at Heidi Hornaday, Architect, P.C. in New Buffalo, MI. (Originally from Burundi, Gwendoline also did an architecture internship as an undergraduate student in Rwanda).
“As I was finishing my degree at Andrews, COVID raised so many uncertainties about my future as an aspiring architect,” said Gwendoline. “Then came the bridge internship opportunity. It helped me find a threshold between my academic like and my professional life, where I was able to keep learning and building my skill sets while navigating all the uncertainties that this COVID19 brought. This opportunity came at the right time, as it helped me stay in the right professional atmosphere through the pandemic while preparing me for my next career opportunities. And since the internship was accompanied by a grant, it helped ease some of the financial strain while focusing on learning.”
Each program intern was assigned both a peer mentor as well as a reporting mentor by their internship firm. “It was invaluable to have a dedicated peer mentor for questions and advice. We had a great connection. In addition to answering all my inquiries during and after the internship, she is now one of the biggest reasons I am pursuing architecture licensure. My reporting counselor was the firm principal. Under the circumstances of a traditional internship and firm daily operations, he may not have been as available or accessible, however, we had some interactions as well, and is now one of the architects I consider a mentor.”
“I also felt the bridge internship afforded me more ownership of my work. As a result, my confidence and resiliency increased, and I became more comfortable designing and documenting projects for something other than a school assignment. During job interviews, I discovered that what I learned during my virtual internship made me an even more attractive, confident, and capable job candidate.”
Despite the absence of in-person interaction, Gwendoline had regular opportunities to engage with the rest of the Intersect Studio team, including participating in regular staff meetings. Her teammates even held a virtual graduation celebration for Gwendoline and another firm intern.
How does Gwendoline think architecture enhances life? “Since graduating, my love for architecture has only grown and continues as I pursue licensure. Now, as a member of the profession, I see even more clearly how architecture influences our lives, our interactions, and our communities. Though many discussions about this topic, I’ve also come to realize that the impact of the architecture profession is much bigger than the object of it, and should be recognized as one of the biggest channels that can truly change the world.”
Late last year, Gwendoline was interviewed by Primaverarch, an organization dedicated to stimulating change for the recognition of women in the architectural profession. Read her profile article here.
Gwendoline also was one of 199 graduates from the class of 2020, representing 44 different design schools that joined the Reimagine workshop to discuss their role as immerging designers to the converging crises of COVID, climate change, economic inequity, prevalent racism, and racist violence. Watch the final workshop presentation here: Reimagine Presentations – The Architectural League of New York (archleague.org) and her group’s presentation here: https://youtu.be/tmsd9eF6EQw