The practice of architecture involves devising creative solutions to challenges. When many Summer 2020 architecture student internships were cancelled due to COVID-19, the Michigan Architectural Foundation (MAF), American Institute of Architects Michigan (AIA Michigan), and leaders of Michigan’s college and university architecture programs collaborated to quickly develop the MAF + AIA Michigan Summer 2020 Internship Grants Bridge Program.
The goal of the program was to help bridge the current gap in available student architectural internship programs in Michigan, and preserve educational, work experience, and career-boosting opportunities normally provided through the traditional internship experience. The program, which began July 6 and concluded mid-August, included eight students from Michigan’s college and university architecture schools.
According to 2020 AIA Michigan President and MAF Trustee Norm Hamann, Jr., AIA, “At April’s AIA Michigan board meeting, we heard half the students at one Michigan architecture school already had their summer internships canceled due to COVID-19, prompting discussions about what an alternative internship program might look like. By May, it was time to move forward.” With the lack of available program models, Hamann and his peers recognized that developing such a program, particularly on short notice, would require resourcefulness.
Tim Casai, FAIA, 2020 MAF President, added, “The Michigan Architectural Foundation is committed to educating the future generation of architects and architecture advocates. Supporting the internship bridge program was a way MAF and AIA Michigan could help deserving architecture students gain valuable experience during these unprecedented times.”
With the support of the MAF and AIA Michigan, Hamann contacted Michigan’s architecture schools for input on creating a program that would not involve a long bureaucratic process to develop and implement. Some of the schools already offered some form of remote internships, could readily identify students they felt would thrive in the program, and had relationships with architecture firms, which aided in soliciting their participation and placing students.
To help defray firm costs for paying interns, a grant of $1,200 was designated for each student. AIA Michigan provided initial program grant funding, with MAF providing a more than one-to-one grant match. Additional contributions came from Michigan architecture firms and architecture schools, and AIA Michigan and MAF board members.
All participating students were required to work and produce deliverables remotely, for a minimum of twenty hours per week. Each intern was provided a junior-level architect mentor, and a more experienced project manager to assign meaningful work and monitor their progress. Some interns had the opportunity to visit job sites, adding another dimension to their internship experience.
Hamann and other program organizers are in the process of soliciting feedback from internship program participants, and MAF plans to profile the students in future MAF newsletters. “The remote program not only provided students the experience of working for an architecture firm, it gave them additional flexibility – some took summer classes, and at least one student remained with the firm past their internship period.”
Hamann says it is likely the internship bridge program will continue in the future. “Should we decide to offer the program again, out of need or because it provides opportunity for more students to participate in essential internship programs, most of the hard work is behind us. The question now is how do we make it better? We have funding in place, one of the biggest obstacles. We will get started earlier and will need others to help manage the program, and the consensus is that eight-week, rather than six-week, internships would be more beneficial for students.”
The program also presents a potential long-term solution to help architecture firms afford summer interns during other times of economic hardship. “During the Great Recession of the late 2000s, architecture firms did not hire interns for 2-3 years,” said Hamann. “At that time, between the lack of available internships and the length of time it takes to become licensed, many architecture students simply decided to pursue another career path. That led to a trough of missing architectural talent the profession is just now recovering from. The program is one way we can support the profession and the next generation of architects, so gaps like that don’t happen again.”
He continues, “The internship bridge program would not have been possible without the ability of AIA Michigan, MAF and the architecture schools to collaborate and quickly devise a solution, and the willingness of firms and students to participate. I’m very proud of everyone involved for stepping up to make the program a reality.”