Real work experience is often a prerequisite for a job. This is especially true in today’s economic environment. Competition for jobs is at an all-time high. One of the few remaining differentiators among applicants is this real world experience. While true for all vocations, this is especially so for healthcare designers. But how does one get his or her first job when experience is required?
Traditionally, internship and mentorship programs are vehicles for real world experience. These have most often been offered through academic institutions. In the current economy, this model is being stretched thin. The private sector is stepping in with innovative ways to provide desperately needed experience to students.
The University Health System in San Antonio, Texas offers one such example. University Health System operates one of the largest hospitals in the State of Texas. When they began their multi-campus expansion project three years ago, the visioning process commenced with their mission statement. One element of that statement included teaching the next generation of health professionals. The University Health System Board of Managers recognized an opportunity to combine the construction of this massive hospital expansion with educational experience for local students. This was such an important aspect to University Health System that they chose to include it in the contracts.
The architectural contract included provisions for a mentoring program that engages local high school and college students. This was very unique for a construction project. “It’s rare that a client would include a mentorship program as part of the contractual language for our architectural services,” observed Steve Milner, the Executive Architect. “This was an incredible opportunity for us to engage and challenge the student community in new ways.”
The program was developed in two parts – mentoring activities and student internships. There are currently five participating design firms including Perkins+Will, RVK, Garza Bomberger Architects, Overland Partners, and RTKL. Mark Webb, the Vice President of Facilities Development & Project Management for University Health System, summarized the program in his own words:
“The intern program that was developed in conjunction with our project partners providesunique opportunities for local architectural/engineering students to get firsthand experience working on one of our community’s largest and most complicated project…. The students that have participated in the program will have a strong foundation to build upon in serving our community as design professionals.”
The first focus of the mentorship program is to engage local students in mentoring activities.Firms organize a variety of mentorship activities to educate students about the project.In one recent example, an Interior Design class from the University of Texas San Antonio met the project team and saw the workspace and construction site.
Internships are the second focus of the program. Each semester, representatives from the design firms review resumes and interview applicants from local design programs. Selected students are placed with a design firm based on their interests, skills, and firm needs.
Due to the vast scale of the project and the unique rolesof each firm, internship experiences differ dramatically from one company to the next. This has allowed students to see the profession from multiple vantage points.
For example, Perkins+Will has been responsible for management of the architecture and engineering teams. Interns hired by Perkins+Willattend client meetings, coordinate with consultants, and participate in project management meetings. “This experience has really broadened my understanding of the architectural field as a whole because I get to work with so many different people, each with a unique role in the project,” reflected Brita Pearson, an intern with Perkins+Will. “I’ve learned first-hand just how much communication, collaboration, and coordination go into a project of this scale.”
Alternatively, interns working for RVK have experienced a more traditional internship as described by Andrew Mendez, “The opportunity to work at RVK Architects on the UHS project allowed me to participate in the design, documenting, and coordination that is required of a large project that is rarely seen during an internship.”Chris Moore, another intern at RVK, declares, “[being] able to utilize the latest CAD and BIM software on a real world application…has equipped me to take on the role of a full time position.”
For those who have completed the program and graduated, many have chosen to continue their careers with their respective firm. To date, there have been 13 student interns between the 5 participating design firms; of the 13, 5 have gone on to accept full time positions. The remainder has either returned to complete their degrees, or have pursued employment with other design firms. MigetteKaup, an Associate Professor/Interior Design Program Coordinator at Kansas State University, summarizes the program as follows, “This internship program is an excellent example of the partnership that is required between the academy and practice in order to fully prepare the next generation of emerging designers.”
Julia Bonney, MS Arch, LEED® AP, recently relocated to the Dallas office of Perkins+Will to work in the healthcare planning studio where she blends both her degrees in Interior Design and Architecture. Prior to her move, she worked in the San Antonio office of Perkins+Will where one of her responsibilities was to develop and coordinate the University Health System Student Mentorship Program. She can be reached at Julia.Bonney@perkinswill.com
Images, from top: University Hospital Exterior View – San Antonio, TX; rendering by Perkins+Will Dallas Viz Lab. University Hospital Interior Lobby – San Antonio, TX; rendering by Perkins+Will Dallas Viz Lab. Brita Pearson, Architectural Intern; photo by Dan Masullo. Third Year Interior Design students from the University of Texas San Antonio; photo by Brita Pearson.
"Designing for Health" is a monthly, web-exclusive series from the healthcare interior design leaders at Perkins+Will that focuses on the issues, trends, challenges, and research involved in crafting today's healing environments. Past installments of "Designing for Health" include (click on title to access the full article):
- When the Professional Becomes the Patient--An Insider's Perspective
- The Evolving Role of the Design Professional Through Public Private Partnerships
- Are Best Healthcare Design Practices Transferable to the Middle East?
- Best Strategies for the EDAC Exam
- Traditional Culture in a New World
- The Perils and Pearls of Field Research in Healthcare Facilities