Advice for Architecture Students from Holly Williams Leppo, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP

Holly Williams Leppo is an NCARB-certified architect, a certified interior designer, and a LEED Accredited Professional. She holds a bachelor of arts degree in integrative arts from The Pennsylvania State University and a master of architecture degree from Washington University in St. Louis. Ms. Leppo worked with SMB&R, Inc., an architecture, structural engineering, and interior design firm in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania for ten years. She began her career and completed her internship at Hopke & Associates in Williamsburg, Virginia. She has authored ARE 5.0 Practice Questions and ARE 5.0 Mock Exams for PPI.

Holly Williams Leppo

What inspired you to become an architect?

I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I started college. My first year classes included an Introduction to Business course, and an art class that I signed up for to fulfill a general education requirement. I loved them both, and looked for a way to combine the two disciplines. Architecture was a good way to merge those interests. A few years ago I read “The Happiness Project” by Gretchen Rubin. In that book she explains that one way to choose the work that makes you happiest is to think about what you did for fun when you were ten years old. When I was ten, I spent a lot of time in my basement “workshop”, remodeling my dollhouse, or laying on the living room floor, cutting pictures of lamps and curtains and pillows out of the Sears catalog to paste into a notebook. I think there was an architect in me all along, it just took some time to find her.

What do you find most rewarding about your profession?

I like working on complicated projects from beginning to end. I enjoy helping clients figure out the best way to use their resources to accomplish their goals, and to see their projects in a different way than they may have originally envisioned.

What is the best advice you can give to others who are pursuing a career in architecture?

Learn to draw (basically) to scale, and draw upside down (right side up to your client across the table). You need to be able to communicate ideas in a meeting, or at a job site, and a clear sketch is the best way. Hand drawing has a personal, malleable quality that encourages the conversation, and it helps the designer and the client collaborate.

Architecture brings together so many different disciplines – business, art, communications, engineering, ecology, psychology. You don’t have to know that you want to be an architect on day one. By studying other fields, and then bringing that experience to architecture school, the profession gains well-rounded architects who have the ability to see things from different points of view.

Look for a firm that will support you during your internship. It might not be the one where you will make the most money, or work on the most prestigious projects. Search out a place with lots of smaller projects that you can work on from beginning to end, and stay at the firm long enough to see them through.

Take your exams and get licensed as soon as you are eligible – without this step, your education is not complete.

Is there a particular project that you were involved with that was an exceptional experience?

I was fortunate to work with many repeat clients, some of whom had worked with our firm for more than twenty years. I really felt like they looked at us as collaborators, and I was proud that they put their trust in us.

Are there any interesting/surprising facts that others may not know about you?

I was a Lion Ambassador at Penn State and gave campus tours – walking backwards the whole time. I served as a student representative to the Board of Trustees at Washington University, and I was president of the graduate student government.

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