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Understanding Your Role as an AXP Mentor

By: Holly Williams Leppo, AIA, NCIDQ-certified, LEED AP
October 1, 2020
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At the heart of NCARB’s Architectural Experience Program (AXP) is the master/apprentice relationship that has always been an integral part of architectural education. AXP candidates are required to work under the tutelage of an AXP supervisor—an experienced practitioner who is directly responsible for the young professional’s work. But AXP also advocates that candidates build more informal relationships within the greater architectural community by suggesting that candidates select an AXP mentor.

The AXP mentor’s primary responsibility is to advise the young professional in a thoughtful, impartial way. This person acts as a sounding board for questions, concerns, and frustrations and provides guidance as the candidate navigates the first few years of employment and the AXP. Successful mentors are willing to devote a few hours a month to having coffee or lunch with their mentee, are open to sharing experiences from their own careers (both good and bad), are good listeners, and are familiar with AXP and the requirements for licensure.

AXP candidates are not required to have an AXP mentor, but if they choose to select one, the mentor must be a licensed architect in the US or Canada. Architects employed by the candidate’s firm, working for other firms, or pursuing projects in other fields are all good candidates to serve as mentors; however, when choosing a mentor, the candidate should consider what they are hoping to get out of the relationship. Do they want someone who can show them the ropes at their new firm? Someone who specializes in a niche that they’d like to pursue? Or someone with a common background who can help them navigate the AXP, ARE, and licensing process?

There are advantages and disadvantages to choosing a mentor who works in the same firm. Colleagues can guide the candidate through the firm, answering questions about project procedures or office politics, and can provide more hands-on involvement with the candidate’s day-to-day work. It may be easier to schedule opportunities to meet. On the other hand, the candidate may not feel that they can be as open and honest with a co-worker as they can with someone not employed by the same company.

If the mentor works outside of the candidate’s firm, this relationship becomes an opportunity for the candidate to ask questions about how other firms function, to learn about project types that their current employer may not pursue, and to have a third-party advisor who can help with tough questions like how to negotiate a raise or increased responsibilities, how to manage difficult work relationships, or when it is time to move to a new firm.

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So how does an AXP candidate find a mentor?

  • AXP supervisors can recommend colleagues or friends who may be willing to serve in this capacity.
  • Contact the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects—particularly the Emerging Professionals Group or Young Architects Forum—which may maintain a list of potential mentors.
  • Talk to consulting engineers, general contractors, and product representatives—they usually have contacts at multiple architecture firms in the area and may be able to suggest architects to contact.
  • Use LinkedIn or other online networking tools to find experienced architects with shared interests.
  • Check with your alma mater’s alumni association or career counseling office, who may be able to offer the names of other graduates practicing in your community.
  • Attend local continuing education events, lectures, or workshops and make an effort to get to know attendees from other firms.

All mentors can help candidates by providing advice about studying for the ARE and deciding which divisions of the exam to tackle when based on their work experiences, navigating the state’s licensing paperwork and procedures, and supplementing their architectural education by pursuing other certifications. The early years of an architect’s career are the perfect time to bulk up a young professional’s resume with additional credentials, by taking the LEED Green Associate or LEED Accredited Professional exams, expanding their knowledge of interior architecture by obtaining an NCIDQ certificate, or improving their familiarity with building materials and specification writing by earning CSI Certifications.

In addition, there are two experience categories in Setting O that the AXP mentor can endorse: design competitions and site visits. The AXP candidate can accrue up to 320 hours working on design competition entries and up to 40 hours visiting project sites accompanied by his or her mentor. Taking the time to visit work in progress and see the relationship between concept and construction is particularly important in the early years of practice, and a mentor may be able to provide more opportunities for field visits than the candidate can find within their own firm. Design competitions offer a candidate the opportunity to flex their design muscles on concepts that they conceive themselves. The mentor can offer valuable advice and constructive criticism throughout the competition design process.

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