NOMA’s professional development program for architecture students at HBCUs is propelling the field forward

HBCU Professional Development Program Logo
HBCU Professional Development Program

By Caitlin Dashiell of Architect’s Newspaper

Intentionality. Persistence. Commitment. These are key actions that come to mind if you ask how architects create institutional change and real diversity within their companies, according to Melvalean McLemore, Anzilla Gilmore, and Zhetique Gunn, the three cofounders of a new professional development program (PDP) for architecture students at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs). The trio are Texas architects and designers who recognized the need for equity in architecture through reframing how designers from HBCUs are viewed by the architecture profession. These women are currently building an accessible network supported by the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) to match AEC firms with diverse architecture students.

McLemore, Gilmore, and Gunn were all working in Houston when they cofounded the PDP in 2020. They were inspired by AN’s June 2020 Trading Notes panel titled “Concrete Steps to Improve Racial Equity in the Architecture Workplace,” which featured Jonathan Moody, CEO of Moody Nolan. (McLemore works in the firm’s Houston office; Gilmore is the director of project management at Rice University’s FE&P Department; Gunn is a designer at Perkins&Will in the Washington, D.C., office.) Moody advocated for increasing touch points between HBCU architecture students and architecture offices, as students from the seven HBCUs with a dedicated architecture program account for roughly 50 percent of Black and Brown emerging professionals in the field. HBCU students are often overlooked and underutilized after they graduate; many leave the profession to gain success in another field. Gilmore and Gunn graduated from Prairie View A&M, one of the seven HBCUs that grant a degree in architecture, and McLemore is an alumna of the University of Houston; while in school, she was one of only a few Black architecture students at the university. All three women were acutely aware of the barriers and burdens that BIPOC architecture students face when entering the profession. They wanted to initiate the programming and mentorship to increase these key touch points for HBCU students.