As a founding and sustaining partner of the Baltimore chapter, Hord Coplan Macht (HCM) has a long history of involvement with the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA). As such, we are thrilled to participate in the inaugural year of the NOMA Foundation Fellowship (NFF) program! The NFF was established as a joint effort between NOMA and the AIA Large Firm Roundtable to heighten diversity within the industry.

HCM’s own Melanie Ray, treasurer of the Baltimore NOMA chapter and Northeast University Liaison for the national organization, played an instrumental role in the development of this program. As an alumna of the prestigious UDREAM program at Carnegie Mellon University, Melanie has experienced first-hand the importance of an internship program focused on providing students of color with an opportunity to gain real-world experience. The NFF was created to continue this mission. UDREAM was focused on increasing diversity within the Pittsburgh area; NOMA wanted to take it a step further. In partnership with the AIA Large Firm Roundtable’s Diversity Task Force, including HCM’s CEO Lee Coplan, who is chair of the task force, NOMA set out to develop a national fellowship program in support of the AIA goal to double the amount of African American architects nationwide by 2030.

The NFF task force set an initial goal of selecting firms in five cities, all with strong local NOMA chapters, to host five students each. Incredibly, 20 firms expressed interest in hosting! However, due to the rapid onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the economic and workplace changes that accompanied it, NOMA was forced to reimagine the NFF. Faced with the concern of losing a generation of architects, as has happened in previous recessions, and a firm commitment to the 2030 AIA diversity goal, NOMA quickly adapted the NFF program into a virtual research-based program funded by support from the AIA Large Firm Roundtable, culminating in a final summary project produced by the student. These program changes allow students to continue to experience valuable hands-on involvement without creating a financial burden for the hosting firm. After re-announcing the program, NOMA received even higher interest than before, with over 25 firms applying to host a student!

The revamped program offers several benefits unique to its virtual, research-based program. Firstly, since the program is now hosted virtually, rather than in specific cities, more students are able to participate without needing to plan a temporary relocation. As well, a focus on research work, rather than billable work, allows the program coordinators to work with host firms to craft an individualized experience for each student, focused on achieving project goals while allowing students to concentrate on areas of special interest. The NFF will give students the opportunity to understand how design decisions are informed by research-based knowledge. As opposed to a standard architecture internship, research work introduces students to professional work in a setting they’re more familiar with, and removes the pressure for the host firm to make sure that they are billable, instead opening the possibilities of their role. For example, HCM’s first fellow, Jameica Demercado, is passionate about the role that educational spaces can play in a student’s overall school experience. During her eight weeks at our firm, she will work alongside our Education Studio and Research Team to help develop the award-winning EdSpaces innovative classroom project.

HCM is enthusiastic about the opportunity to continue to partner with NOMA, and to not only increase diversity within our industry, but to support the growth of new architects, even during these challenging times. Diversity is gained not only by creating equitable policies to support those of all cultural backgrounds, but necessitates an industry-wide commitment to supporting the development of young designers as they begin their careers.