Fikir Kebede, a new designer in Perkins Eastman’s DC studio, started her job last summer after graduating from the University of the District of Columbia, one of seven historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) with accredited architecture programs. Several months later, senior Rachel Drakeford at Florida A&M, another of those seven HBCUs, successfully altered her senior design project—earning an A—following a trip to France in October on a Perkins Eastman-funded scholarship. The hope throughout Perkins Eastman is that these promising young women represent the beginning of a growing relationship with HBCUs.
Kebede was the firm’s first hire as a result of our participation in the HBCU Professional Development Program through the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA). The program was formed in 2020 to connect students with the nation’s top firms. “Architectural programs at HBCUs serve as catalysts for enhancing BIPOC students’ knowledge, skills, and expertise for entry into professional practice. However, HBCUs are significantly underrepresented and underutilized as resources for recruiting and retaining talent by design firms,” according to NOMA.
Identifying talent at these schools is especially important because while they make up just five percent of all accredited architecture schools, they graduate a third of all Black architecture students, according to the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture.
“This [NOMA program] has opened up a whole new world for us,” says Perkins Eastman Principal Fawzia Ahmedali in DC, who hired Kebede. “Before this, we didn’t know where to go—there wasn’t an easily accessible pipeline,” she explains, noting that the NOMA program offers firms a type of one-stop-shopping experience to meet and mentor these students. After participating in professional-development sessions and career fairs with HBCU students for about three years, Ahmedali has been most impressed with the fact that nearly all the students in the UDC program in particular work while they’re in school, “so they’re getting a lot of practical training that other students don’t have.”