As an architect & humanitarian, I lead a creative life with impact, by delivering comfort & safety through human-centered design solutions.

Through my writings on these subjects, I hope to inspire confidence in you along the way; through your life & career, or in your creative projects.

Let's connect to continue the conversation & collaborate on great projects... with a little bit of fun & a whole lot of social impact.



Accidental Mentor

Accidental Mentor

Apprentice days are dead. We no longer see the traditional practice of an intern working directly with a single senior architect so closely and rigorously for a long duration of time to learn one specific skill-set. Today, mentorship in architecture is flexible and follows a path of organic relationship development, sometimes accidentally through casual professional encounters.


1.    a person who is learning a trade from a skilled employer, having agreed to work for a fixed period at low wages.

I sat on an AIA Pasadena & Foothill panel this week focusing on the Multi-generational Workplace, with Mentorship as the primary theme. The panel consisted of architecture professionals spanning the generations; from the "greatest generation" and baby boomers, to Gens-X and Millennials. The age and experience span made for an interesting discussion with overlapping themes.

Mentors: Bob talked about his strategy of inclusion in meetings and encouragement of watchful observation, Toby provides advice and technical education to his team, and Andrea leads an ARE group providing a supportive environment for staff on their licensure journey.

Mentees: Hector discussed the importance of regular teaching moments, Remi talked about relationship chemistry having an important role for her relationship, and I discussed the organic relationship development with several mentors in specific aspects of my career.

Image by Erica Im. From left to right: Karen Compton, Bob Kain, Hector Cruz, Rita S. Carter, Andrea Cabalo, Remi Yasui, Toby Yasui,

Image by Erica Im. From left to right: Karen Compton, Bob Kain, Hector Cruz, Rita S. Carter, Andrea Cabalo, Remi Yasui, Toby Yasui,

Of the experiences shared by the panelists, the moderator, and audience members, below are highlights of the prominent themes, which reinforce that the "old way of doing things" is no longer valid, or at least not in today’s culture.

1.     Organic relationships
The foundation. For many years I didn’t think I had mentors, because I didn’t participate in an official ‘mentorship’ program where I check in with one senior person regularly over the year. After some soul searching I recognized that there have been a handful of professionals I have worked alongside, or sometimes only sat next to, who I respected, admired, and looked up to for their success, knowledge, or professionalism. Having cultivated those relationships over the years, I found myself seeking their advice on both technical and non-technical ‘soft’ skills to help guide my education and career choices. I do not seek them out on a pre-determined schedule, but as a natural relationship I would develop with close friends. Everyone on the panel expressed the importance of organic relationships they have also developed over the years.

2.     Trust
Trust is a critical component of building strong mentor-mentee relationships. With trust comes comfort and safety of confiding in a variety of conversation and subject types. Everything in life is built on trust, and it is no different in this type of relationship building.

3.     Mentorship programs fail
Reinforcing organic relationships, many on the panel agreed that formal programs often fail, most of the time due to the forced nature of setting two people up on a journey that may not blossom due to the rigid nature of the setup. When it does succeed, it is due to a natural baseline that the individuals share, such as similar cultures, market interest, or career trajectory.  

4.     Teacher mentality
Impactful mentors embody a teacher mentality, turning daily collaboration or casual conversational opportunities into teaching moments. They explain process and results, provide guidance and feedback, and elicit challenges by turn failures into growth experiences. As moderator Karen Compton elegantly put it, “they don't necessarily give all the answers, instead they challenge thought to evoke a way to draw their own conclusion”. Inversely, the young tech savvy generation entering the profession are mentors in their own right when it comes to the technological and flexible knowledge they harness. Older professionals are finding themselves on the mentee side of the equation in many instances where technology is prominent, embodying the lifelong learning persona of an architect. 

Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.
— Benjamin Franklin

5.     No judgments
Mentors create safe environments and frameworks, allowing mentees the space to learn by doing and messing up (within reasonable limits). A judgement free zone allows the mentee to learn from their own experiences and failures, with constructive input provided to help them learn how to improve their approach in the next round. We've all failed in our careers from time to time - it's almost inevitable -  the trick however is in how we learn, rebound, and improve upon the experience. It is essential for mentors to also share their failures as a teaching tool. 

6.     Be present
It is essential for mentors to be present in their relationship with a mentee, and understand that sometimes the support comes not in the form of spoken words or advice, but in the power of actively listening to the concerns of the mentee. Setting an example of professionalism and respect is an equally powerful teaching tool, as we don’t often know the ways in which we are impacting one another. Mentorship flows in all directions, with observation and learning opportunities in every experience and interaction.

7.     No magic number
It is not uncommon for individuals to have multiple mentors along their career path; in school, in an internship, within or outside one’s own company, or in a cultural group. Mentors can also be diverse in what they offer to a mentee based on their own experiences or skills, spanning from design thinking to technical skills, business and leadership development, to navigating the soft skills such as interviewing, networking, to gender or cultural specific issues.

8.     Elevating the profession & leadership transitions
When asked why we mentor, everyone agreed that it is the fundamental way to elevate the profession and provide a platform for legacy and leadership transition as natural career progresses. When knowledge, skills, leadership, and support are fostered, we help build the profession collectively.

9.     Be proactive
Senior and junior professionals are both encouraged to be proactive in seeking teaching and learning opportunities. Senior professionals are encouraged to provide safe and supportive environments. Junior professionals are encouraged to seek out individuals who are provide those environments and speak up about their need for guidance or learning. There does not need to be anything formal about the relationships, they can be mere organic evolution of welcoming encounters.

In a recent AIA article by Steve Cimino, “What keeps young architects in the practice?”, it is no surprise that a good mentor is among the highest valued resource that help keep young architects engaged, encouraged, and motivated to remain and evolve in their careers. We owe it to ourselves and the profession to coach, support, and elevate the younger generations in order to continue to evolve the profession with the changing times.


AIA Pasadena & Foothill

6.15.2016 at Art Center College of Design

Karen Compton - Moderator - Principal , A3K Consulting
Bob Kain, AIA - mentor - A3K Consulting, Healthcare Strategist
Hector Cruz, LEED AP - mentee - HMC Architects
Andrea Cabalo, AIA - mentor - AC Martin
Rita S. Carter, AIA - mentee - Steinberg
Richard (Toby) Pugh, FAIA - mentor - Walt Disney Imagineering
Remi Yasui, Associate AIA - mentee - Walt Disney Imagineering

Thank you to the AIA Pasadena and Foothill chapter for a great event, and for Art Center College of Design for hosting us in your old-town campus gallery.
Event details and panelist bios here >

Woman-Designer or Designer-Woman?

Woman-Designer or Designer-Woman?