In 2017, the Architectural League of New York partnered with New York City College of Technology (City Tech) and the Spitzer School of Architecture at City College of New York (both part of the City University of New York, or CUNY, system) to establish a mentorship program between college students—many of whom work full-time while studying, support their families, commute, or are returning to school—and local professionals. Rather than offering hard skills, says City Tech architecture chair Sanjive Vaidya, “the mentorship program is meant to provide a sense of exposure and belonging to the design community at large.”

Visit to the offices of Leroy Street Studio in New York, photo courtesy the firm

This mission is particularly important for students of the two CUNY colleges, who may lack the built-in network that comes with attending a “name- brand” school. “The four years they spend here are packed to the hilt with technical training, but there’s not a lot of time for reflection and soft skill growth for many of our students,” Vaidya explains. That “missing link,” he says, puts the City Tech population at a disadvantage after graduation.

“They’re competing against private school students who don’t have to feed entire families, who have time to go to museums and cultural gatherings,” says Vaidya. “This entire group of students of color—who are rich in history and ethnic knowledge and experience—are left locked away from the broader architecture community.”

City Tech assistant professor Claudia Hernandez notes the importance of partnership in this initiative. “It’s especially meaningful because of the access that the Architectural League has to all of these offices,” says Hernandez, who runs the program with Vaidya. Thomas Phifer and Partners and Leroy Street Studio, for instance, have hosted events for students and their mentors. “The program opens doors to having conversations with people who would be challenging for students to get access to otherwise,” she says.

Starting this fall, pairs will meet virtually.

Visit to the offices of Thomas Phifer and Partners in New York, photo courtesy Architectural League