AIA Newark and Suburban Past President Andrew Thompson, AIA, Shares His Thoughts on Mentorship and the Importance of Succession

February 16, 2022

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AIA Newark and Suburban Past President Andrew Thompson, AIA, Shares His Thoughts on Mentorship and the Importance of Succession




Recently the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) celebrated its 50th anniversary as an organization. The 12 founders of NOMA probably would not think what their impact would be years later to Black architects and architects of color entering and succeeding in the profession. All 12 founders were also AIA members and wanted to make the profession fair to all and create job opportunities to be successful.


Today, the founders have all passed on, with the last founder Jeh Johnson Sr. passing away in January 2021. Jeh Johnson’s son, Jeh Johnson Jr. went on to become the U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security from 2013 to 2017.


I got to know Jeh Johnson Sr. coming up as a young intern and I remember the impact he had on me. Jeh even ran an ARE workshop for those getting ready for the license exam.


Over the years I have encountered those in the profession who have helped me stay on the right path, negotiate the pitfalls of the profession, and offered me support when I thought the profession was railing against me due to the color of my skin. My mentors included Richard Franklin AIA NOMAC, former Assist Chief Architect of the Port Authority and Roberta Washington FAIA NOMAC. I remember seeing Roberta in Ebony magazine in an article about black female architects in the United States.


In a profession where the number of Black architects stands currently at 2,445 total, represent only 2 percent of all licensed architects in the U.S. The number of Black female architects stands at 539 but only represents 0.2% of the profession. Mentorship is very important in helping to change those percentages.


Over the years I have done my part whether it be at an AIA conference or a NOMA conference to engage young people and ask them where they are and where they want to go in the profession. Some young people I have spoken to have achieved high accolades such as Pascale Sablan FAIA NOMA and Jason Pugh AIA NOMA, a senior associate at Gensler and current president of NOMA. To those I have mentored I have watched move from internship into licensure. To a few young architects after they completed licensure I have given support as they start their own firm and make a difference by increasing the number of black firms and firms of color in the profession.


The founders of NOMA have all passed on but their mission lives on as the numbers of Black architects are increasing as principals in firms, owners of firms. One of the biggest starchitects out there today is Sir David Adjaye a British Ghanaian architect with worldwide accolades and awards and a Smithsonian museum- the National Museum of African American History and Culture, in his portfolio.


Newark and Suburban’s K-12 initiative headed by John Fallon AIA,  a few years ago went to University High School in Newark to talk and teach about architecture. Those Black high school students for the first time we’re introduced to the world of architects and architecture. They hopefully will add to the succession and representation in the profession of architecture and hopefully bring those numbers past 2 percent.


Andrew Thompson, AIA, NOMA, LEED AP BD+C

County Architect- Passaic County New Jersey

Past President 2020- Newark and Suburban-  a section of AIA New Jersey

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