At Shepley Bulfinch, we’re a culture that values knowledge transfer and supporting team members’ continuous education. Whether we’re facilitating network introductions or providing tips on exam preparation, we’re always seeking ways to help each other learn and adapt within a rapidly transforming industry. Recently, many of our Bulfinches have embarked on teaching journeys of their own from leading various architectural courses at higher education institutions to overseeing mentorship programs in prominent industry organizations.
We talked with three of our team members—Alyssa Hitt, Andrea Hardy and Scott Steffes—to hear more about how they’re helping aspiring designers find their voice. While their experiences differ, each Bulfinch noted that in their teacher/mentor roles, they found themselves in a unique learning experience where the next generation of designers’ ideas and interpretations are inspiring how they now rethink project designs.
Alyssa Hitt, IIDA, NCIDQ
Alyssa Hitt, IIDA, NCIDQ is currently co-teaching an undergraduate studio course for freshmen at The Design School at Arizona State University, focused on taking theories and concepts through ambient environments and making them tangible. Her course exposes students to new and analog technologies. By merging technologies, she pushes them to think beyond traditional design, understanding the novelty and appreciation for what comes next. While she never imagined herself teaching, she has found the experience to be both rewarding and inspiring.
“The students keep me on my toes,” Hitt reflects. “They’re constantly finding loopholes in our instructions, which is a great skill for aspiring designers. We don’t want to create designers that live in a box, we want to always give them as much freedom as possible. We push the students to show us the project from their unique perspective – that is what makes the spirit of the project.”
The students’ search for loopholes has motivated Alyssa to approach her work with a different lens. After joining Shepley Bulfinch in the summer of 2021, she jumped right into the Montrose Library project which was well into schematic design. Like her students, Alyssa took this project as an opportunity to optimize ambiguous components, offering a fresh perspective that prompted the team to reexamine their choices. As a group, they challenged the client to push beyond expectation, reframing the questions and pushing the design to the next level. “When a client gives you a program, you need to tell a story without using words. As designers, we need to find loopholes to keep design interesting, inspiring, and innovative.”
Andrea Hardy, AIA, EDAC
Andrea Hardy, AIA, EDAC, a long-term mentor both internally for team members at Shepley and through her work as a member and the Director of AIA10 Phoenix Metro champions the notion of feeding knowledge forward. After passing her licensing exams, Andrea was recruited to teach the AIA Phoenix Metro (now has national participation) ARE Prep class to share her experience with other aspiring architects. For her, teaching these courses provides guidance and shares tools that have helped her succeed. A key element in revamping the curriculum was to develop tactile tools for memory retention.
Her teaching goes beyond the interactive outline for every chapter of the Ballast book. She aspires to be the same kind of mentor for her students that she had earlier in her career: someone who picks up the phone, shares knowledge, and pushes you outside your comfort zone. Andrea provides her mentees with visibility into every task and encourages them to factor in moments of reflection to ensure they’re always learning something new from their work. As a healthcare architect, she’s learned from experience that the most challenging situations will define who we become – noting those lessons along the way impact, and better, our next endeavors.
To guide their learning experience, Andrea pushes her mentees to explore her belief in the three pillars of our industry: practice, research, and being hands on. “We talk about what the future of architecture is, but you can’t really move forward without pulling people up along on the way,” Hardy shares. However, she cautions against the pressure we put on the term “mentorship.” To her, mentoring should happen organically, a relationship based on the courage of both parties to be vulnerable and to learn from each other. While students need to be open to learning, the teachers are responsible for creating an environment that facilitates trust, conversations, and collaboration.
“Both teachers and mentors have to show up and be willing to share knowledge,” Hardy recommends. “You need to stop and make sure that people are actually learning from what you’re doing. The more we talk and share, the more we can push the industry forward.”
Snapshot from Andrea’s ARE Prep Session
Scott Steffes, Assoc. IIDA
Scott Steffes, Assoc. IIDA, senior designer, has discovered his passion for teaching in his intermediate interior design studio course at The Design School at ASU. Scott and his co-instructors guide undergraduate students through their first wellness studio, encouraging them to think creatively and broadly, while still working with practical conditions and constraints.
“This is what I’m meant to do,” Steffes reflects. “I just love sharing my experiences with and learning from the next generation of designers. Because that’s what teaching these students is. It’s a give and take of inspiration and creativity.”
Scott compares the intrigue of teaching to creative interactions with his daughters (Violet, 8, and Ava, 3). Doing something for the first time, or with little experience, is freeing, approaching projects with little judgment. His students are not clouded by the logistics and restrictions of their future practice; rather, they use their creativity to challenge the process and approach. “You’re guiding them to understand healthcare, but they’re also pushing you to challenge your boundaries,” he shares. “They’re constantly asking, ‘Why aren’t we doing it this way?’ and ‘Why can’t we do that?’, and the answer is always, ‘Then let’s try it and prove it out.’”
Design samples from ASU students
His biggest challenge in teaching? His students push him to reflect on his own approach to design. “The hardest thing about being a designer is always being creative,” Steffes reflects. “Creativity doesn’t always come easy, and sometimes it can be really hard to have too much freedom. But these students are inspiring and reminding me to let my guard down and dream a bit. It’s an ever evolving and exciting give and take.”
Our team members are organizing these courses but hearing their experiences, we have to ask ourselves: who is teaching who?