BOSTON—Perkins&Will and the Harvard Graduate School of Design announced the launch of the Black in Design Mentorship Program pilot, an initiative that aims to promote greater representation of Black talent in the design industry.
Originally conceived by students and Perkins&Will professionals at the 2019 Black in Design Conference, the mentorship program will fill a critical educational and career gap in the design profession by fostering meaningful and lasting relationships starting as early as high school.
“Design firms have a responsibility to be champions of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion in the profession,” says Brooke Trivas, a Harvard GSD graduate and principal at Perkins&Will. Trivas serves on the firm’s diversity council and has been a part of the mentorship initiative since its inception. “Our vision for this program is to empower both high school and graduate students to understand what is possible, pursue their interests, and develop their strengths.”
“I really believe in the importance of exposing Black youth to the planning and design fields so they know these fields exist, that planning and design careers are accessible to them, and that they have the power to shape the built environment of their communities,” says Whytne Stevens, a Harvard GSD student and organizing member of the mentorship program.
The program forms three-person teams composed of one Perkins&Will professional, one Harvard GSD student, and one high school student. This arrangement enables Harvard GSD students to learn from Perkins&Will professionals and, simultaneously, hone their mentorship skills with their matched high school student. All participants will complete a 10-week curriculum with discussion topics ranging from design thinking to networking to Black design legacy.
“We have been intentional in developing this program to lay a solid foundation for future relationships to flourish,” says Laura Snowdon, dean of students and assistant dean for enrollment services at Harvard GSD. “We have paid careful attention to the development of the curriculum, and we look forward to incorporating thoughtful feedback from our pilot group to inform the future program.”
Seven individuals from each group—21 participants in total—will complete the program over the course of the year. To form the inaugural cohort of high school mentees, program organizers extended invitations to select Boston-area schools. Student volunteers from the Harvard GSD African American Student Union (AASU) and AfricaGSD comprise the graduate school leg of the program, and volunteers from Perkins&Will’s Boston studio make up the third leg. Once the pilot concludes, organizers will integrate feedback from all participants, refine the program structure and content as needed, and expand outreach through a broadened application process. Participation will be offered on an annual basis in the future.
“Our firm is committed to diversifying the design profession,” says Gabrielle Bullock, who has served as director of global diversity at Perkins&Will since 2013. “We actively and continuously seek new opportunities to be stewards of social equity in our projects, in the industry, and in the world around us.”
The Black in Design Mentorship Program is the latest expression of Perkins&Will’s and Harvard GSD’s long-standing collaboration. Ongoing initiatives in support of diversifying the design profession include the Phil Freelon Fellowship and the Nagle-Johnson Family Fellowship, which was most recently awarded to Jonathan Boyce.
In an inspirational email message last week to the program participants, Harvard GSD Dean Sarah M. Whiting encouraged students to “be bold in asking the questions that are on (their) mind, be uninhibited in expressing (their) creativity, and be open to learning new and unfamiliar perspectives.”
The students and professionals responsible for developing the Black in Design Mentorship Program include:
Brooke Trivas, Principal, Perkins&Will
Rania Karamallah, Designer, Perkins&Will
Laura Snowdon, Dean of Students; Assistant Dean for Enrollment Services, Harvard GSD
Sebastian Schmidt Dalzon, Administrative Director, Initiatives and Academic Projects, Harvard GSD
Megan Panzano, Program Director, Undergraduate Architecture Studies, Assistant Professor of Architecture, Harvard GSD
Kelly Teixeira Wisnaskas, Assistant Director of Student Support and Services, Harvard GSD
Kim Wong, HR Manager, Perkins&Will
Rachael Dumas, Research Knowledge Manager, Perkins&Will
Caleb Negash, Student, Harvard GSD (AASU)
Whytne Stevens, Student, Harvard GSD (AfricaGSD).