Sean Goheen (Host) 00:00:01
Greeting scholars and welcome to Following the Gong, a podcast of the Schreyer Honors College at Penn State.
*GONG SOUND EFFECT*
Following the Gong takes you inside conversations with our Scholar Alumni to hear their story so you can gain career and life advice and expand your professional network. You can hear the true breadth of how Scholar Alumni have gone on to shape the world after they rang the gone and graduated with honors and learn from their experiences so you can use their insights in your own journey. This show is proudly sponsored by the Scholar Alumni Society, a constituent group of the Penn State Alumni Association. I'm your host, Sean Goheen, class of 2011, and college staff member. If this is your first time joining us, welcome. If you're a regular listener, welcome back.
*GONG SOUND EFFECT*
Sean 00:00:55 Jared Edgar McKnight, Class of 201, is a senior associate and designer at W R T Wallace, Roberts and Todd, LLC, a landscape architecture planning, urban design and architecture firm based in Philadelphia and San Francisco. He joined W R T in 2012 after earning a bachelor of architecture with honors, a Bachelor of Arts and International Studies and Minors in Architectural history in French and Francophone studies from Penn State's Colleges of Arts and Architecture into the liberal arts respectively. In 2011, Jared joins following the go to talk all things landscape, architecture, architecture, and design. He provides insight on life as an involved scholar in architecture, including studying abroad and shines a light on the many elements of life as a designer and the power of empathy and community in design. He also shares about his graduate work in the field and his research on architecture and landscape architecture's role in designing innovative solutions to address large scale issues like homelessness and resiliency. Jared's insights are great for any scholar to hear and are particularly helpful for any scholar in architecture or other studio intensive and design-oriented disciplines, as well as those seeking to make a difference for others. His full bio and a detailed breakdown of topics, distrust, are available in the show notes on your podcast app. With that, let's get into our conversation with Jared Edgar McKnight following the gong.
Sean 00:02:15 Joining me here today on following the Go is 2018 Penn State Alumni Achievement Award winner, Stella Alumni Society Leader, and so many other qualifiers, Jared McKnight. Jared, thank you so much for joining us here today.
Jared McKnight 00:02:29
Oh, thank you so much for having me, Sean. I, I feel like this has been such a long time coming, and I'm so glad we're finally able to make it work and excited to be here on following the gong.
Sean 00:02:39 I'm excited to have you here. I feel like we've been talking about getting you on here for some time. If you're listening to this around when we've published, it's spring of 2023. We've been talking about this pretty much since we launched this in 2021. So very excited to get you on here, Jared, you've got some great insight, not just on architecture, but on a lot of things related to being a scholar. So let's dive right into it. I always start off with just how did you come to Penn State in the Honors College? So walk us through your origin story. Yeah,
Jared 00:03:09 Absolutely. I, you know, I always have to start out with the caveat that I'm a third generation Penn Stater, uh, after my mom, who was a dancing choreography major and a majorette in the blue band, and her father, my grandpa who graduated back in 1942. And, you know, so many of my cousins and family, including my younger sister, Kristen, who's also a Schreyer scholar, and it's actually her birthday today, so happy birthday sister. But for me, you know, being a lifelong Penn Stater didn't make the decision any easier. Uh, if anything, it probably made it more complicated and difficult to, to make the final decision. I always knew I wanted to study architecture, but I also knew I wanted to be really involved in a campus community. So, when I was in high school, I actually applied to 13 schools of architecture across the country tour, about 12 of them.
Jared 00:03:51 And at the end of the day, you know, I, I just had to keep asking myself, you know, where did I feel the most at home? Uh, where did I feel I could forge my own path, uh, get my most meaningful experience? And for me, you know, I woke up, I think two days before I had to make the decision, and all I could think about was Penn State. Uh, and so ultimately the answer was Penn State. But, um, definitely did my due diligence and really wanted to see what all was out there when I was a high school student.
Sean 00:04:15 That is more than I can say. So kudos to you on that one, Jared. Now, you said you always wanted to be an architect, so take us a little bit further. Take and, uh, do some, uh, flashback here. You are in the arts, so we're gonna make, and you do live in Los Angeles, so we're gonna be a little Hollywood joke here. Take us back a little bit further to what inspired you to be an architect, be a designer. You're kind of multifaceted in this space, and we'll get into the nuances of the terminology in a little bit. But how did you discover that's what you wanted to do with your life? It's
Jared 00:04:43 A, it's a really great question, and it, one that I haven't probably thought back on as much as I probably should. But, um, you know, I, I think I've always more or less known, I've always had a passion for design, um, from the time I was a kid, you know, I loved Legos, I loved, uh, building blocks, I loved drawing, I loved all of that. But when I was kind of talking through this with, uh, my family recently, I, I started thinking back and my grandma said, you know, do you remember when you were a kid you used to come visit me? And I said, oh, of course. And you know, my grandma, she, uh, it was her husband who had gone to Penn State and she had taken some classes at Penn State for her real estate license, but never graduated. But she was a real estate agent for over 70 years.
Jared 00:05:21 And she just retired a few years ago in her late eighties. She's now 93 years young. Um, but when I was a kid, I used to go and, uh, spend my summers with her in Holidaysburg, Pennsylvania. And I was just always overjoyed when she would have an open house and I would get to kind of tag along and go with her. And she would always take me about an hour before the start time and she'd walk me through the house narrating her understanding of how someone might live in that space, the important characteristics, the quirkiness of the home. And then it was time for kind of the open house to start. And she'd always put me in the kitchen to just have me sit there and draw. And, you know, I think I was very fortunate to come from a family who celebrated art and really encouraged my artistic pursuits. My father, he dedicated his career to sustainability work, and as I mentioned, my mom was a dancer and choreographer. So I think I always had a creative bug inside of me. Um, but it was really through all those experiences and just finding the things that I really loved revolved around the design of spaces, um, that really got me interested in, in pursuing architecture as my career.
Sean 00:06:18 We're gonna talk a little bit more about space as we dive into architecture in a little bit, but I just wanna point out that if you're listening and you have family in the Holidaysburg area and they own a house, there's a good chance that Jared's grandmother sold them that house. So love the Penn State ties that just filter through. Now, Jared, I want to switch to a little bit in the, in the stream of the story here, we'll, we'll call it present day mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And you get to campus in the mid two thousands. And just want to know, generally speaking, cuz I think there's probably a lot of misconceptions in this space. What is it actually like being an architecture student who is also a Schreyer scholar? That
Jared 00:06:56 Is such a great question. And you know, I've, I've spoken to so many Schreyer scholars who are also in the architecture major over the past, geez, 18 years since I started as a student. And I think it's different for everyone. Um, so I'll describe a little bit about what it was like for me. And, you know, for me, I think it was really the perfect blend of what I was looking for. It delicately balanced my exposure to creativity, exploration, and innovation. Also with organization problem solving and hard work. The architecture curriculum at Penn State is demanding, um, but the cadence of the program offers a really amazing foundation and launchpad into the profession. I don't wanna oversimplify it by any means, but being an architecture major is really focused around what we call our studios. Uh, these are larger blocks of class time where throughout either half a semester, a full semester, or as you get later in your years, even a full year, you're really working on, uh, one prompt, uh, with the mentorship of your professors, guest critics, and even your peers.
Jared 00:07:53 And you're developing the design of a building a space or a program based on that prompt pulling in all of the knowledge from your other classes. Um, so that's paired with your history and theory courses, engineering and materiality courses and professional practice. So when I was a student, it had a kind of nice tie into the Schreyer experience because our fifth year was designed around a thesis. Um, and mine was, uh, had some different honors requirements associated with it. But now the program actually offers a different array of experiences for students to pursue a thesis or other coursework in their fourth and fifth years. And I think, you know, what I benefited from the most in the architecture program was the size. Um, it's quite a small program compared to other majors on campus, but that size really caters to a hands-on learning experience, where nowadays they're working in some amazing virtual programs that I have never even had exposure to myself, but they're also still building things with their hands model making and testing ideas through a number of different creative mediums. So for me, a lot of what that experience revolved around was honors optioning some of my classes, um, where there wasn't kind of a certain amount of honors courses already within the program because it was so small. And finding opportunities to find other research pursuits within the coursework outside of that to really tie in that experience between architecture and the Schreyer Honors College.
Sean 00:09:08 Is it fair to say that architecture is a bit of a interdisciplinary major? Because you mentioned in describing it you had history courses and engineering courses.
Jared 00:09:17 Absolutely. Um, I think one of the, one of the things that I love about the College of Arts and Architecture is at Penn State is there's so much interdisciplinarity. Um, in the architecture building, you also have landscape architects, graphic designers right across the street, tying into the visual arts programs as well. When I was a student, uh, they actually had something called core, uh, which was a joint studio with every group of students in the entire program. Now it's a little bit more focused on individual majors, but as you especially get into your third, fourth, and fifth years in the programs, there are now courses where that are bringing together engineering students, landscape students, architecture students. So you're really starting to get what, what I hadn't experienced until really my professional work in a school setting and starting to develop even more detailed projects that are really bringing together all those different disciplines. So it's really fascinating.
Sean 00:10:05 Absolutely. And you talked about, you know, kind of the benefits of being a scholar and being in a and a and obviously one of the big things we promote is building a global perspective, and you were able to study abroad, and I think a common refrain we sometimes hear from students in, I'll call it steam majors, is that they don't have time to study abroad because of the cadence of courses or the course availability in other universities, that sort of thing. But you were able to do it. So can you explain that, how that influenced your experience and bringing it to today, how that experience abroad influenced your professional practice?
Jared 00:10:40 Oh, interesting. I love that. Um, you know, funny enough, I was actually just talking with someone about my study abroad experience the other day and, and felt a little old because it was 13 years ago from like right now, um, back in 2010. But, you know, for me, um, I, at the time we were actually required to study abroad for the architecture program. So at the time, the architecture program required all of our students, uh, all of our classmates to study abroad in Rome, either in the fall or spring semester. It was kind of an integral part of the architecture coursework. Now they've actually explain, expanded that into other study abroad opportunities in other contexts as well. But for me, it, it was one of my favorite experiences from my time at Penn State. I think the hardest part for me was pulling away from all the things I was committed to back on campus for that one semester.
Jared 00:11:24 But it really allowed me to have such a time of growth and exploration in my architectural course where I was almost, um, I had blinders on, I wasn't involved in in too many things. I could really focus on just enjoying that experience, but also really getting into my coursework, um, in Rome. And what I thought was the best thing about it for me personally, was it was kind of this beautiful juxtaposition to our typical explorations in central Pennsylvania. A lot of our coursework was in state college, specific in kind of rural, kind of central Pennsylvania areas. So being able to be in this historic city of Rome and kind of learn the history and be in an urban setting, it was really kind of at the perfect time in my architectural experience, what I really needed to just expand my thinking. And, and I've always loved traveling.
Jared 00:12:10 I spent a few years in middle school and high school, um, living in Europe with my family. And, you know, one of my favorite things to do as a designer is just wander through a city. I'm gonna experience a city either for the first time or with renewed eyes if I'm able to kind of go back to somewhere I visited. So it was, it was, I, I always recommend study abroad to anyone that I possibly can. You can find interesting ways to make it work. If, if you're struggling to make it work, find me on LinkedIn and we'll talk through opportunities for it. But, um, I think the second part of your question, how it influenced my professional practice today, that's such a great question and I don't get to do much international work, but, you know, a a lot of the work that we do tends to be in context, uh, that are different from where we live as professionals.
Jared 00:12:52 Um, so I have work in different cities, neighborhoods, communities across the country, and I'm often a visitor in the context where I'm working. And I think I'm very in intentional about recognizing that in my work. I never want to come into a context and say, I know the best answer for you because I don't live in that context. I'm not part of that community. So I'm always working to really ensure that my design team, uh, my colleagues were actively involved in engaging in the communities where we're working, where we have our projects and in our work, so that we can really create something meaningful with those communities, learn from their experiences and their needs throughout our design process. So I think that experience of being a visitor in space has been really meaningful to kind of my professional, uh, trajectory and journey.
Sean 00:13:34 That is a really great perspective and not at all what I thought you were gonna say. So I'm, I hope you the listener just found that as fascinating that I, the host did. Cuz I think that was a really cool answer, Jared. And speaking of being a visitor to, uh, beautiful transition on my part there, I have to ask one thing I didn't catch in a lot of the, the prep materials, which true to form for you, Jared was very robust and very thorough in what you provided me. I know it can tell you did your homework, you even talked through things with your family, so kudos. But one thing I wasn't sure was, were you able to do any internships? What was that pre-professional experience like for an architecture student?
Jared 00:14:10 That's a, you know, it's not something I often focus on, but it is something that had a really profound impact, I think on my, my growth as an emerging professional, especially in my early years at Penn State. Um, I was very fortunate to have some amazing internships during my first, second and third years in the program. Uh, my first and second years in the program. Um, a cousin of mine is actually an architect in Florida, and he invited me to come and get some experience in his office. It's very rare in architecture to be finding internships that, that early on. So I really looked into those familial connections that I had. And in my third year I worked for a, a firm in Pittsburgh. But when I was looking back on it, it, it definitely wasn't an easy time to be looking for professional experience and work through internships.
Jared 00:14:55 Uh, my second to third years were 2008, 2009, and the economy had really impacted the architecture, engineering and construction realms and industries of professional work. So while I had some amazing opportunities at the onset of my academic career after my fourth and fifth years, I had no internship opportunities available like many of my classmates, colleagues and peers in architecture and many other disciplines. So I had actually been gearing up for an amazing internship program in New York City after my fourth year, but it was discontinued, um, because the firm actually went under and, you know, I decided, you know, what can I really do meaningfully with my time? So I spent the summer reading, uh, I worked some smaller jobs living at home with my parents, uh, really used the time to start thinking about my fifth year thesis and what I was gonna do after graduation.
Jared 00:15:40 Uh, just knowing that the economy was so uncertain, uh, I didn't know what it was gonna look like a year later if I was gonna be able to graduate with a job. So, you know, I started my thesis research, um, when I couldn't find internships, I started applying to some graduate schools to study architecture at the master's degree level almost as a backup plan in case I couldn't find, um, a, a professional job or kind of entry level job after graduating Penn State. But those early experiences were really what gave me a nice counterpoint to the academic curriculum. Uh, let me show what it was like to be in an office, what it was like to work on a team. A lot of our projects in the early years were individual projects, but really so much of our profession is working on teams of 5, 10, 20 people even. So it was really great experience. And then when I couldn't find those experiences, I, I had to kind of pivot, shift and really divert my thinking to kind of continue learning in the way that I needed to, but also set myself up for what was to come. I
Sean 00:16:33 Think that's a really good example. And obviously the economy has been up and down and up and down in the past few years and, you know, uh, an event like, uh, global Pandemic has stewed things. So if, if you find yourself in a similar boat, whether in architecture or not, I think that's some, some helpful advice from you there, Jared. Now when you said about, you know, kind of tearing yourself away from campus for a semester to study abroad, you were, let's just say pretty involved here at University Park as a scholar, numerous student organizations, you actually double majored in liberal arts, if I've got that correct. Yep. And I distinctly remember you were on the homecoming court as well. So how did you balance all of that and what can students learn from what you found helped and also any trip-ups that you had along the way?
Jared 00:17:15 That is, uh, such a reflective question for me. Um, and I think it, it, it actually goes back to even the first question. When I picked a school, you know, I knew I wanted to go in and really take on every opportunity academically, extracurricularly, philanthropically and socially because, you know, while I knew I was pursuing a degree, first and foremost, I also wanted the opportunity to learn from other involvements. Um, so when I started Penn State, you know, even when I came to tour campus in the honors college, I now laugh with so many of my former mentors and now friends in the Honors college, um, at how shy I was when I first came to Penn State, I barely spoke, uh, my first couple trips to Penn State as a prospective student. I was terrified of embarrassing myself, saying the wrong thing, not sounding like the smartest person in the room.
Jared 00:18:01 And I, I just, I was really intimidated. But so much of that really changed as soon as I got to campus, uh, for Showtime for those initial kind of orientation moments. And that was when I really challenged myself to make the most of my time at Penn State. And, you know, eventually I started joining some organizations and it was through those involvements that I really started to find myself flourishing coming outta my shell. As you mentioned, I double majored in architecture and international studies. I also pursued minors in architectural history and French and Francophone studies. And, you know, I involved myself in as many organizations as I felt I could. And I think there's an important disclaimer there that I'll touch on. But, you know, I was an actively involved in the Shire Honors College of Student Council. I was their PR and social chair.
Jared 00:18:43 My roommate Roland was our president. Um, I was on the scholar advancement team, which was the precursor to now the scholar ambassadors. I was involved with some architecture organizations like the American Institute of Architecture students at Penn State and at a national level. I was even on the club swim team for a moment. Um, and kind of my biggest commitment later on at Penn State was that I was a Penn State Line Ambassador, part of the Student Alumni Corps, which was really a full-time job outside of my academic curriculum. And while it sounded like a lot, I think the key was quite simple, and it was that I was trying to engage in areas where I felt I could make a meaningful contribution. And I probably could have taken on a lot more than I did, but I likely wouldn't have been able to balance it.
Jared 00:19:25 And I think the other key was really to know when to step into a leadership role and when to step back from those opportunities and know that my voice was probably more significant as part of a larger team. So in some of those organizations, I wasn't in a leadership position, I was just part of the, the team of students and, and community really coming together and, and supporting a mission in others. I really strategically said, you know, I wanna challenge myself to do this here. You know, I wanna be involved, uh, with this, uh, architecture organization because it's gonna give me connections in the profession that otherwise I wouldn't have been able to find. So I think the key to balancing it was knowing where to kind of put your, put your name in the hat and when to really pull back and just be a part of the, kind of the collective force there to, to accomplish a mission. You
Sean 00:20:06 Know, you were, you're talking about that, and I can almost see that same concept applying to your architecture work now because you talked about working in teams sometimes I imagine you could be the lead and other times you're, uh, attributor to a project. Is that something that you've been able to pull those experiences, be it line ambassadors being at StuCo, which I believe you helped contribute to that vernacular and other organizations to the, the work that you're doing now professionally?
Jared 00:20:31 Absolutely. I, I, you know, one of my favorite things is to be able to go into a meeting with my colleagues and my peers and not have to say anything at all. I I often kind of take on a role where, you know, if the room's a little quiet and we need a conversation starter or we need somewhere to kind of get the conversation going, I'm happy to contribute in that way, but I'm more than happy to sit there and, and let others kind of express their voice and express their design opinions and, and be the one sketching and collaborating, because my goal is a practitioner, especially in the realm of design, is to allow and facilitate those conversations and processes to happen organically. And, you know, sometimes you need to step in and, and be the catalyst that will really, um, inspire that conversation to happen.
Jared 00:21:15 But if I can be there in a supportive role in any way possible, that is really my preference. I, I love kind of being a part of the conversation. I don't always have to be leading the conversation. And I think that's something that I was definitely learned for me. Um, I always thought I had to, to kind of speak up and, and say something, but when I realized that, you know, if you're a little bit more reserved in that capacity and you really think through and make kind of a clear intention to have a more meaningful contribution, that's where kind of the beauty happens, especially in the design industry where you can really collaborate on a really detailed or meaningful level.
Sean 00:21:50 So a key takeaway from our conversation so far is you might think an architect is a, no matter what level you're an individual contributor, but go outta your way to find those opportunities, be a part of teams, and learn those teams tales, because just like, just about every other profession, it takes a team to make things happen in the modern context. So
Jared 00:22:06 Absolutely,
Sean 00:22:07 Hopefully you've taken that so far. And Jared, this might be the deepest into one of these conversations that I've ever asked this question, but we're finally here. Tell us about your thesis. Ooh, <laugh>,
Jared 00:22:17 This one, I, I'm glad you sent me a couple of these prompts in advance, Sean, because I had to actually think back on this one to make sure that I, I did it some justice in terms of kind of explaining what it was because it was a, it was a, an interesting thesis topic for me. And, you know, I mentioned in architecture, the thesis is really a theory-based research project that ultimately turns into, you are developing your own prompt and design of a space to really comment on the research that you've done. So my thesis was called Restructuring the Market and Architecture of Assemble Disassemble, which when I look back on it, I'm like, what does that even mean? But I'll, I'll try and explain it here a little bit. So I situated my research in Washington, DC uh, our nation's capital, and the premise was that DC at this time had the highest percentage of its population living on food stamps than any other city in the United States.
Jared 00:23:07 So, as our nation's capital, I thought, you know, DC should be setting a precedent and example developing programs and services that would provide more access to food. So my ultimate project was actually the, the design of a grocery store in Washington, DC along New York Avenue, uh, northwest, just a few blocks, uh, down the street from the White House, and really looked at transitioning a surface parking lot into this grocery store. But as part of the social commentary, the project, the grocery store was actually removed from the ground plane of the site. Um, so normally, typically you walk into a grocery store, it's all on the same level. The idea here was actually to return that ground plane as a public space to the community, to kind of visitors and everything, and move and shift those programs around, elevating them in different ways to make them more accessible, but also use the ground plane as a public gathering space in a space for protest, and an opportunity to introduce landscape into kind of the design that would serve as a platform for other programs and services.
Jared 00:24:04 Uh, so the portion of the building that was raised above the ground also provided concurrent programs and services tapping into existing nonprofits and programs in DC that supported job training, education, and supportive services for those relying on food stamps or without access to healthy and affordable food options. So the whole space was really about reimagining what a grocery store could be, especially for those relying on programs like food stamps as a demonstration project that could also highlight the lack of access to food in our country. So I've always been interested in really focusing my work on issues of equity, um, especially for the voices and communities that aren't often heard or designed for. No architect is really going out there saying, you know, we're gonna design for individuals that don't have healthy access to food, but why can't we be? Um, so, so much of my practice now is, is not really focused on typologies, um, like single family homes or commercial spaces, but rather on more public facing programs. And I think that really started with the research that I was doing on vulnerable populations and how you can design meaningful programs and adjacencies of those programs to, to other services and resources.
Sean 00:25:09 That is really, really cool, Jared, and just what you've told me about some of your more recent work, I think that's really neat. And for students who sometimes maybe wonder about the thesis, like you don't have to go to grad school to use your thesis in real life, it can influence your work in any career. But you did go to grad school, so <laugh> you alluded to this earlier, you kind of had this intentional backup plan to go for a master's degree. So tell us a little bit what that was like and then we'll get into your actual career from there.
Jared 00:25:40 Yeah, absolutely. And you know, I, in architecture, Penn State has a five year program, which is a bachelor of architecture degree. It's a professional program. Uh, you actually have to graduate from a professional degree in order to, uh, pursue your licensure and architecture. So that's either a five-year undergraduate program or a four plus two, which is a four-year unaccredited undergraduate degree. In a two-year master's, I went the route of a five plus one. Uh, so I wasn't required to go to grad school to get my professional degree, but for me, before my fifth year kind of knowing I wasn't having much luck finding job opportunities, I started applying to schools. Penn State had provided a really great foundation in architecture, but at the time there were other schools and programs that were starting to explore, uh, what was coming next for architecture, looking into new 3D modeling programs, fabrication, animation, using processing to develop forms.
Jared 00:26:28 And I ultimately decided to go, uh, to the University of Pennsylvania to pursue my master of architecture after graduation. I'd still been applying to jobs at the time, uh, but when I had no interest, I decided to really kind of accept the, the kind of graduate school route and continue my education and get my master's. And by then the job market and architecture had started opening up again. And it was after graduating from Penn that I started working at W R T in Philadelphia, where I am still working today, um, just remote from Los Angeles now.
Sean 00:26:55 And we'll get into that remote bit in a little bit. But I wanna go back to how you actually, like every, there's some things that are universal across job searching, and there are some things that are unique to different disciplines. You know, for teaching, you might have licensure and different things. If you work for the federal government, they have this whole different resume process. If you go back and listen to our episode with Lauren Joel, she'll tell you about that, how does it work in architecture? Do you show up with Prince? Do you bring in like a, a model? Do you send files in advance of your work? Like, walk us through that, that design process and, and especially now that somebody who might be helping to interview prospective new members of your team. What are you looking for from, from kids who are fresh outta school? Yeah,
Jared 00:27:40 It's a, it's a great question because it, it really balances, you know, a little bit of what we are looking for as, as practitioners, but also the development process of emerging professionals in architecture. So I mentioned you need to graduate with an accredited degree to kind of eventually pursue your licensure, but that licensure path actually, um, is quite complex. Once you enter the profession, you have to fulfill a number of, um, hours in different architectural experience categories, uh, whether that's construction, observation, construction documents, planning for a project. So firms are really looking for providing those opportunities to emerging professionals coming out of school so they can hit their required hours they need to hit. And then at the same time, there's a series of six, uh, architectural registration exams that emerging professionals pursue to receive their accreditation as an architect professional. Um, so that is, and what that really means is that someone could then sign and stamp a set of construction drawings that would go out to construction.
Jared 00:28:39 Oftentimes in a larger firm like mine, it's really the highest level of senior leadership, the principles of the firm that are signing those documents. But we always encourage folks to move through that process because as you, um, probably know I'm a lifelong student. I actually haven't even finished my architectural registration exams yet. I'm definitely later in my career than most, uh, that have kind of gone through that process. I have two more to go. Um, but it's something that for me has been more of a lengthy process because I've spent so much time, uh, focused on other research and going back to school, which I think we'll touch on in a little bit. But, you know, in an architecture firm we're looking for especially, uh, students coming right out of school, those that are really interested in getting involved in all different stages of the work.
Jared 00:29:21 We have projects that are in all different stages from competition and kind of the proposal and business development stage where we're actually pursuing work, we're responding to proposals that cities or municipalities or clients are putting out competing for that work through a proposal process. Or we're working on things like master plans. So these are documents that might never end up in a built form, but kind of end in a planning document that a city can use to introduce strategies in future developments or the more traditional construction process where we're working on something from conceptual design through design development and eventually construction documents and the actual construction process where we're overseeing and administering that with a construction team. So there's so many different phases of work, and what we like to do is have our emerging professionals really involved in all of those different phases. So they're getting the most out of that learning experience in the first two years after college. So that's kind of working with clients, working with project teams, working on all different scales and typologies of work.
Sean 00:30:18 There is a lot to unpack there, Jared, and I'm gonna do my best to try and do that. And I, I, I, when I messaged you, uh, leading up to this, I was like, I'm not an expert on this, so bear with me on this, on this topic, but there's a lot there. I wanna start though, from the organizational perspective, I'm, yeah, I'm almost on my mba, so I'm looking at it through that lens. And you talked about your principles, not like your principles of like fairness or honesty, but like the principles of the firm and you know, you're a senior associate and you started as an associate. So walk us through just generally in the architecture world, like what is that career ladder look like so that, you know, if a student hasn't yet been exposed to that terminology, they can help understand it and honestly, so I can understand it too.
Jared 00:31:02 Yeah, absolutely. And you know, I, I'm happy to share from my perspective and my firm, but I will say that, you know, this differs greatly. Any firm that you might kind of engage with in the architecture realm, uh, the majority, based on just number of firms alone in the country, the majority of firms are actually small practitioner firms with under five people. And the largest firms have a lot more people. So there's kind of more people in large firms, if that makes sense. But all different firms structure their leadership differently in our office. Um, we have our emerging professionals and our staff who are really the core of everything that we do. And then at the leadership level, it's a pretty simple tier of associates, senior associates and principals. And those, um, come for any variety of reasons, uh, whether it's kind of doing really great successful work on a project, uh, being involved in leadership opportunities.
Jared 00:31:50 It really depends on what you want to be making of your own career, um, whether you wanna be out being a thought leader and speaking on topics, whether you're presenting in different places or whether you're really kind of forwarding a new mission or vision for a different practice group or typology of work that the firm is focused on. So in our office, we structure, um, our group around our disciplines. Uh, we're a multidisciplinary office. We have architects, landscape architects, planners, urban designers. And then we also have an amazing, uh, team in our business development group. We have internal groups that are working on kind of our financial and everything as well. So we have kind of a, about 120 people across two main offices in Philadelphia and San Francisco. But we also have a few individuals like myself who are in leadership positions but not located in Philly or San Fran. So I'm located in Los Angeles, uh, live out here with my partner and this is where I got my second master's degree. And I'm kind of continuing my work with all of our office locations from here.
Sean 00:32:45 Gotcha. And that's interesting that you can have a firm with five people. As you were talking about the licensure, cuz honestly I had no idea that there was that step for architecture And uh, recent chat I had for this podcast, we talked about being a PE and being professional engineer and wonder how you intersect with engineers in your work. Cuz obviously there is a heavy relationship even if they are different disciplines. So if you can tell us what that looks like for an architect.
Jared 00:33:11 Absolutely. I think, you know, one of the most exciting things about the profession that I think a lot of academic programs like Penn State are starting to get into, like we discussed earlier, is really that interdisciplinary collaboration piece. And on any given project, of course, depending on the scale, we have anywhere from a team of two to three consultants all working together, different firms up to 20 plus. And this could be everything from structural engineering to mechanical electric and plumbing, uh, to lighting design to specific kind of specialties in ecology and horticulture. Um, we also collaborate with signage and wayfinding designers, uh, so graphic designers that are working on the signage for the building or the wayfinding for the site. We also team with transportation engineers, uh, individuals that are working across so many different disciplines of the project. Uh, civil engineers who are working on the site work, structural engineers, uh, working on kind of structural components of buildings or landscape features. So we work with different consultant team on most of the different projects and the work that we do. And that even extends out into cost estimators. Uh, so, and people that are really kind of working on, uh, maintenance plans for the project once they're constructed. So the diversity of professions that come together in involved in just one simple project is mind blowing. Um, still to this day, kind of the conversations that we get to have across all of those disciplines are some of the most exciting opportunities and pieces of of my job right now.
Sean 00:34:38 I don't know if I would use the word simple, Jared, cuz thinking about the number of pieces that could go into that, just when you talk about lighting design and HVAC and you know, the carpeting and flooring and how those all intersect, my goodness. But
Jared 00:34:51 They all fit so well that it's complex, but it, they all have their purpose. So it it makes a lot of sense once you're, once you're in it <laugh>.
Sean 00:35:00 Yep. And it, it probably, you don't realize how well they fit together until you see something that doesn't
Jared 00:35:04 Exactly.
Sean 00:35:05 So a different piece of this, you've mentioned this phrase a couple times and it might be something that if you are our pure artist might be something that you haven't really thought about, but is the business development side. So how did you go about learning that side of the trade? Was that something you got in your classes here? Was that something you just kind of learned by doing once you got into a professional role? How and if for students who are still here at Penn State, how can they start getting opportunities to understand the business side of architecture?
Jared 00:35:34 It's definitely, I think one of the, one of the areas where I still have a lot of opportunity to grow my own learning. Um, but it is something that we started learning in our professional practice courses at Penn State around really the business side of architecture. And, you know, a lot of work that we get is from repeat clients, but we also compete for new work to kind of bring on new types of clients, uh, look for new opportunities for different projects. And it's something that I've definitely honed, uh, over the last 11 years that I've been with my firm. But, you know, I think at any given time, uh, any day of the week, I could be working on as little as three projects, uh, or upwards of like eight to 10 plus projects in various stages, whether it's in business development, proposal process design or construction.
Jared 00:36:18 And I think, you know, when I first interviewed and decided to work with W R T I was looking for a firm that was gonna give me exposure to a lot of areas that, you know, I hadn't really learned in school. Um, and I saw an opportunity there to really work with my colleagues who were doing a lot of work in communities and with certain client groups that I was really interested in interfacing with. So when a project comes online, it's either through a proposal process or a client coming back saying, Hey, we have this exciting new opportunity. So for me, a lot of the business development side is really continuing conversations with clients that I've done work with in the past. Uh, whenever I go to a site visit, I'm also looking at other organizations and starting to facilitate meetings and just sharing the work that we do, understanding the work that they're doing and really just honing those relationships.
Jared 00:37:03 I think so much of our profession is yes, about building spaces, places, buildings, but it's also about nurturing, uh, community. And it's also about that real one-on-one personal experience that we have with our clients and community members that we get to interface with. And that's honestly become one of my, I think, favorite things about what I do is just getting to work with so many interesting people who are focused in so many different areas that of course I would love to learn more and know more about, but through collaborating with them, I get exposure into that opportunity. So we have an amazing team, uh, in my office that is really focused on a certain typology of work, but we're also not afraid to look at new opportunities to, to take on something new, learn more ourselves, and really deliver meaningful projects for the communities we get to work in.
Sean 00:37:48 And speaking of those clients, you know, earlier, calling back to your answer about studying abroad and really having a perspective of visitors, and that's very a philosophical part to it, but on the practical side, for somebody who maybe is not the most outgoing or even for outgoing people, what kinds of skills would be helpful in terms of people skills to develop so that you can work most effectively with clients? You know, maybe there's some things you've seen people have done really well that you could highlight or maybe a mistake somebody made that wasn't productive to a relationship. How can, you know, there's obviously all the technical and the design and the business part, but there is, that is a huge part of it is you're working with people, you're not designing this for yourself.
Jared 00:38:29 No, and it, it, it's interesting to reflect on that because I think I mentioned that so much of what we do is around building, but so much of what we do is also around people. So I think the one skill that's probably the most meaningful and something I'm constantly critiquing of myself and continuing to work on is communication. I often speak from a very technical perspective and a perspective that's not legible for all people, clients, or communities. So really taking the time to explain the work that we do or the questions that we're asking in ways that are accessible and legible to just make sure that we're getting the most meaningful feedback when we are asking questions or engaging with communities. That's been one of the unexpected things that I think I've had to learn in my career. And communication is something that I am constantly working on and it differs from project to project.
Jared 00:39:17 Some of our clients and communities are extremely well versed, um, in what we're talking about. Um, and they just have this insane, um, just knowledge of what we're talking about that it's just so fun to, to be able to push each other in interesting directions. And then other communities, you know, we're there to not only, um, help them work on a project, but also to educate them on that process. Um, we've worked with clients that have never gone through a construction process before and being able to really communicate the meaningful pieces of the project to make sure that they understand and it's so clear is, is something that I think is really important. I mean, I've worked on everything from small parks and plazas to large scale campus transformations, small park pavilion to a 15 story building across housing, education, parks and open space, all these different practice areas. But I think, you know, the focus of my work is always on people. Um, and I think that's kind of, at the end of the day, if we can't communicate the intent of the project or what we're trying to do, how successful is can the project even
Sean 00:40:16 Be? That makes a lot of sense because at the end of the day, you're being hired and so you do need to deliver on what they're hoping to achieve. And maybe some of your job is helping them understand what they want to achieve, but at the end of the day, that's what you're, you're there to do. And you talked about, you just said you've done literally pavilions to 15 story buildings and in between, so obviously there's whole courses and, and licensures for being project management professionals, but are there any key things that you've noticed that it's really helpful for students, whether it's you're building a deck or you're building a skyscraper that is helpful to think about from the project planning perspective?
Jared 00:40:53 Yeah, absolutely. You know, I think there's, as you said, it's so multifaceted. I think at the end of the day, so much of what we can do is dictated by code. We have to follow zoning codes, building codes, all different types of codes in our work accessibility codes. And a lot of designers and even kind of colleagues of mine, um, and professors of mine even, you know, you can see codes two ways, one of which is they limit what you can do and one of which is they create the opportunity for you to do something. And I think that distinction is, is something that I've always been really interested in, um, because some people will see codes as limiting and say, oh, we can't do this, we can't do that. And other people will say, how can we do that within what we're allowed to do based on this code line?
Jared 00:41:42 So I think that understanding kind of codes and, and contracts and everything is something that I was always scared of as a student because I just didn't have the professional understanding of what those elements of the process really meant. But as soon as I was able to start getting into them and understanding them more, they actually present more opportunities for us to be innovative and be creative and find opportunities to, you know, make our projects more universally accessible in ways that are gonna be long-lasting and, and have real impact. I always encourage students, uh, it's something that is not taught a lot, but as you get into your registration exams and studying for that, you get more exposure into kind of the codified language of what it means to it to be a designer. You
Sean 00:42:23 Talked about universal design, universal access there maybe, I'm assuming most architecture students probably know what that means, but if you could elaborate on that, because as somebody who often is pushing around either a wagon or a stroller or as somebody who does a lot of events in this job, pushing around carts with stuff in it to and from places, having that accessible design can be helpful for beyond what you are intending to do.
Jared 00:42:47 Yeah, accessibility is something that is really in, in meaningful and amazing ways, permeated the design industry. There's the American with Disabilities Act, ada, uh, which really requires all new construction to be fully accessible for all individuals with all abilities. And you know, universal design is really a concept that says even thinking beyond accessibility in terms of mobility alone, how are your projects really meaningfully engaging those that might be deaf or blind? You think about the experience as people move through space, so much of that is based on our senses. So how can design start to be more responsive to all individuals who are inhabiting those spaces? And you know, that's something that a tangent of which I started getting into when I decided to go back to school, um, that I'd love to touch on again in a couple minutes. So
Sean 00:43:34 Well, let's dive into that. We'll come back to ta you know, working, but you did get a second master's while still working full-time. And also I'll throw in, you continue to be a volunteer with not only the Schreyer Honors College alumni board, but also arts and architecture and you remain involved in a lot of things with usc, which is where you went for your second master's. So walk us through your thought process there and, and why you put yourself through that. I
Jared 00:44:00 Love learning. I wouldn't be surprised if in five years you find me back in a degree program somewhere studying something. Um, throughout my first six to seven years at, at my firm, I, I had exposure to some amazing projects, some that remained as concepts and were never built, others that were constructed, but I really gravitated to the projects where I got to work on really large elements of public space parks, urban design and plazas. And I knew once I got working on those projects, that I really wanted to focus the next chapter of my career and my professional work in that realm. So I decided to take a step back. I did go part-time for a little bit of that process, but continued working part-time and, and went back to school to pursue my master of landscape architecture and urbanism degree at USC in Los Angeles.
Jared 00:44:45 And for me, the choice was simple, um, because I knew it's what I wanted to focus on. I found an amazing program in usc, uh, with, with faculty who I wanted to research, uh, with and learn from. And my firm was completely supportive of the decision, which just made the process even easier for me. I've always been captivated by the potential of the landscape as a system that really permeates through buildings and cities to support social resilience and environmental resilience. So I chose Los Angeles specifically because it offered this really amazing testing ground to study landscape architecture and a diversity of environmental challenges and complex social injustices. I think in Los Angeles I, I found really a catalyst to look at so many different things that I wanted to do research in to affect that next stage of my career. So the decision really catapulted a lot of my research and professional work in a way I, I couldn't have even imagined. And, you know, I'm really fortunate to have had that experience, uh, to step away from my profession and go back and just be a student again and, and, and relearn and, and learn new things that could really impact where I wanted to focus my, my work moving forward.
Sean 00:45:52 And we all know you're still a nittany line at heart. Even if you added the added that, what is it? Is it crimson or garnet and gold? Is that right?
Jared 00:46:00 Trojans.
Sean 00:46:02 <laugh>.
Jared 00:46:03 Hey, we're all gonna be in the big 10 soon enough. So
Sean 00:46:06 That, that is, that is the reality that we are living in. Yes. Um, <laugh>,
Jared 00:46:12 No, I'm al I'm always blue and white, so <laugh>
Sean 00:46:15 Hey, easy to remember. Easy to wear. Easy to love. So
Jared 00:46:18 Exactly.
Sean 00:46:19 If anybody from marketing is listening, you can have that free of charge. <laugh>. Um, alright Jared, so you, uh, obviously we're coming to the, the back nine of our, our conversation. So you talked about going out to Los Angeles and your firm was really supportive and you did this before covid. So you were learning how to do remote work before a lot of the rest of us. And architecture isn't necessarily one of those disciplines that you might think of for remote work. So how did you adjust to that in, in a discipline that I imagine really does draw from a lot of in-person community team conference room work?
Jared 00:46:55 It's a really interesting question because, um, I actually had some exposure to remote work before I even moved to Los Angeles. Um, back in 2019. I was out after a snowstorm and slipped on some ice and broke my ankle. And the place I lived in in Philadelphia was an old Trinity home with a spiral staircase and I physically couldn't move through my own house. So I had to go home and live with my parents until I got off my, uh, cast and crutches and everything. And it was during that time where my firm said, you know, we want to start thinking about how we can facilitate you staying on full-time while you're working from home. Even before I moved, even before Covid because I'd broken my ankle. So we had started looking into how we could do more, uh, intentional meetings with me over video conferencing and everything, how I could kind of scan some drawings and send them in and how we could have that interface.
Jared 00:47:48 So that was really what set the stage and I think the successes of me being able to work in that capacity are what contributed to the support of the firm when I decided to move to Los Angeles and pursue my degree because they knew I could still get the job done, uh, in that remote capacity. And then of course Covid 19 hits and we just found a, a plethora of resources coming online and available in terms of information sharing, being able to collaborate through the computer. We have, uh, some tools like Murro and Mural that allow us to post drawings online, all be in the same workspace, virtually commenting, kind of drawing together while on a conference call. And I think it was that process and all of the tools that came online throughout the pandemic that have really facilitated, uh, the meaningful connection I can maintain with my office.
Sean 00:48:34 Yeah, I think that you are basically a bit of a Guinea pig, if you will. Absolutely. Firm. So that worked out pretty well. And so I think, you know, if you're looking at remote internships, you know, there are, there are ways to facilitate this. Now we, there are some silver linings of, from the past few years of challenges. So if you can do an architecture, you can do it most anything. Probably still need your, your doctor in the OR with you, but that's few and far between. Now, Jared, I'm gonna call back to very early in our conversation here, you talked about some of the student organizations you were part of, and obviously there's not really a grownup version of say lion ambassadors. StuCo has the scholar alumni Society board. It's kind of the, the natural progression there. But in terms of professional associations, you were involved in the student chapters and presumably you're now pretty involved in the dairy side, grownup versions, the real world professional associations. How does that influence your work and why should students look to get involved with those kind of groups regardless of what discipline they're in?
Jared 00:49:29 Yeah, I, I've definitely maintained a lot of my involvements as to the best of my ability as I've moved into my professional career. So I maintained some great relationships with Penn State, um, on the Scholar Alumni Society board. I'm also on the College of Arts and Architecture Alumni Society Board. I'm really working at interfacing more with the student organizations and the students and providing resources to them. It's just something that's been really, um, important for me to be able to contribute in that way cuz I benefited so much from alumni who were giving their time when I was a student. And then professionally, I'm involved in the American Institute of Architects and the American Society of Landscape Architects as s l A, um, at both local and national levels working on programming and opportunities there. And through a lot of my, uh, graduate experience at usc, I actually got an opportunity.
Jared 00:50:14 Um, I never considered myself a teacher, but after I graduated in 2011 with my Master of Landscape Architecture, I was actually invited to come back and teach a class to onboard other students into my research topic. And that was another way that I had never really envisioned for myself at this stage in my career, going back and teaching. And I don't wanna dig digress too much, but I, I'd love to share a little bit of my current research, which has really been supported by some of those professional organizations and my ability to continue teaching. And, you know, it's on another side of the conversation around homelessness and housing. And one of the reasons why I came to Los Angeles to study and really looking at the experience in the public realm of unhoused individuals and how they have to navigate the spaces that my profession designs.
Jared 00:50:59 So my ongoing work is titled Criminalized for Their Very Existence, the Spatial Politics of Homelessness. And the Work firmly believes that the solution to homelessness is not a designed landscape or a design at all, um, but rather an institutionalization of more concrete programs that reduce or prevent the likelihood of homelessness paired with permanent supportive housing strategies. So the solution to homelessness isn't always will be housing, but for as long as it takes to deliver that solution, unhoused communities have to suffer at the hands of our design, civic and open spaces, and at the hands of our codified systems of regulation like the LA Municipal Code. And these codes really restrict and criminalize one's ability to even exist in public space. So I mentioned earlier kind of, I was interested in the codes of building codes and zoning codes, but what I started looking at in graduate school was actually municipal codes.
Jared 00:51:44 Because municipal codes don't dictate anything in terms of design, but they criminalize people for how they behave in space. So the work is really a call to action for landscape architects and design professionals to begin looking beyond those building and zoning codes and actively understand and engage municipal codes as well to understand the implications of physical design of space on vulnerable populations in the context where we work. So to better understand how the landscape can be a material for social advancement and advocate for more equitable and kind of socially diverse spaces, we need to be looking at how people are actually punished for existing in the spaces we design. So LA County has over 68,000 unhoused individuals. Uh, the largest congregate setting of them is within Skid Row, which is a 51 block area in downtown Los Angeles. And until the time where a housing and policy solution can really be developed to end homelessness persons experiencing homelessness have to navigate LAPD's yearly 14,000 plus misdemeanor arrests of unhoused individuals that are attributed to, and I'm using air quotes here, quality of life violations that prohibit sitting, lying and sleeping on sidewalks.
Jared 00:52:50 So where else are unhoused individuals supposed to go? Last year, um, the city council even updated that code, which is 41 18 to further restrict on housed individuals from parks areas around schools, areas around libraries, and get this within 1000 feet from facilities providing resources or services to persons experiencing homelessness. So it's a very clear spatial regulation that affects our public realm systems and they can be mapped. So part of my thesis work at USC started mapping these conditions and codes, which would actually render over two thirds of skid row uninhabitable by code. So if we continue to banish and push unhoused individuals into other realms, where are they gonna go? And my research really stemmed from a desire to understand that condition of living in the landscapes that we design, uh, the open spaces, the street scape systems, navigating these circumstances. So I built an engagement plan, um, and have been able to have over 70 conversations with unhoused individuals in Skid row and beyond through partnerships with the Los Angeles L G B T Center, the Homeless Healthcare Los Angeles, the Downtown Women's Center, and a ton of other organizations.
Jared 00:53:52 And we eventually partnered with the city of Los Angeles and the Mayor's Office of City Homeless Initiatives and started thinking about designing solutions to the street scape that wouldn't put an unhoused individual at risk by code, but rather provide resources and services for the unhoused community. So I got to onboard a series of USC students and we were designing urban cooling stations to combat urban heat island effect in Skid Row where there's no trees, there's not a lot of green space. It experiences temperatures that are nine to 12 degrees hotter in the southern, uh, in the summer months than any other area in Los Angeles. And I'm continuing that work today through a series of grants through some of these professional organizations. But all of this is really rooted in the needs of a community whose voices and identities are never heard or designed for, but they're actually designed against in the form of hostile landscapes, hostile landscape architecture policies and codes that restrict and criminalize their ability to exist. And on top of that, the condition is policed. And you know, this is an area where I've devoted all of my research time over the past three to four years. Um, and I'm really trying to continue through a lot of these, uh, engagements with professional organizations outside of my day job at at W R T.
Sean 00:54:58 Jared, you are doing great work and there's a lot to unpack there. Yeah, just some things, if you're interested in this topic to look up, uh, just from a general layperson's perspective, a lot of benches and kind of areas where you're like, whoa, what are these little nubs here? It's so that people can't lay down and sleep, or there'll be really random armrests in the middle of a bench or something. That's what that, that's, uh, how that's impacted. And obviously you could look up redlining and the way a lot of the interstates were routed, if you're from Philadelphia, if you're from Pittsburgh or Cincinnati or Louisville or a lot of other major metropolitan areas where you're like, why did this, this road feels really weird. Why is this here? Well, that was an intentional choice at some point along the way. So it's something that you can look into more. And even just in my neighborhood, like talk, Jared, you talked about municipal codes, my neighborhood, we don't have sidewalks. And so, uh, college Township is doing a walkability project, and that was an area I was able to give feedback.
Jared 00:55:55 In the past three to four years, I've really started to understand why empathy is so important in design and it touches on so many facets of our process. And, you know, I pull a lot of it from my own experiences in public space and really, you know, navigating public space, um, as a gay individual, um, I've, I've done a lot of thinking and writing recently on, you know, how I feel safe in spaces. I, you know, as I was younger and coming out, I was not oblivious to, you know, the negative influences and day-to-day experiences that would often plague my mindset. Forcing me to consider whether the spaces around me were safe and accepting or shadowed by some form of homophobia or prejudice. And, you know, I would think twice about deepening my own voice when I talked, how I dressed, how I walked, or whether or not I could hold my boyfriend's hand in a public place in certain contexts.
Jared 00:56:44 And it was through that kind of understanding of how I felt I had to adjust myself to move through space that I started really wanting to focus in on other populations that aren't designed for herd in a design process. And, you know, when I talked about developing this engagement process, the whole process is based on asking questions in a more empathetic way, um, to really engage in ways that elicit feedback that aren't just kind of the, the routine answers you might get when you're doing a community engagement session. So not asking people yes or no answers, but asking them to talk about their experiences and how you can then take what you've heard and use those to influence design. And I think that's where I see so much of the design profession heading and trending in the future. And it's, it's refreshing, but it's also, there's so much work that we still need to do.
Sean 00:57:33 Absolutely. And empathy is an important still, whether you're in design in medicine. Absolutely. In business education. And something I think asking good questions is a, is a still, and that's something you, if you've ever listened to one of these before, you'll notice I never asked yes or no questions on this. It's always tell me more. Tell us about that. Why did you do this? Yeah. And so Jared, thinking of those questions, I said here, I'm a homeowner, I'm not, I am housed, I'm not unhoused. I have a lot of majority identities and, but one of my identities is certainly not an architect. So is there anything that I should have asked about that would be helpful for students particularly interested in architecture, landscape architecture, design this sphere of the professional world that I didn't know I should have asked on their behalf? Or to put it another way, because you are such a great mentor in our mentoring with honors program, what are some questions that you most often get from your student mentees that we could answer it right here?
Jared 00:58:31 You know, I think y you did a fantastic job of, of forcing me to really hone in on some of the aspects more largely in the profession. I think the one thing that I get asked outside of what you asked, because I think you hit every single thing I typically get asked, the one thing is, what types of projects could I be working on in the profession? And I, again, that's also something that's gonna differ from firm to firm. Um, my firm, we really focus on the disciplines that I mentioned, but we do all different types and scales of work. I think some of my favorite projects, I all of my projects are, are my babies and my favorites, but maybe some of my most notable projects just to show the diversity of the different types of work we get to do. We worked on the Philadelphia Holocaust Memorial on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia.
Jared 00:59:18 My first project ever was at the, uh, former Bethlehem Steel site in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. We transformed that campus into the steels tax arts and cultural campus, um, with some parks, open spaces, a pavilion, a a outdoor kind of performance venue. I got to work on a really special project, one of my only international projects in Oyama, Japan with my mentor and boss Caco that transformed a parking lot into a public park. And some of my current landscape and resiliency work in upstate New York, Cleveland, Ohio, and, and even Danville, Virginia, were really focused on larger scales, kind of planning scales of neighborhoods and districts and really thinking about resiliency and, and what that means, not only from an environmental perspective, but also from a social perspective and how communities can really grow along with our projects into the future. So we also work on affordable housing projects across the country.
Jared 01:00:09 We have some fantastic partners, um, in the affordable housing realm, some Penn State graduates, um, at firms like Penrose and other organizations. And then we're also doing a lot of educational work, both K through 12 and higher education. And then we do all different scales of planning work as well at my firm from large scale, uh, city master plans, uh, down to campus master plans and housing plans, uh, is part of the Choice Neighborhoods program, which is a government funded program through housing and urban development. So we work at all different scales on a ton of different types of projects. And you know, I think the one thing that really is the through line through all of it is what I've talked a lot about, which is community engagement. And that's where we basically set up shop for a couple days in each of the neighborhoods or communities where we're working. We share our design process and we invite the community to be a part of that design process. We never like coming in and saying, this is, this is what we think you should do. We like our ideas to really be from the places and from the community members who are gonna be living there and and benefiting from that project into the future. So we do all different types of work and it's, it's a really complex and interesting profession and I I love it.
Sean 01:01:15 Is there one stage of the process that you just really love and is there one stage of the process that you're like, please don't assign this to me?
Jared 01:01:23 Oh, um, I love every stage of the process. Um, I, but always for different reasons. So I, I can't say that I, I don't like working on a specific stage, but my favorite stage is the conceptual design process and that's where we're taking the idea and starting to hone in on what it means. And, you know, for as many projects as we do build and kind of see through construction and completion twice as many or three times as many don't get built. Um, we do a lot of work that ends at a conceptual level and it's there for an opportunity if it wants to move forward. You know, sometimes funding falls through, sometimes a client will change direction, and the conceptual design is always the starting point and it's where we get to do our visioning. It's where we get to kind of set the big goals from the project, take those initial, um, napkin sketches and, and trace paper sketches and really start to form something. And I think that's also the process where we get to know the client and the community and the organizations that we're working with the best and really sit down and, and come together and, and really talk about the vision and the goals for the life of the project. And it's just kind of one of those moments that just makes you happy throughout the process. And I always gravitate to that moment in the design. That is
Sean 01:02:34 Awesome. And Jared, you've accomplished quite a bit. You just rattled off some really cool projects that you've been a part of and obviously ones you've ideated that like you said, won't ever get built just cuz for all the aforementioned reasons. But what would you say as we move into the last little section of our conversation here was your biggest success so far? Wow.
Jared 01:02:54 Um, I'd like to say it's yet to come, um, but um, if I have to look back, it's probably twofold. I think my first moment where I just felt so proud was really the opening day of the first project I ever got to work on as a designer, which was the steel steels stack Arts and cultural campus and a specific component of it called the Hoover Mason Trestle, which is an elevated kind of public park and walkway on the old rail line that used to bring the raw materials for the steel making process into Bethlehem. So that was like a very proud moment. I got to take my, my parents and my grandma and I got to walk her through one of my projects, which was really, really cool for full circle moment for me. And then I think the other was probably the biggest honor I think I've ever received in my life was the 2018 Alumni Achievement Award from Penn State and getting to accept that with my family there as well, family is, is huge to me. They're, they're everything to me and had all my family there and the audience and just got to just express my thanks, uh, to, to Penn State for everything that, you know, Penn State taught me and afforded me in terms of opportunities. And tho those two moments when I thought back were just like the immediate two that that popped to mind and, and almost just makes me emotional even thinking about them. Well,
Sean 01:04:05 And obviously you left one key part out of that latter one, and that's when we got to meet. So yeah, when you were here for that, that was right after I started. That was like, one of the first things I was in charge of was helping, uh, with your, your schedule. I think we took some students to breakfast so that they could pick your brain in a wave what we're doing right now. I
Jared 01:04:24 Remember that breakfast like it was yesterday, <laugh>,
Sean 01:04:26 I I believe that was at the Nittany line in which, yep. Well, looking forward to seeing how that space gets redesigned. That'll be interesting. Now, Jared, we just, you just got to brag about some stuff, but obviously no one's perfect. Tell us about a transformational learning moment or mistake that you made along the way and what you took from it that could be helpful for students to learn from. Yeah,
Jared 01:04:45 Absolutely. I think, you know, I've thought about this one a lot because I've made a lot of mistakes, um, <laugh> and, you know, I always encourage, uh, students to make mistakes and it's okay to fail because those are some of the biggest opportunities to learn. But I mentioned a little bit about my current research that really built on my landscape architecture thesis work. And for me, my biggest transformation, especially in kind of recent years and learning moment, was really breaking down my own biases and the stereotypes that I thought I understood as fact, um, about persons experiencing homelessness, um, and those living unhoused in Los Angeles. You know, I think we all approach topics, uh, with our own preconceived notions, our own experiences, our own real experiences in space with, with other people. Um, but when I started teaming up with organizations and engaging with unhoused individuals and having conversations with them, it really broke down a, a wall that had this conversation with one unhoused individual.
Jared 01:05:41 And they said, you know, it's hard enough that we have to sit on a sidewalk constantly exposed every day. But the most hurtful thing to that person was when they saw someone pretending to be on their phone or walking across the street to just avoid their presence because sure, they may have been scared and this person understood. I know I might be kind of a scary kind of presence in the sidewalk to someone that may have had a bad experience with someone experiencing homelessness, but at the end of the day, you have no idea what it means when someone does acknowledge me and says hello. And I think that one just very simple conversation, I had totally changed so many of my preconceptions, my stereotypes, the biases that I brought to that topic. And it was through working with nonprofits and agencies doing that work every single day.
Jared 01:06:25 I don't do this work every day. I research this work, I try and find opportunities where I can support those organizations through my design language, but that's what invited me to think about the landscapes I was designing everywhere totally differently. It forced me or encouraged me to see the landscapes around me differently. And it introduced empathy into kind of a really just core process of my design process. And I think that focus on policy and design interventions design can have an influence behi beyond just what ends up being constructed when we design something, um, that maybe actively doesn't isolate or exclude or oppress a community. That can be a tool, that can be a benchmark, that can be a precedent that's used in the future. And I think finding new ways to engage people and communities in my work and research, I think, you know, I, when I first moved to Los Angeles, I didn't know how to receive the homelessness that I saw, and I think I developed my own stereotypes and it was through that process that I was able to break those down and just be more responsive instead of reactive. And I think that was probably the biggest learning experience that I've had in the, in the past few years.
Sean 01:07:34 Sometimes the best learning Jared right, is unlearning. Yeah, absolutely. And relearning. Absolutely. Yep. And speaking of learning, we've talked about this, you have participated as a mentor and mentoring with honors for some time, and you've also had professional mentors that came before you that have helped you along the way. So what helpful advice do you have for students as they approach mentorship, both being mentored, but also as they pay it forward eventually and being, uh, a mentor themselves?
Jared 01:07:58 Absolutely. I, um, I've benefited from having so many fantastic mentors, both at Penn State and beyond, at all stages of my academic and professional career. And as a mentee, my best advice to students is to take every opportunity you can to engage with alumni, uh, whether that's through the mentoring with honors program, through the Society of Distinguished Alumni mentoring program within your majors or your future profession. There's so many opportunities for mentorship, and I keep in regular contact with so many of my mentors, uh, my Society of Distinguished Alumni Mentor Lure. Uh, we've remained contact for over 12 years and I nurture each of my mentoring relationships differently from professional advice to life experiences. And I think it's been through growing that network that I now mentor students across the country myself, and I learn as much from my mentees as I'm able to share with them, which I think is the, the coolest thing about the mentoring ship relationship.
Jared 01:08:51 My approach to mentorship is pretty simple, and what I've learned is that as much as a mentee has to learn from their mentors, mentors also engage in that relationship because they want to learn from the mentee. And what people gain from those relationships is really about the contributions that they're making and how willing they are to engage in meaningful ways. And I always encourage mentees to consider three things throughout kind of their mentoring experience. Uh, the first of which is to just commit and take the time and to really take responsibility for the relationship, be prepared, keep in touch, and even after the formal end of a program, if you're lucky, that relationship can continue on much further if you make the effort and really take the time. I also encourage folks to interact, um, and really challenge them to contribute to the mentoring relationship in a way that they're not the only recipient of knowledge or information in that exchange.
Jared 01:09:41 I encourage students to share their work, share their ideas. And then finally, I think the key to a successful relationship is setting goals. I think considering what you wanna learn and gain from the mentoring relationship, what you wanna learn about your mentor and from your mentor. And I think those are two very different things, what you wanna learn about them and from them, and also what you want to teach them. I think most recently I've, I've had a really cool opportunity through the Scholar alumni Society board to start even mentoring some student organizations, um, like G S D S, gender and Sexual Diversity and schreyer and Scholar Ambassadors. And I think I'm just so amazed right now, uh, it's it's only been a little over 10 years since we graduated Sean, but I'm just so amazed by the types of resources and the discourse that the students are having today and kind of making time and making space available to provide for their peers in meaningful ways. All I can say is that, you know, mentorship has been a really meaningful piece of my trajectory and I hope students and alumni are really taking advantage of any opportunity to engage, um, around those types of mentoringship relationships.
Sean 01:10:42 I swear I did not ask him to say it exactly like that. I agree with you on that, Jared. We have great students here in the college. We have great alumni and my my goal is just to try and bring you all together as much as I possibly can. So please take advantage of those opportun not even take advantage, just make good use of them. That's a better way to say that.
Jared 01:11:00 Absolutely. And
Sean 01:11:01 Speaking of all of those great people, Jared, are there any particular professors or friends that you wanted to give a quick shout out to here at the end of our conversation?
Jared 01:11:09 Ooh, okay. There's probably way too many for me to actually mention, but my first interface with the Honors college was with Dr. Mitch Ksh, who has remained a lifelong friend and mentor. I also worked so closely with Donna Meyer during my time as a student and now in a renewed sense on the Alumni Society board. And to know Donna is just to know such a kind and caring heart, who really cares about the students in the Honors college, but there's also just so many others, Rosanna Lisa Yuan, um, from knowing everyone over the last 10 plus years and getting to continue to work with all of you has been and really just support the mission of the Honors College has been such a pleasure on my part and I'm just excited to continue contributing in whatever way I can. Well,
Sean 01:11:51 We're very excited to have you do that, Jared. You're a great resource for our scholars. So, uh, looking forward to seeing what we come up with next. And speaking of what's next is one of my last questions as we're wrapping up our time. Is there any other piece of advice that you wanted to leave with students? And the questions I asked just didn't allow for that to come up organically? Mm-hmm. <affirmative>.
Jared 01:12:11 Hmm. Let's see. Advice to Stu. I think this is something that I uniquely almost say just to architecture students, but it maybe could be applicable to all students as well. And that's to really push the boundaries of your work and research and test something new in your field of work, uh, at Penn State, so often after you graduate, you're thrust into a professional career where you assume a new role and position as part of a team and working towards realizing something that might be beyond what you were invested in in college. But it's the ideas that you're starting in school that have the capacity to really change the trajectory of the profession that you're working in. Um, so I still revisit my student work and, and rethink about the topics that I started thinking about in school when I didn't have that kind of professional umbrella over my head.
Jared 01:12:58 And I think there's time to innovate and research in a different way when you're in college versus when you're in a profession. And the time you have in school is really an opportunity to develop your voice, uh, to hone your skillsets and really establish your launching point for what you choose to pursue first. And I say first with a lot of intentionality as well, because it's okay to make those mistakes, to fail at something, to change the direction of your career as many times as make sense for you to find the path that you're meant to take. I've gone back to school so many times and it is always kind of been with a goal of refining or honing or really refocusing where I wanted to kind of have my voice, um, in the design profession. So I say take risks, do something innovative and different and, and use the time to really test things and take advantage of all the resources you have available to you as a student.
Sean 01:13:44 And speaking of that time as a student, I have a bonus question that I don't normally ask here, Jared, but I wanted to throw this in because of what you talked about with your fun fact, and we alluded to this earlier. Are there any schreyer specific fun stories that you wanted to share that maybe didn't come up already you, or if we could elaborate on further? There's one I have in mind from your, your questionnaire response about naming the student council <laugh>.
Jared 01:14:06 Yes. So, um, my, I I had a random roommate in Simmons Hall my freshman year, um, who turned out to be just a fantastic friend throughout my time at Penn State. Uh, Roland, we kind of came up together, uh, joined student council. He was eventually our president. I was social chair. And that first year, you know, we were trying to get a ton of engagement in student council, so we were like, how can we confuse people enough to encourage them to come to our meetings? So we just made this like massive poster campaign around Simmons and Atherton that asked people, do you stucco? And people were like, what? What? And we were like, find out, meet us in, uh, the Grandfather Clock lounge at this date and time. And I think we had like 70 people show up. And it was just awesome and amazing and, you know, it was, it was a moment where we were trying to create something different with student council that was able to engage more students. Um, and it was just a really fun time. Uh, it just a great memory looking back on <laugh>. That's
Sean 01:15:04 Incredible and I think just chose to show you, like you said, think outside the box a little bit. Sure. Or, you know, just get a pair of scissors and cut the box flat and put in the recycle bin and design something new. Absolutely. Jared, if a stroller wanted to connect with you and pick your brain even further, especially if they're in architecture or if they're moving to Los Angeles or in the other, you know, areas that you have expertise in, how can they connect with you?
Jared 01:15:27 Absolutely. Please connect with me, um, on LinkedIn Lion Link. Um, I use my full name on both platforms, Jared Edgar McKnight, um, and I'm always happy to connect. Sometimes it might take a day or two for me to get back, but please don't hesitate to reach out. I'm always happy to chat with past, present, and future scholars.
Sean 01:15:44 I really don't know how you sleep. I know I've said this to you before, I truly don't, but I know you do because I don't see any bags in your eyes. So somehow you're, you're fitting it all in. We haven't even talked about work-life balance, but that's a conversation for another day.
Jared 01:15:57 Another day. Yes.
Sean 01:15:59 And finally cannot wait to hear the answer to this question. Jared, if you were a flavor of Burkey Creamery ice cream as a scholar alum, which would you be? And most importantly, why would you be that flavor?
Jared 01:16:12 I, I, I wish all interviews and conversations ended with something like this, um, because it was just really fun to think about. So my, if I were a flavor, it would also have to be my favorite flavor. Um, and I'll explain why, which is bittersweet Mint and, you know, through and through from the time I was a kid until the last time I was on campus, it just triggers such a beautiful memory of being on campus with my family in so many moments, in so many points of my life. And it's, it's refreshing, but also it's always bittersweet. Uh, I don't live as close to Penn State as I used to, so especially my, my Times being able to come back on campus. Uh, more recently in the last few years since I've lived in Los Angeles mean, uh, times where I get to reconvene with my friends and family. So it's, uh, it's definitely bittersweet men for me.
Sean 01:16:58 That is a great, great reason. And also I endorse that that is one of my favorite flavors. So good choice there. I don't think that one gets picked enough here to be honest, so Great. Oh, I love it. Free choice. Jared, Jared, Edgar Midnight. You have lots of awards from us from the Alumni Association. I'm sure you can see them all on your LinkedIn. Uh, and in the bio here on the show notes, if you've listened with us all the way here to the end on your podcast app of choice that you were listening to this on, you can, uh, go back and reread that. You've done a lot of great stuff and I know, like you said, the best is still yet to come with what you have in store, given the great work that you're doing. So much good insight on the architecture profession. I learned a lot today and I hope you listening learned some and also didn't, if you're an architecture student, didn't judge me too harshly on what I didn't know about your discipline, but hopefully I know a little bit more now. Jared, thank you so much for your time. As always, great volunteer with the college and all of your support for our scholars. No, it
Jared 01:17:53 Was fantastic. I so enjoyed the conversation and look forward to seeing you soon and, uh, really appreciate getting the opportunity to be here.
Thank you Scholars for listening and learning with us today. We hope you will take something with you that will contribute to how you shape the world. This show proudly supports the Schreyer Honors College Emergency Fund, benefiting Scholars experiencing unexpected financial hardship. You can make a difference at raise.psu.edu/schreyer. Please be sure to hit the relevant subscribe, like, or follow button on whichever platform you are engaging with us on today. You can follow the College on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn to stay up to date on news, events, and deadlines. If you have questions about the show or are a Scholar Alum who'd like to join us as a guest here on Following the Gong, please connect with me at [email protected]
. Until next time, please stay well and We Are!