Grassroots 2019: Empowering Student Leaders

Kyra Stark joined BNIM as an architectural intern for the summer of 2019. She is a member of the 2019-2020 American Institute of Architecture Students National Executive Board. Kyra was sworn in as South Quad Director at the annual conference, Grassroots, in Washington D.C. in July 2019.

The American Institute of Architecture Students (AIAS) is an independent, nonprofit, student-run organization dedicated to advancing leadership, design, and service amongst architecture students. The organization’s annual summer leadership conference, Grassroots, held in Washington D.C. exposes chapter leaders to the training, resources, skills, network, and passion required to reach their full potential. The theme of this year’s conference, Amplify, exemplified the organization’s intent to amplify its momentum and student voices – building off of the advocacy initiatives over the past year.

Grassroots kicked off on July 18th, with Capitol Hill Day, which provided students a tangible platform to advocate for and directly impact other AIAS members and the architecture profession. Students had the opportunity to speak up about architecture student loan debt forgiveness to members of Congress. With the help of AIA’s Advocacy Team, students urged Congress to support bipartisan legislation to allow employers to count student debt repayment as the matching requirement to contribute to their employee’s retirement plan. Capitol Hill Day attendees were able to truly amplify their voices as Citizen Architects by taking a greater role in civic advocacy.

Following Capitol Hill Day, Grassroots attendees gathered for the 2019 Opening Ceremonies at the National Building Museum. Featured guests included AIA President Bill Bates and NCARB President Terry Allers. The now Past-President of AIAS, Amy Rosen, delivered a farewell address about the power of getting comfortable being uncomfortable as we face new changes and challenges. The Opening Ceremonies also included the induction of the 2019-20 AIAS Executive Board, where I officially became South Quad Director alongside the other ten board members.

Following the induction ceremony, keynote speakers from The LAB at Rockwell Group spoke about their design for the Summer Block Party exhibition at the National Building Museum, Lawn, which students were able to enjoy once the ceremonies concluded. And of course, no evening is complete without games and dancing late into the night at the Student Lounge.

Over the remaining days of the conference, students were able to attend sessions from three different tracks: leadership, design, and service. Highlights from Grassroots included Keynotes from Jaime van Mourik at USGBC, Valentini Sumini at MIT Media Lab, and Lauren Cantrell at Habitat for Humanity. On Friday evening, students gathered for the Grassroots tradition: a BBQ at the AIA Building and AIAS National Office.

One of the most important aspects of AIAS conferences is that they provide attendees the opportunity to meet other architecture students and share stories, perspectives, and ideas to create lasting relationships. Students are able to bond over the pain of all-nighters, but also come up with solutions to creating a healthier studio culture at their own schools. It’s exhilarating to be surrounded by hundreds of AIAS members who are just as passionate about architectural education and working hard to improve the lives of both current and future students.

Grassroots concluded on Sunday morning with the Council of Presidents (CoP) meeting, which was held in the boardroom at the American Institute of Architects Building. CoP is the opportunity for Chapter Presidents and Chapter Representatives to amplify their voices to impact the organization. Chapter leaders vote on current important issues and have an opportunity to discuss and bring motions to the floor during Townhall.

The end of an AIAS conference is always a bittersweet goodbye, but at Grassroots AIAS, members leave feeling invigorated to take on the upcoming year and use the knowledge they’ve learned to improve their own chapters. The next time a large group of AIAS members will gather together is for the FORUM 2019 conference in Toronto, Canada. We’ll have a new city to explore, more members to meet, and a whole semester to reflect upon.

I’m very fortunate that I come from a school with a strong AIAS chapter and faculty that support us. During my time at Auburn University, I’ve seen two Auburn women elected as AIAS National President, one of which is serving alongside me this year. Having such incredible role models inspired me to get involved at my chapter as a young freshman and motivated me to run for National South Quad Director four years later.

The coming year as South Quad Director will involve many new responsibilities for me. As an Executive Board member, I will attend four quarterly Board Meetings. I will also serve as a Board Liaison on two National Committees. Committees are made up of approximately eight members from chapters across the country and meet bi-weekly over calls. The charges for the 11 National Committees vary, but they all explore new membership initiatives and resources, as well as value-driven deliverables for the Council of Presidents at FORUM and Grassroots. I also host monthly Quad Pod calls with chapter leaders, where we go over news from the National Office and discuss what members are doing locally at their own chapters. What I look forward to the most are the numerous opportunities I will have to connect with other members as we share our struggles and numerous successes.

Although I’ve been a member of the American Institute of Architecture Students for four years, my perspective has shifted since becoming a Quad Director. I have always seen AIAS as a place to come together with like-minded passionate individuals to make lasting relationships, but I now see our ability to impact the future of architecture at a national scale. As one of the five architecture collaterals and 5,600 members strong, AIAS has the power and the reach to amplify student voices and make positive change.

I am proud to be a part of the next generation of architects who care deeply about the environment, social welfare, and a healthy work-life balance. We steer clear from the way things have always be done and look for new career paths, new ways of designing, and new possibilities for a more inclusive future. The American Institute of Architecture Students may be dedicated to students, but it’s an organization that will stick with me for a lifetime.


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