A recent conversation between TSP Inc. architect Chase Kramer and South Dakota State University architecture student Jocelyn Rothmeier veered off track to discussing her wedding plans.

Then Kramer’s daughters joined the video chat and provided renewed distraction.

Sounds like it had little to do with the mentorship program Rothmeier and Autumn Schlomer devised as co-presidents of SDSU’s American Institute of Architecture Students (AIAS) chapter, right?

Actually, a conversation on work-life balance has everything to do with the program’s goals, Kramer said.

“I want (Jocelyn) to gain a better understanding of life after architecture school,” Kramer said. “And I do mean life, not just architecture.”

Three of TSP’s architects in Sioux Falls volunteered for the AIAS mentorship program that started earlier this year and officially will run throughout the semester. In total, 10 architects are acting as mentors to 10 students, said Schlomer. She is a Mobridge resident who started SDSU majoring in mechanical engineering. After she realized her joint interests in art and robotics merged in architecture, she switched her major and will pursue her Master of Architecture degree at SDSU this fall.

The mentor-program partners were matched up after providing information about their interests. That way, architect and student could begin from a shared affiliation. For Schlomer and her TSP mentor, Michelle Klobassa, that is a mutual love for traveling.

“She’s into sustainability, so we connected on that, too,” said Schlomer, who is considering a career in residential architecture. “She has three sisters, and I also have three sisters. And she’s a woman in architecture with kids, and I guess that’s what I want for myself. I think this will be a very worthwhile experience for both of us.”

Klobassa and Schlomer have their second Zoom meeting scheduled. Schlomer came well prepared to the first session with a list of topics to discuss, Klobassa said, and she appreciated the thought Schlomer put into preparation.

Klobassa, who attended Montana State University, did not have the experience of a mentorship then. It would have been valuable to have a first-hand look at the actual work world, she said.

“This is a good avenue to see what the real working world is like,” Klobassa said. “I think for any college graduate, it’s a lifestyle change. You’re used to a lot more flexibility and freedom, and everything is theoretical unless you’re working on something like a community outreach project with actual clients.”

TSP has an informal mentorship program between experienced architects and those who join the firm out of college, Klobassa said. Working side by side allows new graduates to collaborate with the project architect, learning by doing and through observation. The work architects do is not learned overnight, so it must be continued over many years, Klobassa said. Several years ago, the firm divided the architects into pairs. While they are encouraged to speak with anyone they choose, this gives the pairs someone to talk with on a semi-regular basis.

SDSU third-year student Paul Monson, who is interested in designing sporting arenas, and TSP architect Sean Ervin are the third match through the AIAS mentorship program. Monson, who graduated from Lincoln High School in Sioux Falls, and Ervin have communicated via email. They have shared their backgrounds, and Monson has talked about learning that in architecture, it takes experience to know when a design is done. Ervin said he appreciates the chance to take part.

“Students need perspectives outside their daily lives to ground them in life as well as the profession,” Ervin said. He participated in a mentorship program as an undergraduate at Iowa State University.

Ervin is allowing Monson to set his own goals for the mentorship experience.

“I come with no agenda of my own, except to help him see the big picture beyond his current environment,” he said. “As for my goals, I think it will continue to connect me to other mindsets approaching our profession and improve my communication skills in a collaborative way outside a project format.”

Said Monson, “I decided I wanted a mentor because I am very interested in learning. I think that the mentor program is a great opportunity for me to learn more about how architecture works, especially in the real world.”

The mentoring program should benefit all participants, Rothmeier said. A native of Wabasso, MN, she will graduate this May and then pursue her Master of Architecture at SDSU. She will start that accelerated program knowing she can rely on this connection.

“Typically, mentorship programs last even past the time in school, I think,” Rothmeier said. “We’ve said mentorships last a lifetime. It won’t be a biweekly meeting for the rest of your life, but certainly it’s someone you can turn to. And I hope they feel like they can come to me and ask questions.”

The AIAS co-presidency of Schlomer and Rothmeier ends this semester. They expect the benefits of the mentorship program to last much longer. The COVID-19 pandemic means face-to-face contact and office visits will be limited. That should change in future years.

“Getting to see a typical office environment could be super beneficial and spur other conversations about the profession, the actual tools and processes we use, and how that may differ from a school/studio setting,” Kramer said.

Added Ervin, “If participants are using this opportunity as a chance for learning, it will raise awareness of everyone in the process. Architecture is a community of professionals, and we want the next generation to feel a part of that as much as we were included.”

Not being able to work side by side is a challenge for architecture students, Klobassa said. “So much of the experience is in the studio, getting person-to-person feedback and input as you’re working side by side,” she said. “This might make up for some of the lack of that.”