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Record number of firms turn out at USC Architecture fair

As part of Career Week, Southern California’s top firms talk internships and permanent posts with students

A representative of an architectural firm talks to a student at USC Architecture's Firm Fair. (Photo/April Rocha)

For evidence that hiring at architecture firms is on the upswing, all you had to was attend the USC School of Architecture’s Firm Fair. The fair, part of the school’s Career Week, expanded this year to a second space and still sold out. A few companies even had to be turned away as a record number of firms attended.

At table after table in the Harris Hall and Watt Hall courtyards on April 3, representatives of Southern California’s premier architectural and design related firms promoted their companies and talked about openings for internships and permanent positions.

Many of the companies are corporate members of the USC Architectural Guild, a 57-year-old organization that supports the school and strengthens its ties with alumni, corporations and industries. The guild sponsors and supports both the Firm Fair and Career Week.

Daun St. Amand of the firm RTKL Associates Inc., the guild’s vice president and chair of the Career Week committee, said that the fair attracted 42 firms.

“This year’s Career Week was one of the most successful in the history of this annual event both from participation from firms and from students,” he said. “We were able to extend hours for the resume/portfolio review sessions that took place before the Firm Fair, and we had a record number of firms attend.”

On firm ground

Guild President Martha Ball of the architecture firm Harley Ellis Devereaux said Career Week exemplifies the mission of the guild to strengthen connections between students and the profession, mentioning the resume/portfolio workshop and a variety of professional development activities throughout the week.

“All these events led up to the eagerly anticipated Firm Fair where students and firms have the chance to spend focused time with each other exchanging resumes for business cards and contacts.”

Ball said the guild has supported the Career Fair for decades, even in times of economic downturn.

Some stalwart companies, such as DLR Group and HOK, have attended the fair throughout the lean years and were able to observe the difference in mood and optimism at the fair. Others were attending for the first time.

Fresh faces

“Our firm is so busy,” said Bernice Ngo ’11, who was representing DLR Group. “There are definitely more opportunities than when I graduated.”

The architecture, engineering, planning and interiors firm, which is headquartered in Omaha, Neb., has four offices in California, including one in Los Angeles. It is the firm that designed the recent remake of USC’s Heritage Hall and is currently designing several other large projects, including the modernizations of Beverly Hills High School and the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Ngo said DLR returns to the Career Fair every year “because there are always fresh faces and talent graduating or looking for internships.”

HOK’s human resources manager Cynthia Grant said her company has been part of USC Architecture’s Career Fair since well before she joined the firm eight years ago. She’s seen the boom years in 2007 and 2008 and the lean years after 2009.

No matter what the economic climate is, “HOK prides itself on maintaining relationships with several universities,” she said, which provides the company’s office in Culver City with a mix of employees. Some have more technical training and others more theoretical training, she said, and the variety is beneficial.

“USC is very good in setting up resume and portfolio review sessions,” Grant said.

Employees from various firms help with these sessions, and Grant and HOK colleague Pearl McLin were two who volunteered their time at the sessions earlier in the week as well as attending the fair, said Career Fair organizer Carrie Banansky.

I really enjoy coming to USC and meeting the students, who are always very enthusiastic.

Cynthia Grant

“I really enjoy coming to USC and meeting the students, who are always very enthusiastic,” Grant said. “We’ll definitely be back next year.”

A positive experience

A first-time attendee at the fair was Frederick Fisher and Partners, based in Santa Monica and New York. Partner Joseph Coriaty MArch ’80, a guild board member, said that the firm’s director of marketing had a “very positive” experience at the fair.

“We get a steady supply of interest and resumes from all over North America,” said Coriaty, who said that his firm regularly hires students from USC Architecture. “I’ve found that students at USC know how to express their narrative and have figured out how they can be of help to a firm. They are industrious, have an interest in achieving and the ability to tell their story.”

Coriaty said his firm definitely would be returning next year.

Looking to grow

Another first-time attendee was Robert Hidey Architects from Irvine. The 25-year-old firm, which specializes in residential architecture, “is looking to grow,” said Tim Smallwood ’98, one of those representing the company.

Two years ago, the firm had 18 employees. It now has 40. It was seeking one summer intern and two entry-level employees.

Setting up for the fair, firm employees were busy sticking labels with the firm’s name and address on quantities of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups to hand out to students.

I was struck with how intelligent and professional the students were. They walked in there with all of these amazing portfolios.

Ashley Hidey

Afterward, administrative manager Ashley Hidey said the fair went “really well, with lots of eager students.” More than 25 dropped off resumes, and others were sending them via email.

“It was definitely more students than we were expecting,” she said. “Most times there was a line at our table.” There were so many students, she said, that they ran out of peanut butter cups.

“I was struck with how intelligent and professional the students were,” Hidey added. “They walked in there with all of these amazing portfolios on iPads or printed in books. They were taking it very seriously, which tells me they will be professional and taking things seriously in the workplace.”

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