Published: June 10, 2021

The Environmental Design Professional Development Services team is spotlighting members of the ENVD Community. This week, the office features a conversation with Korey White, an architect and urban planner working for the DLR Group, an integrated design firm in Chicago. Although White did not attend CU Boulder, she is an active ENVD community member and is very interested in connecting with ENVD students to discuss professional licensure, how to market oneself to potential employers, interviewing for jobs and anything else related to the world of design.

While earning her master's from CU Denver, White served on the AIA Colorado Board of Directors and then went on to work at several firms in Denver, Washington D.C., and Chicago. In 2018, White was named the AIA Young Architect of the Year for her tireless commitment to advocacy, collaboration and community engagement to better the built environment.

ENVD students and alumni are invited to reach out to White. Contact info can be found below.

Korey WhiteWhat is your current position at DLR Group and what types of projects do you work on?
I am an architect and planner. I’ve had a few different jobs and most of them were more traditional architectural roles, so I’ve worked as a designer, production staff member, and some assistant project management all on the singular building scale. I started at DLR Group in 2018 in our Chicago office. My first project was a renovation of an addition of a school building, and I'll be really honest I got to a point where I was like, this is not what I want to do. I don’t want to be a project architect who runs the design and construction of a building. Luckily, I talked with my managers and I started working on educational master planning projects, and I much prefer it. That basically means I work with public k-12 school districts on putting together a long-range vision that aligns their facilities with their education readiness for teaching in the future.

What path did you take to get a license?
I went to the University of Illinois with a Bachelor of Science and Architectural Studies degree. I finished up in 2011 while we were coming off of the last recession and people weren't really getting hired at the time, so I decided to go to grad school. I moved to Denver, went to CU Denver, and got a dual degree in architecture in urban and regional planning, and for me, the dual degree added a semester. When I was at CU Denver, I volunteered with AIAS and did a lot of crossover work with the AIA so I could build my network. At the time, attending certain AIA courses allowed you to get hours towards your [AXP licensure] hours. I also started an internship with a sole proprietor in the last year of grad school, and so that allowed me to start working and gain experience hours while I was still in school.

By the time I finished my accredited degree, I was allowed to immediately start taking those exams [for licensure]. When I graduated, I scheduled my first exam as soon as all the paperwork cleared. There was a three-month gap I had for studying/making sure all my transcripts got to NCARB. I really just wanted to get started so that I could be done and get it out of the way, and the sooner that I did that, the sooner I could figure out what I really want to do in the world of architecture and planning. Now I am licensed in Colorado and Illinois.

How did your interdisciplinary, dual degree in both Urban Planning and Architecture help you in your professional career?
[At CU Denver,] I volunteered with an organization called Housing Colorado, which was a three-day charette with different professionals from architecture, planning, landscape architecture, and housing authorities. What enlightened me was the impact of what you do as a design professional can be much greater than a single building. I’m really thankful for my architecture degree, but the planning part of it really opened my eyes to the impact–good and bad–that we can have on people and communities. That was always kind of my career goal–to find a job where I was able to use both skill sets in a way that I was able to have a broader community impact.

[Now,] I work for DLR Group, which is an integrated design firm, and what that means is we have a lot of different professionals from a lot of different backgrounds so that our teams are not just architects or just engineers. We really try to make sure that it's integrated across multiple areas of expertise so that we can develop the best project possible. When I was interviewing with DLR Group, they mentioned that they did a lot of educational master planning work and I was really interested in what that meant because I knew it would give me an opportunity to use both degrees.

What do educational master planning projects look like?
We have a five-phase process.

  1. We look at [a district’s] existing buildings, talk with stakeholder groups, assess what the state of conditions is in terms of buildings, community and program, and the disparities from one school to the next.
  2. We move into the visioning process where we ask teachers, students, and community members what they would like to see for the district.
  3. We move to a programming model that accomplishes their ideal vision.
  4. We move into a phase of conceptualization and [decide:] what does it look like to apply a programming model to these schools?
  5. We present that final recommendation with a group of community members to the board of education where they will either adopt it or not. If it does get adopted, it moves to implementation.

Do you have a favorite project you have worked on?
I do! I think Mockery Brewing in Denver has been my favorite. One, because it was the first project that I worked on that I got to see built, and two because it was a brewery. I was able to go visit it beyond just the point of it getting built, so I was able to take my family and friends there to show them what I did. Now that I work more in the public sector, you can't often take people around and show them what you're doing.

You have worked as an architect in Washington D.C., Chicago and Colorado. What are the differences you see in the architectural industry in these regions?
It's interesting because architecturally they've been three very different cities, but the architectural community is so small in all of the areas, so I know a lot of architects who know each other. Colorado is really a work-to-play [mentality]. When you're done with work, you're done with work. Whereas D.C. is very, work, work, work. It's kind of around the clock which is just the nature of it being the capital. Chicago is somewhere in between because it's a midwest city that has just an astounding architectural history.

I’ve noticed that [in Chicago,] there's a real acknowledgment of the history and how it still lives on. When I worked in Denver, because it is a younger city, the best idea wins, it doesn't matter if you've been an architect for forty years or five. Chicago and D.C. have trended to be a little bit more established in the history and legacy of certain things related to architecture and that legacy.

Why should students get involved with organizations like AIAS and AIA?
I was involved in my senior year of undergrad and then two and a half years in grad school. And then I immediately became an AIA member after graduation. For me, it was the best way to connect with professionals. As a student, I was able to meet with professionals and practicing architects so that when I was finishing up I had people to talk to about what type of firms I would be interested in working for. On the flip side, because I had made those connections when they had positions open they would come to me and say "hey, are you interested in this?" So it was very easy to get a foot in the door at firms, and then the key was maintaining those relationships over time. Then through the connections I made through AIAS and AIA I was able to transition to another firm more easily because I had made that network.

The second [reason] is connecting with peers and like-minded people. There are a lot of emerging professionals who are all in the same position and I think it builds really great comradery and creates a network of peers that you can work with and explore different things with. A lot of younger people in firms want to get leadership experience. The AIA allows younger folks who are recently graduated to volunteer and get those leadership skills that they might not be getting at work. If it's something you're passionate about, with one year of experience you can lead a committee and develop those skills and it's sort of a great space to test those out.

Based on what you know about ENVD, how would you advise recent graduates to market themselves in the architectural industry?
I would advise recent graduates to really showcase and elevate the collaboration that is central to the ENVD program, [as a result] of the varying interests, experience, and skillsets. I think just in general, our marketplace has become more complex. Projects are more complex. You really need people on teams that can see multiple perspectives and can speak multiple design languages. What ENVD graduates have is the ability to see a holistic picture and be able to talk across those boundaries of those different industries.

Do you have any advice for ENVD graduates when it comes to finding a firm that is a good fit?
As much as you all are eager to get jobs, you are also interviewing the firm as well. Ask them questions about how interdisciplinary they are, what their collaboration looks like, what their values are. This will all be really telling on how valuable they see your degree and how much your values align with theirs. If you value sustainability but interview a firm that has never done a sustainable [project], it's probably not going to be a great fit because you aren't going to be able to use the skills that you learned or apply your passions to the work you do every day.

Everybody who comes out of school has some sort of gap. [whether that’s] you don’t know how to do technical drawings, or you've never presented to a client. Whatever it is, firms know that, so when you're interviewing or applying, what are the things that make you unique, or what is your story or passion? They want to know what type of person you are going to be like to work with, what type of vibe you are going to bring to the office, are you eager to learn, to be mentored, do you ask good questions?

Those are all really important things to think about when going into an interview because that is what's going to set you apart from other people. If you don't get the job, it's not that you haven't done the right things, it may just be about the fit that a firm is looking for. Try to be true to yourself and don't change your story to fit what they want, you won't be honoring all the work you've put in.

Contact Korey White: