On today, National Mentoring Day, Aliyah shares about the importance of mentorship and her experience.
When I was in high school, my mom convinced me to join a dual-enrollment vocational program that would allow me to spend half of the school day learning drafting skills. I spent my junior year in engineering design as a prerequisite for the architectural design class I took in my senior year. Both classes were taught by a Black architect. It was the first and last time I had a Black teacher in my architectural education. At the time I did not take advantage of the opportunity to learn more about the road ahead of me, and though I am not one for regrets, I do wish that I had.
I did not make meaningful connections with Black mentors or professors until my final year of undergrad at UVA. I ran into some difficulty with my undergraduate design thesis, which aimed to design a Black student center for the school. I was in desperate need of extra opinions on my work from people who understood where I came from. Fortunately, there were three Black faculty members at the time that I could talk to outside of class.
I am not the best when it comes to networking. However, this is not because I am not good at talking to and connecting with people. It’s because I generally prefer to be on my own, so my people skills often only come out when they must. Learning to depend on others has been an important part of my journey and takes work every day. The time I spent talking to those people in school affirmed my experiences and encouraged me to continue doing my best despite the obstacles I was facing. They helped equip me with tools to defend myself and the conditions I set for my project.
When I finally had the opportunity to talk with Black advisors, I realized how much easier my time in undergrad could have been. It changed my outlook on my future as a designer and storyteller for the better. Finding people who have gained wisdom from being in the positions that you want to be in is invaluable. They can point you in the right direction for ideas, inspiration, and solutions. Mentorship is a major key to success and using the knowledge of those who came before you can prevent a lot of heartache and headaches.
Pictured, Aliyah with her high school teacher after she placed 3rd in a regional design competition during her senior year.