The knowledge, interests and connections of mentors are valuable sources of insight and opportunities for young people hoping to study for one of the professions. In particular, mentors can help their mentees to become involved in activities that allow them to develop a more detailed understanding of their chosen career and to make a strong UCAS application. In this article, we speak to Felicity Parsons, who has been introducing her mentee to the field of architecture. Felicity speaks about her approach, and her overall experience of mentoring a young person.
Felicity is a freelance writer specialising in architecture, engineering and construction. She also has a small training business, providing writing skills workshops for architects and other construction professionals. Before setting up her own business, she was head of marketing and business development at a large architects’ practice in London. She has been a mentor with the Intergenerational Mentoring Network for almost 18 months and is currently mentoring one pupil.
Felicity decided she wanted to become a mentor in 2015 after completing some cancer treatment. She wanted to make the most of her life by doing more things that she enjoyed and that reflected her values. She had always been interested in politics as a way of reducing inequality in society and she thought mentoring might be something she could do on a personal level to make a difference in this area. She Googled mentoring opportunities in Glasgow and discovered the Intergenerational Mentoring Network website. A few months later she was matched with Paul, (not his real name) who was interested in studying architecture but was uncertain how to pursue such a career.
Felicity sees her role as a mentor as, “A source of information, a source of opportunity and a source of encouragement.”
A PROFESSIONAL APPROACH TO MENTORING:
Initially, Felicity thought she might not be suitable as a mentor because of her business commitments, which regularly take her away from Glasgow. However, things have worked out well because being self-employed gives her the flexibility to arrange meetings at times that are suitable for Paul. She meets him at his school every two to three weeks except when she is away for work or when he is busy preparing for exams. They keep in touch through text or email between meetings.
When Felicity first became a mentor she found it difficult to know what approach to take. Mentoring presented her with an intellectual and professional challenge; she was used to working with and training architects and engineers at various stages of their careers but working with a young person still at school was something new. Somewhat unconsciously, Felicity stuck to what she knew and treated Paul as she would treat one of her clients, working on developing a professional relationship. Over time, Felicity realised that this approach could be beneficial for her mentee because it offered him the chance to experience a professional relationship of the kind he might have in his future career – something he hadn’t experienced in other areas of his life and could prove useful later on.
MENTORING FOR ARCHITECTURE:
Felicity has used her thirty years of experience in architecture to help prepare Paul for a career in his chosen field. Architectural training takes years of study and practice, and so she believes prospective architecture students need to have a real enthusiasm for their subject and to be prepared for the reality of working as an architect once their studies are completed.
Felicity has tried to give Paul a frank view of the potential opportunities, rewards and challenges of a career in architecture and of the constraints within which architects often work. She’s also encouraged him to research and think about the different types of architectural practices he might ultimately work in – from large, international firms to smaller local ones, including some very small new practices set up by young architects in Glasgow.
Felicity feels that one of the key aspects in mentoring Paul, has been supporting and encouraging him to develop his thinking and ideas about architecture. When she first met him, she was surprised at how little he knew about architecture, although he was obviously interested in the subject.
To encourage him to explore the work of different architects and some important themes in contemporary architecture, she gave Paul articles to read from magazines such as The Architectural Review, Architecture and Urbanism, and Architectural Design as well as some architectural stories from quality newspapers. These articles became a starting point for discussions during their meetings – as did some interesting photos of buildings taken by Paul.
Felicity felt that Paul needed to explore and become more knowledgeable about the built environment and cultural institutions of his own city. Aware that such explorations require time and often money as well as confidence, she initially suggested that Paul take notice of, think about and draw the buildings and public spaces near his home and school. More recently, she and Paul went on a tour of some of Glasgow’s cultural buildings including the Lighthouse and the Olympia building, which houses Bridgeton library.
From the outset, Felicity emphasised the importance of drawing to Paul and suggested he should get in the habit of making quick sketches of buildings and details of buildings he found interesting. He seemed reluctant to do this, so eventually she decided to do some timed drawings during one of their meetings; her aim was to show that it’s possible to draw regularly even if you don’t have much time.
She brought along different kinds of paper and drawing implements, and still life objects with an architectural appearance such as some giant bubble wrap that resembled the cladding of the Eden Project biomes in Cornwall and a doughnut-shaped wire pot scourer that echoed the form of some contemporary football stadiums.
Paul set the timer on his phone and they both created a series of two-minute sketches of the various objects in different combinations. The exercise proved to Paul that he could produce a good drawing in a very short space of time, on any sort of paper and using any sort of pen or pencil. At their next meeting, Paul brought some objects of his own, and they continued to practice drawing together.
USING NETWORKS TO ARRANGE WORK EXPERIENCE:
Felicity realised that one of the most useful ways she could support Paul was by helping him to find some work experience. She approached a contact at Collective Architecture, a Glasgow practice whose work and ethos she thought were well matched with Paul’s ideas and interests. As a result, Paul spent a week with Collective during his summer holidays, where he worked on a small design project based on a competition brief, learnt to use industry software and went on a site visit to a project nearing completion. The experience was valuable on many levels as Paul was able to participate in the activities of a busy architectural practice and to enjoy the social aspects of an office environment. This helped to confirm his desire to pursue a career in architecture.
It’s not always easy for young people to find work experience for themselves; they may not have the right contacts and they may find it difficult to make a case for themselves. Paul’s own previous attempts to find work experience had been unsuccessful but having a mentor with good contacts meant that the door was opened and an opportunity became available to him.
SUBMITTING A PORTFOLIO:
Some architecture schools require students to submit a portfolio of work as part of the selection process. Felicity worried that Paul’s Higher Art portfolio didn’t reflect the full range of his artistic and creative abilities. Therefore she and Paul agreed he would benefit from attending Glasgow School of Art’s widening participation architecture portfolio class. He enrolled in the programme and took part in a series of evening classes at the art school. The portfolio class assignments gave the students a flavour of the sort of projects they would work on during the first year of an architecture degree.
As well as having a strong portfolio, applicants for architecture degrees need to write a convincing UCAS statement and be prepared to demonstrate their passion for architecture if they are invited to attend an interview. Much of Felicity’s work with Paul has been focused on helping him to identify his particular architectural interests and to talk about them with conviction and enthusiasm. Felicity feels she has made a real difference as a mentor by drawing on her knowledge and resources to allow Paul to explore and develop his reasons for choosing architecture as a profession and to write a strong UCAS statement.
Through volunteering as a mentor, Felicity has learnt a lot about working with pupils who are much younger than the clients she is used to dealing with. Her main message to new mentors would be, “Don’t have a preconceived idea of what mentoring should be like or how you should work as a mentor.” She believes that the nature of each mentoring relationship depends very much on the individuals involved.
Felicity suggests that mentoring can be challenging and frustrating at times if your expectations as a mentor are too high. She has learnt a lot about the constraints faced by S5 and S6 pupils. It has been important for her to understand how focused students are on achieving the Highers grades needed for university.
She feels that one year is not really enough time to work on five Highers as well as learn about a profession such as architecture. She also suspects that a lack of confidence and a lack of money may be constraints for some students. With all this to deal with, a young person doesn’t have much headspace, time or resources for new activities.
While Felicity thinks she was initially overambitious about what Paul could take on in his time outside school, she is beginning to see how this work has paid off as Paul has now received conditional offers from architecture schools at four Scottish universities.
Felicity emphasises that there are really important things a mentor can offer that may not be easily available to the young people involved in this project. For example, mentors can offer mentees practical things like work experience, inside knowledge/contacts and knowledge of associated careers. Across the project, we have seen how these opportunities and contacts provide young people with a greater confidence to proceed in their chosen profession.
Felicity feels her experience as a mentor has encouraged her to be creative and to look at the field of architecture from the perspective of someone who is younger and lacking expert knowledge. It has given her ideas about further activities to introduce young people to architecture, including visiting degree shows and going out to explore the buildings and public spaces of the city through walking tours. She also sees the value of introducing mentees to more people from their chosen industry and helping them to start developing a network of contacts.
Felicity is keen to establish links with other mentors across the Intergenerational Mentoring Network with experience of architecture and engineering, an interest in the built environment or industry contacts. Working with the research team, she is interested in exploring ways in which people within the network and the local architectural/engineering community could collaborate to support and provide opportunities for other young people involved in the mentoring programme while they are still at school and then later as they progress through university.
If you think you can offer your support in organising opportunities for our mentees then please contact us.
Felicity’s experience reveals that a mentoring relationship can help young people have a better chance of earning a place on competitive courses such as architecture, which require candidates to demonstrate a passion for their subject as well as achieving the right grades. Pupils may be interested in a certain course or profession but be unfamiliar with the industry. This is where having a mentor like Felicity, who has the relevant knowledge, interests, and connections, can make a huge difference to the lives of young people.
If you think you could make a difference to the life of a young person by mentoring them on getting into a competitive profession such as architecture, law or medicine then please fill in our online form.