Alumni Highlight: Amanda Young

GCA Communications intern Hannah Reed (H) sat down with Amanda Young (A), an architecture alumna from Gibbs College. She graduated with her bachelor’s degree in architecture in 2021. She is currently a drafter at a firm in New York, where she is following her dream to work a career in residential architecture. Amanda talked about how networking opened opportunities for her in her job search and her favorite projects throughout her time at Gibbs College.  

H: What drove you to the Gibbs College of Architecture (GCA)? 

A: I graduated from the OU College of Architecture in May 2021. I am originally from Austin, Texas… kind of enemy territory. But I knew early on that I wanted to study architecture. I began looking into colleges, kind of near home but not too close. After touring OU, I scheduled a private tour with the college. And it was with dean Hans Butzer. He gave us a great tour, some great wisdom… quickly, it just felt like home.  

H: What is your favorite project that you worked on while you were at Gibbs? 

A: Two different answers to that, I guess. My favorite project, as far as program requirements, the focus of the studio semester, those kinds of things, was the fifth-year, year-long studio project. And that was my favorite studio project, because of the focus of it, because we spent the majority of the fall semester researching northeast Oklahoma City. It’s the area just south of the Health Science Center. And so, we spent a lot of time researching a lot of the socioeconomics, culture, and history of that area. And then we got to spend the second semester, the spring semester, picking a specific program that we wanted to bring to that area, and designing that with everything we learned in the first semester in mind.

So that was probably my favorite project because not only did we get to pick our own program, but it was a very intentional decision. That was probably my favorite as far as the content of the semester. But also, the fall of fourth year, so design 7, was also one of my favorite semesters. And I think that was partially because we had two studio professors that worked well together, Dan Butko and Sam Callahan. They were both very passionate about the content of the semester because that’s when they really tried to give you a lot of technical knowledge before your preceptorship semester. For our year, we did the environmental education advocacy kind of center in Norman.  

It was a good combination. Dan Butko and Sam Callahan worked well together and just having a good studio environment like that made all the students enjoy being in studio more and work harder in our time in studio. The studio culture that they created was a big factor in enjoying that semester because of how much technical knowledge they brought into it as well. 

“The Teahouse Project,” model created by Amanda Young in Design V.

H: For prospective students that are reading or for first-year students or students that are newer in the program, what advice do you have for them as they’re going through architecture school and figuring out studio culture or architecture school in general? 

A: Let’s see, probably one of the biggest pieces of advice is to enjoy the time with your classmates. You’re going to spend so much time together throughout your five years that being able to have your peers not only be classmates but also be friends makes a huge difference. You’re all going to be in all the same classes for five years, spending time outside of studio hours in the studio together. Our class started with around 70 students I believe, and we graduated with 21 or 22 students.

By the time that we got down to such a small number, we became a very close-knit group. And even just earlier this afternoon, they were still sending messages in our group text and I’m still staying in touch. So that was a big factor and architecture is not an easy degree. I’m sure you can attest to that. But having all of your classmates be friends too makes it that much easier to learn together and makes everything a group effort.  

H: Yeah, and personally, they hold me accountable. Without my studio friends, there were some days that I just wouldn’t know assignments were due without a text in the group chat a few days before saying “Hey, have you finished that yet?” It’s like I had no idea that was due then. What was your favorite time of day to work during architecture school? 

A: Oh, that’s a tough one. I was never a big fan of the hours that the studio class was scheduled. I was obviously always there for class and taking part, but I always found that I worked better if I could take some time after class would end at 5:25 or 5:30, to go home, relax, eat dinner, and then, especially coming up on a big deadline, I always worked much better, late hours of the night, early morning. Our studio always had a microwave, a mini-fridge, and a Keurig. There were several days where I’d go home, cook a meal, put two or three servings worth packing in my backpack and take it to the studio for a midnight snack and breakfast again in the morning.  

H: When would you sleep? 

A: During midterms and finals week, it was kind of every other night sleeping kind of thing. But, you know, we’ve all gone through a final presentation or a midterm presentation without having slept at least one night before. Honestly, I kind of miss it, as strange as it sounds. Not necessarily all the workload, but I think it just comes back to our year had such a great studio culture from day one, that it was as much work and as productive as you could be throughout the night. It was still, I want to say, fun… which sounds totally crazy. Especially with COVID and being online for the entirety of our fifth year, and now being so far away from all my classmates. I am oddly nostalgic about some of the late nights in studio with the class.  

H: I do think that’s common among architecture grads, though. I don’t think you’re the only one.  

A: Yep. And you know, I’ve talked to some of my old friends and roommates, from college and from other majors, and none of them have said anything similar. But they’re also glad to be out and graduated and not dealing with homework and tests and all of that. There is a certain measure of, you know, being proud of what you’ve accomplished and being excited to be in the next phase of life and everything. But I think the College of Architecture and the nature of the degree, and our curriculum very much create a family, as cliche as that sounds. 

The photo above was taken by Amanda in Amsterdam during the “Gardens of Knowledge” study abroad program.

H: This next question is kind of tricky. What’s a critique that you’ve received over the course of your architecture school career that you’re proud of or that you made a positive change from? It’s easy to get discouraged after a harsh critique but hopefully, they always lead you somewhere better. 

A: I went into architecture school expecting it to be much more engineering-based. I’ve always loved math, I was excited to get into higher levels of calculus, all of that. In the first year, especially, when they advocated so much for more art-based skills, you know, drawing and model making, those kinds of things that were completely out of my realm. I look back at some of my first-year drawings, and they are embarrassing.  

H: I know, right? I feel the same way about my first and second-year work. 

A: I took it to heart because I came into college expecting that I could just study and learn how to be an architect like it was something I could do out of a book. When all the professors kept advocating so much for building dozens of foam cubes or redrawing the same building elevation 20 times, I didn’t fully understand it, because I was trying to come at it from more of an engineering perspective of “I can learn how to do a math problem. I can logic my way through it.” I had to take a new approach to all the studio assignments after that. 

H: Yeah, I completely understand where you’re coming from. 

H: What brings you to New York? 

A: I had a very short list of places that I wanted to end up, big cities, mostly in the northeast: New York, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Boston. Because I’m from Texas. So being somewhere totally different in the Northeast specifically was just exciting, something new, kind of out of my comfort zone, because even going to Oklahoma for college was out of my comfort zone at the time. This was just kind of the next big step pushing that, I guess. But I had known since I started architecture school that I really wanted to get into residential architecture and being in a bigger city in the northeast, New York, just kind of fit a lot of the criteria. But I applied to all those different cities and New York was just where it happened to work out. So, I ended up on Long Island, not quite in New York City.  

H: The Hamptons, right?  

A: Yes, I’m at the far end of Long Island, it probably would take about two hours to drive to the city if I wanted to. But this is the market, and this is the place for the kind of residential architecture that I was really hoping to get into.  

H: Well, you really lucked out. That’s so great. 

A: I got the job through another OU alum. I had reached out to Dr. Pilat in my last semester, so in the spring, and basically told her the same kind of thing, my short list of cities and what I wanted to do and just asked her for any advice, or any, networking or anything that she could help me with. And she gave me a couple of names and good contacts. She gave me the name of a recent Gibbs alum that had connections in New York State. She gave me the name of a firm she had worked for… and that’s the job I’m in now! 

H: Wow! That’s a great testament to networking within the college, as well.  

A: Yeah, that’s absolutely the biggest advice I would continue to give anyone is that our network of professors has so many connections outside of Oklahoma. That was a game-changer for me. 

H: What does your morning routine look like now that you’ve landed this job? 

A: I’m probably not the best person to ask that because I am not, and probably will never be, a morning person. I start my workday at 8 am and it takes me about an hour to get to work. I’m usually up by 5:45 or six o’clock, getting ready, getting breakfast, and I always must take my entire OU thermos full of coffee.  

H: Oh, of course.  

A: I usually have to be out the door by 7 am to get to work by eight. 

H: Do you drive or take the train? 

A: I drive. There’s not a lot of public transport out here on the east end because most of the people who live out here don’t have a need for public transport.  

H: Is it far or is there traffic? 

A: There’s a little bit of both. It’s only about 20 miles. But there’s a lot of zoning regulations on all the infrastructure out here. I couldn’t have had this phone call with you if I weren’t on Wi-Fi. The cell signal is terrible out here because no one wants to see a cell tower in their backyard when they’re paying so much money to live here. There’s a lot of small roads, and there are no major highways running out here. There’s just a lot of people trying to get in and out of the area to work that can’t necessarily live in the immediate area. 

H: That makes complete sense. When did you start working there? 

A: I started at the beginning of July.  

H: And what was the moving process like everything from Texas to New York? 

A: That was quite the process. I’m fortunate that my parents were willing and able to help me move up here. That was a game-changer. We rented a U-Haul, and I packed my Nissan Altima, full of stuff. And my parents packed the U-Haul. And we made a four-day road trip up here. It was a good chance to make some memories with them before I moved up here. But it was a long drive. It made me grateful that we have such easy access to plane tickets nowadays.  

Amanda Young went to Paris during the “Gardens of Knowledge” study abroad trip and snapped a photo of the Notre Dame Cathedral just two weeks after the fire.

H: Since being there, what’s one thing that you didn’t expect about living/working there?  

A: That’s a good question. I’ve had good experiences with all the people that I’ve met up here. Especially coming from somewhere that’s big on southern hospitality, like Texas, from my experience, there’s a big misconception of what people and the culture are like up here. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by a lot of kind people. 

H: And then is there anything about working there that you didn’t expect or that you wish you had put more time into learning? 

A: Not necessarily. I mean, I had applied to several jobs in New York. Most of them are in New York City. This was one of the few that I applied to on this far end of the island towards the Hamptons, but not too much.  

H: Do you think your intern experiences helped you prepare for it? 

A: Yes and no. It was a good insight into how an office works. Some of the professional conventions aren’t necessarily things we learn in school. But because the fields of architecture that I was in were very different, there was a lot I learned in my internship, but I don’t use it now. And a lot that I use now that I didn’t learn there. 

H: What design software does your company use?  

A: Revit, which I was very happy to hear because I’ve never used AutoCAD to this day. A lot of the residential firms that I’d interviewed without here in Texas were all AutoCAD.  

H: Really? That surprises me. 

A: Yeah, that was surprising. But they were mostly AutoCAD for construction documents, and then SketchUp models for renderings and client interfacing. So that was surprising. I was glad to hear in my interview that our firm uses almost exclusively Revit because my previous internship was with a much bigger firm that relied very, very heavily on Revit and that’s what I gained a lot of experience with. 

H: Is there anything from this firm and what they’re practicing that you can directly link back to your experience or your education at Gibbs? Or is there anything that you think could be done better, or taught more? 

A: Something that I wish we learned in school was working with more of a focused, intentional client. And I think that comes from working in private residential work now, where every project, every house, is for a specific client. We must come into it with an entirely blank slate and customize and build everything to a very specific client. I wish that was integrated more in school, instead of just giving a generic program with a general, public kind of client. I wish it was, even if it was a real community member that we were able to contact and someone that was willing to take part in that with us. A little bit more client interaction and feeling like we weren’t just designing some theoretical client but having that real kind of interaction.  

H: Yeah, absolutely. Was there anything that you can directly link back to? 

A: Yes, there is. Every project for us, at my firm, is so different, and we must use a lot of originality, a lot of questioning design practices, which is heavily emphasized at Gibbs.  

H: To sum that up, would you say that students at Gibbs are getting a sense of small-firm culture in their education? I can tell that you’re getting more direct design experience, not just working in Revit on red lines and such.  

A: Yes. And that is something I’m very, very grateful for is that I get to work directly on projects. Having this degree without my architecture license yet, I am a draftsperson. But the firm is great about letting me get my hands in every phase of design and doing a little bit of everything.  

H: Are they are supporting you through licensure and really trying to help you get there and was that something that you brought up in an interview as something that you really wanted to pursue? 

A: Yes, that was a big factor. For me, a big question in my interview was asking them how they incentivize that. And they’re very supportive of it; they reimburse you for exams, and you get PTO to go take your exams. They’re very encouraging about it because we are such a small firm, so it helps them greatly to have all their very few employees licensed.  

H: That’s great to hear! We need more licensed women architects. What kind of projects are you working on? You said, residential, I’m assuming that they’re for houses in the Hamptons.  

A: Yes, there’s a lot of high-end residential work up here. We do a combination of new construction and renovations and additions. We get a broad range of the scope of work. There’s a couple of projects that are homes 10,000+ square feet, and then there are projects all the way down to an elderly couple just wanting an extra five feet onto their kitchen so they could host more of their grandkids for dinner. So yeah, I get a whole broad range of projects and scope.  

H: And what were you working on today? 

A: Today, I was doing an electric plan for a renovation. There was an addition to a house, and we took the very steep Gable of the roof and brought it up into two large dormers that ran the entire length of the house, tripling the square footage of their second floor, so I was working on that electric plan for that, as well as the framing plan and window schedule so that they can get all of that to the contractor.  

H: Wow, quite a lot in one day! 

A: Yeah, we’re staying busy! After I started working for our office, we hired another drafter. That was something I was really excited about, having another co-worker my age- someone that was going through all the same things I was, and the inevitable learning curve. We’re learning day by day together. 

H: Yeah, well that’s great that they’re willing to take on so many new employees. 

H: It does, it does. Lastly, what is the biggest piece of advice that you would give to upcoming graduates who are going into the job search? 

A: The biggest and best piece of advice is to use your professors. Throughout your degree, take the time to get to know them. Because I wouldn’t be here, I wouldn’t be in the job that I’m in if I hadn’t taken the time and gotten involved and spent five years getting to know Dr. Pilat and some of the other professors. The network that our faculty and the diverse backgrounds that they come from is an incredible tool, and I think a lot of students do not see that. So that was a big, big help. Something that I couldn’t be where I am without it. But also, to that same kind of point is to set a goal to dream big. There’s no requirement that you must work for whatever firm comes to the career fair and their office is in Texas or Oklahoma. There’s nothing about our degree that says you must stay nearby. And that was important to me, getting out and finding new experiences and new places.

My advice is, if there’s somewhere you want to be or a field you want to be in, don’t feel like you must settle for any job. And when you’re in a job interview, remember that you’re interviewing the firm just as much as they’re interviewing you. I did interviews with other residential firms that were not nearly the same kind of culture that I was lucky enough to end up in. You must interview the firm for not only their type of work and things you can read off their website but their culture, their environment, those kinds of things. Set your dreams, set them high, and use your professors to help you get there. 

H: Thank you, Amanda, for taking time out of your busy day to chat with me and providing some perspective for recent grads.  

Editor’s note: This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.