APLA Career Placement Strong Despite Pandemic-Related Disruption

For graduates of Auburn’s School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture (APLA), 2020 promised to be a good year for job opportunities. “We were coming off an amazing year,” said Crystal Jalil, Career Services Specialist. “We came from the largest career fair we had ever hosted and we felt very confident that it was going to be a great year for job placement. The firms had so much work and needed to add staff.” But when COVID-19 hit, everything changed for APLA seniors. Job prospects diminished, internships were cancelled and graduation ceremonies were postponed. Through it all, APLA’s Office of Career Services continued to support students and help them manage the situation.

As soon as Jalil realized that the job market was completely different due to the pandemic, she began scheduling information sessions for each of the school’s four undergraduate majors, which are architecture, interior architecture, landscape architecture and environmental design. During these sessions, school leaders – including College of Architecture, Design and Construction Dean Vini Nathan, Associate Dean Ben Farrow and APLA head Christian Dagg – sought to encourage students. “They gave our students more positive things to think about that set the tone for our graduating seniors,” Jalil said. “I think that kept them focused and engaged in their career search.”

Students who had over a dozen interviews at the February 2020 APLA Career Fair would normally be expecting multiple job offers, but Jalil used the information sessions to encourage them to accept any offers right away instead of waiting until graduation. Consequently, in architecture the job placement rate for 2020 graduates, whether at an actual firm or in some sort of related field, was an impressive 91%. In environmental design it rose to 94% and for landscape architecture graduates it was 100%.

An additional concern for Jalil was the sudden and unexpected job placement needs of the fifth-year architecture students at APLA’s off-campus design-build program at Rural Studio in Newbern, Alabama. Rural Studio students don’t typically have to do much job searching because the skills and connections they develop in that in that program make them uniquely attractive to employers. However, Spring 2020 Rural Studio projects were cancelled due to COVID, and when those students found they needed to start job hunting immediately they reached out to APLA Career Services for help.

Architecture students normally do several internships throughout their careers, but almost all of those were cancelled in the summer of 2020. Jalil encouraged students to spend the summer working on other professional development activities like fine-tuning past work, developing portfolios, pursuing passion projects and reading books. Some students took advantage of design firms offering online master classes and seminars that were not normally available to students. Magdalena Garmaz, the environmental design (ENVD) program chair, said that career education is also built into the curriculum. “In addition to support from Career Services, ENVD students benefited from having ENVD 4500, a class that focuses on producing well-designed resumes and e-portfolios,” she stated. “They also learn about different job search and interview strategies through a series of ENVD alumni presentations.”

Things are now beginning to return to normal for APLA students. Many students participated in the virtual career fair held in late February 2021, completing an average of 10 interviews each. It’s important for employers to meet potential employees face to face, so Career Services invited firms who participated in the virtual career fair to conduct follow up meetings with students on campus in person. “Our curriculum is based on teaching students to be nimble and adaptable and using their design thinking skills in non-design situations as well as design ones,” Garmaz said. “The COVID era put that to test, and we can see that they navigated this difficult time extraordinarily well, receiving internships and job offers.”