Considering Fellowship: A Peek Behind the Process


Phil Gerou, FAIA

As we approach 2022 and evaluate professional goals for the coming year, we invite you to learn more about and consider AIA Fellowship.

But what is an AIA Fellow? How does one achieve Fellowship? And what is the role of the College of Fellows Nominating Committee? Beyond our webinar, “Demystifying Fellowship,” we wanted to know even more about the process, so we caught up with Phil Gerou, FAIA, who heads the College of Fellows Nominating Committee. Read on as he sheds light on the submission process, offers tips, and shoots us straight on its exclusivity.

Why does Fellowship matter?

It is the highest recognition, other than the gold medal award, given to architects recognizing their work, their service, and volunteerism. It is not an award for longevity in the profession, but for merit and effort.

What is the role of the Fellowship Nominating Committee?

The committee tracks eligible AIA Colorado members, length of membership, membership activity, and they encourage select members to apply. What else does the committee do? A lot. They even preview submissions and help coach applicants to have a better chance of being elevated. It is time consuming and arduous. The committee is there to review preliminary submittals, offer suggestions, advice, and assistance to be moved forward to the national level.

Is Fellowship awarded to young architects?

Actually, yes. The average age in Colorado, which is in line with the national average is 55 years old. The youngest person in Colorado to receive Fellowship was 41, and that was nearly 40 years ago. Colorado also has the distinction of the oldest person being awarded at 84 years old. That was Temple Buell. DC has awarded Fellowship to someone 36 and Baltimore to someone 38 years old. It takes time to build up your volunteer work, and you have to be a member for 10 years, although not consecutively.

Fellowship carries an air of elitism. How can that be changed?

It is a prestigious award and takes effort to submit and be approved nationally. Fellowship is greater than your body of work. It is about what you give back with, and that is rather humble.

With justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (J.E.D.I.) an imperative of this association, how is the Fellowship Committee working toward being more inclusive?

Locally and nationally, the AIA is working to be inclusive, and fellowship is reflecting that change.

For more than 30 years, the Fellows Nominating Committee has been representative of the AIA Colorado membership and has welcomed new members whenever they have expressed an interest in our objectives and a willingness to contribute time and insights.

Colorado is unique in having a Fellowship Committee that is dedicated to elevating its architects to this level. Colorado is one of few states to have a local chapter that supports Fellowship. In 1992, it was realized that it had been 6+ years since anyone from the state had been nominated. The Fellows Nominating Committee was formed and has been active ever since. The first year, 1993, they put forward six names, and all six made it. The committee is there to encourage Fellowship to lay out a path for fellowship and to assist with the process.

This committee keeps track of all AIA Colorado members to be there to work with and assist you when you are ready.

How does an AIA member get to Fellowship?

You showcase your volunteerism. It is more about how you give back beyond your daily work life; it is what you give and do with your community, to students, by mentoring, or by speaking and writing. It is partly about speaking to groups and through writing. It is not just about your body of work.

There are very specific criteria outlined by the AIA. There are six Objects of Nomination. The most common objects are one and two.

What tips do you have for applicants?

 1.) If you are working for a large firm, utilize templates they have in place and get support from the firm with your application. 2.) Hire a writer to work with you. This comes with a price tag—upwards of $10k. 3.) Write it yourself. You know your own story. You have to plan on carving out the time it takes to tell that story. Not all architects are good at telling their own stories. That is why the committee is there and they have been keeping an eye on you and know what you do. They are there to help you get there.

Gerou warns that the process is a long one, and it requires you to tell your true story. Who, what, when, why, how? Prove it. Those interested in submitting should plan to spend about a year preparing a submission.

If you are interested in helping others become Fellows and want to work with a dedicated group, reach out to Phil Gerou, FAIA to get involved.

About the Author

Holly Hall

Holly Hall, AIA, has been practicing architecture for 20+ years, working on a variety of project types, K-12, higher education, tenant improvement, recreation, and residential. Over the past 10 years, she has focused on delivering quality commercial interior projects and using the technical skills gained to resolve programming and design problems. Building strong teams and lasting relationships is key to the success of her projects.

Hall is an active member of the AIA Colorado Editorial Committee and the Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee.

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