Bringing equity, diversity and inclusion to the forefront: How EDI-oriented programming can set the table for the next generation of AEC leaders

Wold Team

At Wold, we believe in the power of architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) to unite communities and elevate innovative ideas from varied backgrounds. To best serve our partners, we are constantly seeking ways to incorporate a wide range of voices into our work.

The construction and engineering industry has seen an increase in participation by women and persons of color in recent years, and we believe companies like Wold should promote the advancement of equal opportunity for all groups. We recognize the impactful contributions that employees from diverse backgrounds make to our company, and we're committed to furthering our initiatives to expand inclusivity in our organization. In the piece below, we are sharing a few ways our team is contributing to a more diverse, equitable and inclusive future for the AEC industry.

Living up to standards that create equity

One strategy is that we have created an internal equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) committee whose goal is to create more equitable, diverse and inclusive experiences and environments for our communities and our firm.

Our committee focuses on three areas:

  • Knowledge: Aligning with our core value to learn every day by providing tools, resources and training to equip our firm to be more equitable, diverse, and inclusive.
  • Practice: Examining and advancing our current practices and processes to create equitable, inclusive spaces that holistically serve our clients and communities.
  • Advocacy: Empowering staff, students, and communities through tangible opportunities and meaningful activities that foster equity, diversity, and inclusion within our professions.

The entire committee meets once a month, with an additional monthly meeting for each subcommittee. By reviewing internal practices, recommending improvements, organizing training sessions & guest speakers, and advocating in the community with events, we take concrete steps toward a more diverse future for Wold.

The EDI Committee’s dedication to finding new opportunities to incorporate more diverse voices in our work has led to many initiatives and opportunities outlined below.

Partnerships with minority and women-owned businesses

Our firm is passionate about creating an inclusive workplace that promotes, celebrates and supports the diverse voices of our employees and consultants. Nearly 65% of our projects include minority/women-owned business enterprise (M/WBE) team members. We are proud to have worked with these W/MBE teams for many years and are committed to continuing these partnerships for the long term.

Offering scholarships to empower future generations of architects and engineers

We are committed to fostering positive change in the communities we serve. In line with this mission, Wold recently initiated annual scholarships for students pursuing degrees in architecture, design and/or engineering through partnerships with local universities for our offices in Illinois and Tennessee. Additionally, the scholarships are designed to support underrepresented students, promote diversity within the profession and cultivate the future generation of leaders through impactful educational experiences. Recipients are carefully chosen based on their academic achievements and demonstrated financial need.

In 2022, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign student Airyanna Jeanine Eason was awarded the first scholarship of the Wold Architects and Engineers Scholarship Fund. Airyanna’s dedication to her education and future as an architect made her a valuable addition to the team when she also joined our intern program in Palatine, Illinois this year. Then, this fall, we awarded a scholarship to Flavio Ceja Guiterrez. We are proud to be a partner with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and to support Airyanna and Flavio through the scholarship and meaningful early career experiences with our team.

IL Scholarship Recipient

For the first time in 2023, we announced the addition of a scholarship program at the University of Tennessee Knoxville (UTK). UTK student Dexter Gladney was named a recipient of the Wold Architects and Engineers Scholarship Fund for our Tennessee office. Gladney, in his final year at UTK, is a standout student pursuing his bachelor's degree in architecture. He currently serves as president of the university’s Omega Psi Phi fraternity. He has also been an active member of the Student Government Association (SGA) at UTK since his freshman year and served as a senator in the SGA for the College of Art and Architecture.

TN Scholarship Recipient

“I am honored to receive this scholarship from Wold and am excited to put it toward purchasing supplies and digital programs necessary for my education,” said Dexter Gladney. “I’m extremely passionate about the architecture industry, and this support will help me grow within the field as I prepare to pursue my career after graduating.”

We know how important scholarships are for students in our communities and how life-changing financial assistance for college students can be as they seek support for their education and opportunities to pursue their passions. That’s why we continue to contribute additional resources and financial support to ensure the continuity of these scholarship programs each year.

Intentionally engaging high school students to encourage connections and spark aspirations

A challenge to increasing the diversity in the AEC industry is exposure and access to the industry for students, especially for high school students, as they evaluate what career to pursue. One way we are helping to provide opportunities early on is through participating in the Achieve Minneapolis STEP-UP program. This program places hundreds of youth in the Twin Cities in paid internships in areas of their interest and sets them up for career success. As part of this program, we host several high school students over the summer each year to provide opportunities, training, and exposure to working in AEC that will help them pursue their professional aspirations and potentially lead to a more diverse, skilled and equitable workforce.

MN Step-up Interns

This year, Wold’s own Jacob Wollensak was named “STEP-UP Supervisor of the Year” for his dedication to shaping future leaders! Focused on ways he can give back, Jake is an active member of our internal Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) committee.

Jake says, "Aside from establishing meaningful relationships with our youth, these opportunities expose them to the field of architecture and engineering and have the potential to spark an interest that opens up new possibilities and becomes a catalyst in their emerging careers."

Additionally, we seek out opportunities to establish long-term mentorships via the ACE Mentorship Program, an initiative our Minnesota and Tennessee offices participate in each year. We know the cornerstone of our team’s success is working and learning together, so by embracing this, we are able to make meaningful connections with students interested in the AEC industry through this program. Our team is here to support these future leaders on their paths to becoming the next design professionals.

Actively participating in the advancement of young architects and engineers

Aside from students near graduation, we also strive to provide access to AEC career experience and knowledge to students even earlier than high school. Two opportunities we value to connect with youth interested in the AEC industry are through different summer camps. Our Illinois office sends a handful of team members each summer to I-NOMA’s Project Pipeline camp for a fulfilling week of intense AEC work and education aimed at middle school students in the greater Chicago area. The students learn about our industry through drawing, model construction, diagramming, site visits and a cumulative project to address a relevant issue in their city, and we are always proud to see for ourselves just how bright the future of AEC is in Illinois.

Our Minnesota office also participates in PACER Center’s EX.I.T.E. camp each year. PACER, whose mission includes expanding learning opportunities for children with disabilities, holds the EX.I.T.E. camp to provide a safe and inclusive learning environment for young women interested in STEM fields, including architecture, engineering and construction. We are grateful to send team members to connect with these courageous young women as they explore their passion for AEC work.

Wold EX.I.T.E Camp Volunteer

Our deep engagements and partnerships in our communities, especially in schools, allow us to connect with a wide array of aspiring future architects, engineers and designers. We often get involved in school career day events, speak in classrooms and sometimes take students to see work being done in their own buildings. We are honored to be able to provide opportunities to help them develop into future leaders in our industry.

Providing internships and support to create direct, long-lasting connections

We also have a nationwide summer internship program to allow college students of diverse backgrounds to engage in AEC work. In our program, which spans all of our offices across the country, a student is connected with a specific team member and a project to see through to the end of the program. We view interns as full team members and strive to provide them with an authentic experience of working in the AEC industry. Interns participate in a variety of work depending on the team they are placed with, including design/Revit work, attending client meetings, participating in firm-wide design reviews and more. Interns also visit construction sites to learn more about the process so they can see first-hand how a once-empty lot can turn into a new school, city hall or community center.

2023 summer interns reflected on their time with Wold, noting the support they received from the team during their internships:

We are always excited to welcome candidates who are curious and creative with a desire to learn. Most importantly, we are constantly looking to incorporate unique, new voices in our company, which is why we continue to make connections with interns and young architects of diverse backgrounds. Our internship program is not just meant to give students a place to work for the summer; we believe each up-and-coming architect, engineer and designer has a part of themselves to share with our firm and that we have experience, opportunities and knowledge to share with them. Through this exchange, we hope to inspire the next generation of professionals to be inclusive and equitable and create spaces that reflect those same values.

Changing the future of our industry one student at a time

By bringing younger minds into the fold at every level – whether in-house with our own internship opportunities or by going out into the community to connect with young future architects, engineers and designers – we expose our industry to new and diverse voices. This, in turn, brings new ideas and perspectives to our profession. As we look to a generation of up-and-coming AEC professionals from a wider array of backgrounds than ever before, we believe there is an extraordinary opportunity for firms and newcomers alike to learn from one another.

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