June 9, 2013 Who is Amy Howard?

Director of Development, College of Architecture and Design, Knoxville

It’s only May, and Amy Howard has marked two things off her bucket list this year. I caught up with the Development Director for the College of Architecture and Design (COAD) one morning to learn more about her work at the College that she calls “a unique place where science and art collide.”

You became the College of Architecture and Design’s development director after being a grad student here. How did that happen?

A miracle.

Probably not! You worked on the Solar Decathlon house as a student. What is that? I have visions of sun-worshipping athletes…?

The Solar Decathlon is a US Department of Energy-sponsored competition that challenges collegiate teams to build energy efficient homes. Over 200 students worked on UT’s Living Light house in two years. I was the Project Manager on Living Light, and I was invited to visit potential donors, which sparked my interest in fundraising. Our goal was $1.5 million, and we achieved that with some left over to support the outreach tour.

We built the Living Light house as one unit, and Powell Construction drove it up to the National Mall in Washington DC for us. It was a wonderful moment when we pulled back the curtain.

What was the reaction?

When our competitors realized it was all in one piece, there was definitely a ‘Whoo’ factor!

You earned a Master’s in Architecture in 2010 and became the COAD development director in 2011. What is it like, fundraising with architects and being one yourself?

Alumni love to talk about the intense studio experience—how the building is always unlocked and the lights are always on. They love to talk about the friendships they built while working late. I think it helps that I’ve done that, too.

Besides having common experiences, I am excited to tell our stories that are making national headlines. There’s the Solar Decathlon House (still on exhibit at the UT Gardens in Knoxville), the New Norris House, and the current search for a Governor’s Chair. The Governor’s Chair will be a joint academic appointment between UT COAD and ORNL. He or she will be a recognized expert in energy efficiency and high performance urban environments…ideally, a practitioner who brings real-world experience to teaching.

Another great aspect of COAD is our three disciplines under one roof: architecture, interior design, and landscape architecture. Students learn by working with colleagues across disciplines, which they will do once they get into the profession.

What challenges are you facing?

The design and construction industry was severely impacted during the economic downturn. When clients do not have the funds to build or renovate, it trickles down through a wide range of professions and businesses. The last few years have been very tough.

How tough is “tough”?

One design organization estimated the 2010 unemployment rate to be around 24%. Many firms saw deep salary cuts. Some firm owners even cut their own salaries entirely to keep their doors open. It does seem to be improving – the AIA recently released a report noting significant changes in employment for emerging professionals, and we are seeing a much larger number of students receiving interviews and job offers.

What do you need most right now for COAD?

The pressing need is support for scholarships and fellowships that will allow us to recruit the right students. We also would like support for special projects—like the New Norris House—that have helped the College gain recognition across the country.

Additionally, international travel is becoming mandatory for architects in training. We want to help students get there.

So, you like your job?

Fundraising for COAD? It’s a dream condition. Architecture is my passion, and to form relationships between the College that gave me so much and its alumni is rewarding. I also love learning about alumni projects. UT COAD alumni have worked in Haiti, on energy efficiency in China, and on the London Olympic venues, to name a few.

What do you enjoy doing when you are not at work?

Reading. I like biographical novels and classics, like Jane Austen.

You don’t look like you spend much time in an armchair.

Well, I did run my first half-marathon in Nashville last week. And I’ll have more leisure time now that I’m a licensed architect! I took the seven exams required by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards over the past year, and I just got my registration in the mail last week. So I can put AIA after my name.

Links of Interest

Originally published by the UT Foundation here. Written by Jane. S. Gulley.