For Senior Recruiter Tanner Roland, supporting the next generation of architects, engineers and designers that come from underrepresented communities is not just a personal career goal–it’s a commitment to promoting permanent change in the A/E industry. It’s also why she is leading a firmwide effort at Gresham Smith to strengthen our recruitment efforts at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).
Tanner’s passion for this initiative comes from a childhood story that her father would always tell. The story of Paul Revere Williams, a Black architect from the 1950s, who had to sit across the table from his clients and draw upside down to make them feel comfortable. Despite Paul Revere Williams designing some of the most famous buildings in Hollywood, including Frank Sinatra’s home and the Beverly Hills Hotel, he knew he would never be able to enjoy some of the luxuries he placed in his designs because of discrimination, yet he pressed on anyway. It instilled in Tanner a drive to help future generations of Black architects, engineers and designers secure opportunities to advance their careers.
We recently caught up with Tanner to learn more about the steps that Gresham Smith is taking to rebuild our HBCU recruitment program, and how the firm is going to champion a more diverse generation of architects and engineers.
Why do you want to focus on recruiting students specifically from HBCUs?
Tanner Roland: The diversity that we could bring to the firm will really allow us to bring different ideas of thought into what we’re creating and how we’re creating it. The architects, designers and engineers that we have in place here at Gresham Smith—I think of Carla Holmes, Asia Allen and many others— prove that representation matters. Those are our great grandparents’ wildest dreams, so why are we not providing more opportunities for young people who aspire to be just like them?
It’s also no secret that Black Americans have faced different challenges throughout life, so why not bring those different thoughts, experiences and mindsets to the table?
And finally, geographic location matters. Students in Arkansas and Oklahoma may not have the same type of exposure or opportunities that someone in Maryland might have. I think about the conversations that my parents have and the history that they carry, and I love that. We must make sure that we’re honoring and building off the legacy they left for us, and giving these students opportunities, no matter their background.
“I say ‘diversity of thought’ all the time, but that’s what it is and that’s what we need – different avenues for creativity.”
What is Gresham Smith’s strategy for this initiative?
Tanner: We want to target the top HBCUs for architecture and engineering. The biggest thing for me, is that I want to make sure we’re building relationships and not just popping up at career fairs. I want us to be fully integrated with their programs. I want to know the professors. I want to know what’s happening on campus. I want to know student leaders and how we can benefit from them. On the other hand, I also want to get our architects and engineers on campus, engaging with students, attending events, sponsoring students to go to conferences, and more. It’s all about building relationships and thinking about the long term. I don’t want it just to be us picking students, dropping in once a year, and not having that strong presence that I know we can have.
Has the firm already taken steps to get this program started?
Tanner: Right now, the biggest thing that we’re doing is trying to get on campus for the career fair at every school we have targeted, and to start making those connections with the top person in each program. From there, I want to streamline it to “Who do we need to know? Who do we need to embed ourselves with in order to help them help us?” I also want to make sure that, long term, we’re engaged on the front end. How can we help get students interested in architecture, engineering and design from the get-go? I’m still getting my feet wet here at Gresham Smith, having only been here about three months. I know we have a ways to go, but I also know that we can get there, and we’re dedicated to getting there.
How will having a more diverse population help us overall as a firm?
Tanner: I say ‘diversity of thought’ all the time, but that’s what it is and that’s what we need—different avenues for creativity. We also need to mimic what we see out there in the real world, and if we really want to ingrain ourselves into these communities, we must make sure we are representing the community. We can’t talk the talk and guess what a community needs. We need to actually walk the walk.
Who are the team members that are making this happen?
Tanner: This is a monumental lift, and the only way this will be successful is if we have engagement firmwide. Our CEO Rodney Chester, our COO Peter Oram, and the other members of our executive management team are fully engaged, and I am so thankful for their support. The senior leadership teams in each of our markets are also fully supportive. I would not be able to do this without my recruiting partners Brandon Salas, Brooke Stevens and Marty Lovgren. But again, it’s a monumental lift that will take the entire firm. I’m excited about what we have coming, and I’m honored that I get to lead the charge.
How can Gresham Smith use its platform and voice to help bring more lasting and permanent change to the A/E Industry?
Tanner: I think one of the biggest things that Gresham Smith can do is be intentional in our actions and in the steps we take. Get involved in conversations, promote change, show the industry and others that this is not just a statement we are putting out. We need to show our progress forward as well.
If you want to find out more about Tanner, click here.