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This post is part of our fall 2019 blOAAg series, Amazing Mentorship Stories. To see previous articles, click here.
Who are you?
I’m Toon Dreessen, an architect in Ottawa and an OAA Past President. I completed the IAP in early 2005 when it was still the older (5700-hour?) NCARB/ARE exam process. Once licensed, I continued to work full time for an architecture practice while running my own (non-competing) practice that was an evolution of freelance work from school and my IAP days.
Who is your mentor?
My official mentor was Jane Thompson, Architect. She showed me how a practice could grow and thrive while raising a family. My oldest child was born before I started second-year architecture, so balancing family and school—and later, family, school and work—was tough; Jane showed me that it was possible.
Unofficially, Jane continued to be a mentor as my practice grew. Since then, I’ve added others in a mentoring capacity. This is essential to being in practice, or in business, as it provides a network of seasoned professionals to whom I can turn for advice, leadership or examples of excellence. My network includes OAA Past Presidents John Stephenson and Sheena Sharp, as well as retired architects Douglas Clancey and Robert Webster, and Darryl Condon, Architectural Institute of British Columbia (AIBC) Past President.
How did you find your mentor?
In my fourth year of architecture, I did a one-term co-op type session and was assigned Jane’s office as my workplace. We stayed in touch ever since.
Doug was my boss for five years and I met John on an OAA committee, and we then served on OAA Council together. Sheena and I also served on OAA Council together, and Darryl and I met on the national stage on committees and workshops
What was your last meet up?
It has been a long time since I had a need for a formal mentor, but Jane and I bump into each other periodically at local architecture events in Ottawa. I have coffee or lunch with Doug a few times per year, and we stay in touch. John, Darryl and I serve on a national committee together, so are in touch on a regular basis. Sheena and I talk monthly.
In what ways has your mentor helped you?
All have helped me become a better person, and a better architect.
Jane showed me how to take on work, run a small practice and balance the needs of family and work; she helped me understand the challenges of a small practice.
Doug helped me understand ethics and leadership and the need to understand technical aspects of the profession to which I had never been exposed, as well as how to have a design vision, stick to it and correlate specifications, drawings and details to create excellence.
John helps me understand the challenges of business, practice scale and leadership.
All three are friends with whom I can share life experiences and from whom I can learn. Darryl runs the sort of practice I aspire to be—one with high social impact; his practice is something on which I aspire to model my own. Sheena, similarly, runs a practice with high sustainability objectives, which is something I admire.
What is the best advice you have received from a mentor?
From my mentors, there’s not one specific thing, but rather a lifetime of advice, input and feedback. Maybe the best thing someone told me is to take it one step at a time—to not take on more than I can handle, and to take calculated risks to grow.
What makes a great mentor?
A great mentor is open to the needs of the mentee, and makes themselves available to help them find their path (rather than remake a mentee in their own image). It’s important to be available to provide guidance and advice when the mentee needs it, and be able to meet with, or collaborate with, the mentee’s employer to make sure they get the exposure they need for a balanced IAP.
How will you serve as a mentor later in your career?
I am available to mentor (formally thru the IAP) those interested. It’s important to have a conversation with a candidate to understand what they want out of the relationship—if it’s a biannual “signing of the record book,” then the conversation can only go so far. It’s important to find a way to have a conversation about the future of the profession, the growth of knowledge and depth of experience needed to be successful. I hope to continue mentoring (unofficially) staff members by providing examples, leading change and showing how to engage in constructive dialogues that leave the world in a better place.
Architects interested in becoming mentors can submit their names and contact information to firstname.lastname@example.org. To find a mentor, watch for networking events, search for architects by city on Discover an Architect or email email@example.com.