Careers: Samantha Rich

Emma Brain & Samantha Rich , 14 September 2022

CareerTrackers placements with Lendlease and SJB gave Samantha Rich valuable real-world experience, feedback and skills she could immediately draw upon when she left university.

Samantha Rich has built an atypical career path, splitting her time freelancing in architecture studios or working on community housing projects. This model allows her to work in practice while undertaking research projects that seek to improve the daily lives of First Nations people.

Initially, Sam didn’t know what she wanted to do when she left school. Her father, an engineer in the mining industry, was not keen on her following his path. She studied sociology before shifting over to architecture, attracted by the versatility of the profession and knowing that every day will be different.

Sam first heard about the CareerTrackers program through Nura Gili, UNSW’s Centre for Indigenous Programs. ‘I reached out to them, and I was like, “Hey, I’m really interested in getting an internship or cadetship. Do you know of anything?” They pointed me in the direction of CareerTrackers. It was a great opportunity to get my foot in the door and get practical, real-world experience.’

‘I worked at two different companies during my undergraduate degree. I started at Lendlease and then moved on to SJB. Both firms were interesting. Lendlease was doing a lot of pro bono work for communities and, thankfully, the architecture directors put me on to those projects. I got to start work on the type of projects that I really wanted to be working on. And then SJB was at a much smaller scale, but I could look at the nitty gritty of a project, the detail, and things like that. I was fortunate to have two quite diverse experiences.’

The importance of support

As Sharon Hiserman from CareerTrackers outlined in our earlier interview, it’s critical that businesses involved in the program offer meaningful support to their interns, providing a culturally safe environment and supportive manager and team. Sam had good support from both Lendlease and SJB. At SJB, she was seated next to younger architects, which made it easier to build friendships and ask questions.

While most participating practices take on a CareerTrackers intern during semester break, Sam worked during holidays and two to three days a week during semester. The workload was tiring but ultimately benefited her progress at uni. ‘At SJB they gave me the responsibility of coordinating consultants on a small multi-residential project. I didn’t want to say no, because it was an amazing experience, but it was a lot to handle in my final year. But I soon learnt how to prioritise my time, how to cut off from university, how to cut off from design and turn over to production. And that lesson in time management is something I carried through to my Masters. It was a really good lesson.’

Sam’s support from CareerTrackers was equally positive and included weekly check-ins and advice on how to manage situations in the workplace. ‘At the end of your internship, they’re like, okay, have a conversation with your manager about how you’ve done. They’re constantly giving support on how to navigate things that a lot of us would otherwise have to figure out along the way.’

Sam finished her undergraduate degree with quality experience in two well respected firms. It was a great thing for her resume but also gave her a unique set of practical skills: ‘I learned things like Rhino and Illustrator. It helped me to be better equipped when finding a new job.’

  • David Gough & Samantha Rich in front of the palawa lina they designed for MONA FOMA in 2020.

Attracting more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander architecture students

Our final question to Sam was something we’ve been contemplating at the ACA for some time: how do we as a profession encourage more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students to consider architecture as a career?

Sam’s answer was thoughtful and should be applied to the profession more broadly. ‘I wanted to work on projects in communities to give back and so I think showing that there’s that opportunity to give back to communities through this profession is really important. You know, you see lots of people going into things like health or law or teaching because it has this strong connection to giving back and I think that really needs to be embedded in our work and to show that the profession is beyond capital A architecture; it’s about providing houses for everyone. And then, through the embedding of Indigenous narratives and stories of place, and working with Elder and Indigenous communities on projects, you start to get a feeling that this is a profession that accepts your values and culture.’

Sam made the point that architecture is not an easy degree, nor is it cheap, and that this may be a barrier to people considering the profession as a career. Support such as scholarships enable people to focus on their studies, and more practical experience could be integrated into a degree.

‘I did something with Engineers Australia, where they went out to a high school and did all of these fun practical experiments that demonstrated the different types of engineering. And I thought, “why can’t we do this with students as well?” I think these kinds of initiatives are really valuable, particularly for school students like me, who don’t know what they want to do. Having more of these kinds of exercises that show the versatility of the profession is important, not just for STEM, but for creative industries, too.’

Managing cultural load

Sam’s last point is critical for a practice to address before taking onboard a CareerTrackers student: ‘I think it’s really important to educate the firm and staff to make sure that they’re creating a supportive environment for an intern to join. There’s often a heavy cultural load on people that come through the program; they’re often the only Indigenous or Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander person in the company. It’s important to educate staff on appropriate terminology – you know, the things that you can and can’t ask someone. It’s important to start growing that knowledge before you decide to take someone onboard.’

And then, once you’ve taken on a student, it’s important to be aware of the capacity of that person, particularly regarding Indigenous issues. ‘Unfortunately, there are very few Indigenous architects and some firms will expect you to take the lead on cultural design and engagement. It’s important to not put too much on a student, because they’re still learning and growing. Personally, I had to work with other Indigenous architects to understand this type of work and to connect my cultural knowledge with my architectural training.’