Welcome to the latest feature of Kermit Says… On the first Sunday of every month, Kermit Says… will highlight an individual who is making positive contributions in his or her community. Want to be in the spotlight or nominate someone else? Send a brief email to firstname.lastname@example.org and describe who you are, where you’re from, and why you should be featured! Who knows…you could be next.
It’s hard to believe that nearly ten years ago, Nichae’ Whitenhill was an aspiring architect pouring blood, sweat, and tears—literally—into her final thesis project at Hampton University, an elite historically Black college in Hampton, Virginia. Whitenhill’s out-of-the-box thinking, penchant for all things Wright, and downright determination collectively ushered her from Chicago’s south side to an esteemed position with NASA.
Don’t get me wrong, her journey hasn’t been easy. In fact, the road to becoming a licensed architect is pretty difficult. With just 7% of licensed architects in the United States, 2% are African Americans, and less than 2% are women. While these statistics are staggering, Ms. Whitenhill, 30, remains undaunted and offers Kermit Says… readers a closer look into the world of architecture!
When did you know you wanted to be an architect? Why?
I decided to become an architect at the age of 7. When I was younger, I would travel with my family and was inspired by architecture from all over the world. I had a chance to see just how big the world is, and I wanted to be a part it. Ultimately, I think a lot of my vision and drive comes from [familial] support. I have an uncle who is an architect and he would always talk about Frank Lloyd Wright, and when I saw [Wright’s] work, I fell in love. Within my family I had role models—doctors, lawyers, architects—so it was just a matter of me choosing the role I wanted to play…and I saw and still see myself vividly in the world of architecture.
Tell me about your journey to being an architect.
I’m from the south side of Chicago, the “wild 100s,” so, aside from my family, I was not surrounded by architects. I was surrounded by people who wanted to be police officers and people who were content with being [illegal] pharmacists. There weren’t many kids in my neighborhood who wanted to be architects, marine biologists—it just isn’t common in that area. And when you do dare to go after such an uncommon [dream], you stand out. Standing out is scary for a lot of people, especially teenagers, but it’s important to be vivid with what you want to do. Write it down. Stick to your plan. You may be derailed, but never let anyone take you off your task. The truth is, I constantly face adversity and have to prove myself everyday. Being a Black, female architect certainly comes with its challenges, but I’m here to make a statement…I’m here to make a change. Having the chance to see much of the world at such a young age has given me so much, and it’s also inspired me to return, give back to my community and others like it, and plant the seed.
What’s one thing you wish you knew then that you know now?
I think I’m still figuring that out—I don’t think there’s one answer. I should be growing everyday, and if I’m not, then it’s time to reroute the plan. I suppose that’s what I’ve realized: if things aren’t working out, go back to the blueprint and make adjustments.
Any advice for budding architects?
Focus on math! They always say “women aren’t the greatest at math.” In my case, math was hard, but if you have faith in yourself, you will come out on top. Attend lectures. Remember to be encouraged—you’ll have moments where you think it will never end, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
What are some words of wisdom you would like to leave with Kermit Says… readers?
Chase your dream. Stay true to yourself. Don’t worry about anything else. If you don’t figure out your dream within a reasonable amount of time, that’s okay! Keep going.