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Pasadena Architecture Scholarship Nearly Triples in Size Thanks to Retired Architect, Donors

Published on Wednesday, August 12, 2020 | 12:55 pm
Fall 2019 AIA Pasadena & Foothill Jean Roth Driskel Scholarship recipient Abrianna Aiken of the University of Southern California, left, and Fall 2019 scholarship recipient Emilio Bustos Jr., right, of East Los Angeles City College, pictured in photos provided by AIA Pasadena & Foothills Chapter.

[UPDATED] A scholarship fund maintained by the Pasadena & Foothill Chapter of the American Institute of Architects has nearly tripled in size over the past nine months amid a fundraising effort spearheaded by a recently retired longtime architect, according to the organization.

The AIA Pasadena & Foothill Chapter traditionally awards its Jean Roth Driskel Scholarship each year to two promising students from architecture programs at Southern California universities and community colleges. One scholarship is generally awarded each spring, and another each fall.

The scholarship fund was established in 1971 as a memorial upon the passing of AIA Pasadena & Foothills first female president and prominent architect Jean Driskel.

With many architects from the Baby Boomer generation retiring and the number of architecture programs shrinking nationwide, the country is soon likely to face a shortage of architects, said Lance Bird, who led the recent scholarship fundraising campaign over the past nine months. He retired in October at age 80 from the La Cañada Design Group, which he founded.

The effort has raised the scholarship fund to more than $140,000, Bird said.

“For those in the design and construction industries, once they understood the problem, I’ve been overwhelmed by their generosity,” he said. “I’ve been really encouraged that people aren’t hanging up on me.”

But fundraising requires taking the time to talk to people and explain the need, Bird said. “It’s too easy to just delete an email. People need to understand what the issues are.”

The scholarship fund had remained at its original $50,000 level for decades, with scholarships paid from the interest earned by the principle, according to AIA Pasadena & Foothills.

“The program’s amazing. They’ve been able to give out a whole lot of scholarships over the years,” Bird said.

But with the average cost of a five-year architecture degree coming in at well over $200,000, the scholarships just didn’t seem to be keeping up with students’ needs, according to Bird.

“In effect, the value of the scholarship declined each year because of inflation,” he said.

At the same time, “Enrollment for first-year architecture students has declined by nearly 20 percent over the past five years,” AIA Pasadena & Foothills said in a written statement. “In 23 years, the number of architectural programs has shrunk from 155 to 100. The number of architectural students in that period has shrunk from 35,500 to 24,500 students.”

“According to AIA, 25,000 additional licensed architects will be needed in the US in the next decade. In the past decade the growth was about 13,000. With retiring baby boomers and a decline in enrollment in architecture schools, the need may not be met.”

To address the issues, Bird started by making a donation of his own, he said. Then he persuaded a friend to do the same. And that got the ball rolling.

“By forming a fundraising committee, we continue to grow the fund, allowing us to increase the scholarships from two at $1,500 in 2019 to two at $5,000 in 2020 while protecting the principle,” according to the AIA Pasadena & Foothills statement. “Our goal is to reach $200,000 by the end of 2020, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Jean Roth Driskel Scholarship.”

Additionally, Bird said he was able to secure commitments from 24 architectural firms to provide paid summer internships for local architecture students prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Students are nominated by their schools before the scholarship committee selects recipients.

A group of candidates from Pasadena City College, Mt. San Antonio College, and East Los Angeles City College were interviewed by the scholarship committee earlier this month, Bird said.

University students in architecture programs at Cal Poly Pomona, the Southern California Institute of Architecture, Woodbury University, USC, and UCLA are also eligible for the scholarship.

For more information on the AIA Pasadena & Foothill Chapter, including how to donate to the scholarship fund, and instructions for students to apply for it is available on the organization’s website at

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