As you may know, is all about helping you learn your own career path to become an architect.  We also promote the idea of developing a plan for the journey.  Well, read the essay below on the career path of Kelsey Jordan and you will learn that the imperfect path may be the most fun journey.


Kelsey Jordan, Well AP, Fitwel, Associate AIA, Associate and Educational Planner

Legat Architects, Chicago, IL

Kelsey is a designer, activist, and leader who is experienced as an architectural design professional, graphic visualization artist, and an interior architect with an emphasis on education and wellness. The root of her visions for the future of architecture involve strongly embedded ideologies on designing for equity in the built environment. She has been locally and nationally recognized for design, leadership, and research.


Before high school graduation, I had a plan; I would graduate, immediately attend a university, receive a dual graduate degrees, and work in Chicago. That was the plan, but my road to where I am at today hasn’t been straight forward.  Never would I have thought anything would have happened the way it did.

I had a plan: graduate (high school), immediately attend a university, receive a dual graduate degrees, and work in Chicago

Remember my full-proof plan! It broke days after my high school graduation. When I was in my senior year, I worked part-time in logistics for Caterpillar. They proposed that if I stayed in town, I would earn me a raise and they would work around my hours while I went to school.  The offer was enticing for financial and schedule reasons; I would stay at home with free room and board, earn a raise and they would work around my schedule.  It was too enticing such that I attended Illinois Central College for two years with a scholarship covering the first year.  Taking a detour from my plan made sense.

I made one of the best decisions ever. With friends attending large universities large general education classes; my largest was 20. Even more, my architecture courses had as few as six students in them and this was key for my foundational years.

I attended school online when I could so I could work as much as possible and worked online when I needed. With balancing school and work, I became involved with the American Institute of Architecture Students (AIAS) on a local and, eventually, national level.

Near the end of the year, I went through the most nerve-wracking interview I have still ever had to this day with almost twenty pairs of eyes staring at me while I stood in the middle of the room, talked, and answered questions. All the eyes were individuals who could be my potential employer in the future. It went well, and I would become the AIA Illinois Student Director.

With the clock ticking and another part of my plan ruined (attend a large university), I started searching where to transfer. After eliminating other universities my dad and I attended an open house at Southern Illinois University (SIU). It was a more technically driven school instead of the design schools I was looking at, but I felt like that was the best choice for me since I felt I was good at design, but not very good technically. After the open house I remember sitting in the parking lot and looking at my dad and sharing, “This feels right. I’m going here.” and that’s what I did. That is what started the second part of my original plan being ruined, but I was still planning to study abroad.

When I transferred to SIU my junior year, plans were made to study abroad during the first half of my senior year in Perth, Australia. I had friends studying in Spain, Amsterdam, Germany, and other cool locations. It was going to be great; then, mistakes I couldn’t control made it so I could not study abroad. I was devastated and heartbroken. Worse off, I had not obtained any housing or applied for jobs for that summer. This was a problem. I was going to be homeless and jobless that summer and upcoming academic year.

You might find the imperfect path is the most fun journey…

I told one of the architects that I served on the AIA Illinois board, and he told me about his son having an extra room at their house in Carbondale. I graciously accepted and just needed a job.

I accepted one that summer which led me to working in the architecture computer graphics lab my senior year. After a whirlwind of a year, I was looking at graduate programs when I was asked to stay at SIU and apply for the head architecture computer graphics lab position which meant free graduate studies. About a month after graduating with my undergraduate degree, I started a 15-month journey to obtain my graduate degree.

So far, I had achieved one task on my original plan – obtaining my bachelor’s degree – and was on the path to fall short of another goal. I would only receive one master’s degree and not two. The only bit left from my plan was to move to Chicago.

Once I graduated with my graduate degree, I moved to St. Louis and started working in a design-build contractor firm. Much like why I had chosen SIU, I chose to work there because it would help me become more rounded and better understand the construction side of the business. Over the next few years, I ended up working there and two other places. I also gained valuable hands-on experience gut rehabbing our home and a four-family with my husband. It (the plan) all seemed to be coming together, but nothing seemed perfectly right. I still felt out of place.

I had applied to be a part of different events and groups and had been met with unsuccessful applications. I was becoming defeated and scared to apply for opportunities for growth. One was a call for Emerging Professionals with an education emphasis to be thought leaders at the invitation only Learning by Design Dialogues Conference. I was accepted and soon found out that these were my people. They were all professionals who were on the cutting-edge educational design. After the second year of keeping in contact with the Dialogues group, I was recruited to apply for a position doing what I loved – research and community driven educational design where I could interact directly with clients. That led to my plan getting back on track. My husband and I moved to Chicago.

When I graduated high school, I had a vision and a strong, determined dream. I knew my path and it immediately went off track. If I would have stayed on the path that I wanted to go on, my life would have been much different, and I would not be who I am and where I am today. Now I do what I love daily, and I share the word with people at events and conferences nationally.

The real story is in adaptive resiliency. Stepping outside of your comfort zone and your straight path leads to immense growth and learning. It is great to set goals, but do not be disappointed when everything plays out much different than planned. Everything happens for a reason, and you might find that the imperfect path, is the most fun journey of all.

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