Each time Indianapolis architect Kionna Walker starts her after-school class for elementary students at Center for Inquiry School 70, she believes she is priming youngsters — particularly African American students and young women — for success.
During the sessions, she works to inspire young students to use their imaginations to create buildings, streets and athletic facilities.
“Students should learn about architecture because it is a profession that is connected to everything,” said Walker, who was recently honored by Indianapolis Business Journal as part of the publication’s 2022 Forty Under 40. “Architecture is universal in allowing students to explore classroom concepts through their imagination and creativity while also making school subjects tangible and relatable.”
Walker brings her experience as an associate with Indianapolis-based Meticulous Design + Architecture to connect students with the field.
“I believe architectural learning can decrease disengagement because learning can become connected with reality,” she said. “Many children start to disengage around fifth grade for many reasons. One of the main reasons is because the students don’t believe there is a purpose to what they are being taught or it is just boring.”
Walker engages students to find that purpose by incorporating their favorite superheroes or sports teams into their projects.
“While the students are using architecture to explore something they love, they are also working on public speaking, critical thinking, science, technology, engineering, art and math,” Walker said. “One of our math-focused after-school programs provides a competitive challenge of seeing who can design the most expensive or most cost-effective home for their client. I have witnessed disengaged students become fully immersed in the task, even shocking their teachers.”
Walker is working to break down barriers through the after-school class, which is a result of her project, Next Great Architects, a teaching studio that introduces architecture to children as early as kindergarten and nurtures them through licensure.
She believes that most youngsters don’t realize architecture is a career option.
“The children who usually pursue architecture are those who are connected to the profession through a family member or close family friend. Next Great Architects introduces and provides the awareness of the profession.” Walker says. “Ultimately, we want to nurture children in their creative self-confidence so they can be successful in any career they choose to pursue.”
Walker also notes that while architecture has historically been a male-dominated profession, about 40 percent of professionals in the field are women.
However, black women only account for 0.03 percent—a fact she is working to change over the next few years.
“The low percentage of African-American women in the field may be the low awareness of the profession,” said Walker, who received her bachelor’s degree from nearby Ball State University and a master’s from The Boston Architecture College. “With what we are doing with Next Great Architects, there will be more minorities and women to pursue careers in architecture.”