Mentorship, I will admit, was not something I sought out when I started my journey as a university student or as an architect or educator. It wasn’t that the opportunity didn’t present itself; the potential for that kind of relationship wasn’t yet evident to me. I’ve reflected on this, and there are things I would advise my younger self—especially as someone who today has embraced mentoring as a fundamental facet of my work. 

Reflection has shown me, though, that I did have many “accidental mentors.” Meaning, they didn’t know that they were my mentors, but I was watching and learning from them. I observed the way they described their work, the way they engaged with colleagues and their communities, the way they taught. There were people who helped me realize what I didn’t want to do, and others who modeled ways of working that felt true to me: “If I do that, then.” Ultimately, I’ve come to understand, there are so many sources you can draw from to create your path. 

As I write this letter, we are preparing to send off our newest class of Pratt alumni, at the climax of a semester energized by Pratt Shows, our culminating showcase of work by graduating students; our annual Research Open House; and other spring programs showcasing the remarkable endeavors of our students and academic community. 

We also celebrated the return of the Alumni Achievement Awards as an in-person event, honoring three exceptional Pratt talents—Marilyn Nance, BFA Communications Design ’76; Nasreen Alkhateeb, BFA Fine Arts ’07; and Devin B. Johnson, MFA Fine Arts (Painting and Drawing) ’19—at a joyful celebration with fellow Pratt alumni at Manhattan’s Museum of Arts and Design.

Reflecting on the tremendous work of our alumni across generations, I think about the rich network our students are a part of from the day they step into their first class or studio. Along with our phenomenal faculty and their student colleagues across disciplines, they connect with a world of fellow makers, thinkers, and vanguards who have built their foundations at Pratt. 

In this issue’s special section on mentorship, you’ll hear from just some of those creative leaders who not only established their practices at Pratt but have gone on to help others find their footing, with perspective and advice from the field.

My advice, to that younger self, to our new graduates, to our alumni taking bold, sometimes dizzying next steps on their professional journeys, at any stage:

  • Put yourself in the company of people whose work you admire. They could be the people who oversee your work, or your peers and colleagues. It doesn’t have to be age based, or based on a level of experience. It’s a way of thinking.
  • Find someone you really respect and don’t be afraid to ask them questions. Take them out for lunch, for coffee—chances are, they will be flattered. Ask them what you should read, what you should look at, what you should study, and go back to them with your reflections on what they recommended. This will help push past the hard part, the “I don’t even know what questions to ask” part. Create that guidance structure for yourself. 
  • Find someone who has experiences foreign to your own. Listen carefully, watch vigilantly, understand how the unfamiliar will reveal aspects of your own practice that may not have been evident without seeing the other.
  • Build those relationships and let them unfold. They may go away, or ebb and flow. Let the people you connect with get to know who you are, so together you can consider the opportunities and endeavors that might serve you, and what might not, from a place of authenticity. 
  • Look beyond your discipline for new frameworks. There weren’t always models whose background and approach resonated with mine. So I had to ask, what are those opportunities to learn from a cross-pollination of cohorts. 
  • Listen to the questions people ask you, when they look to you for advice. It can help you think through your own endeavors, and see your own mentor potential.

It’s not just about how to build a career. It’s about how to build a life. The methods and materials may shift and change, but the relationships you forge can be revelatory. Know that you have connections here at Pratt, and keep in touch.

—President Frances Bronet