The honor was announced at the 2022 NOMA Nashville Unplugged Conference on October 28. The Clemson chapter stood out from more than 100 student chapters in the organization.
“I was so shocked and honored to know that we won the award,” said Sheldon Johnson, current cNOMAS president. “What really impacted me wasn’t the award itself, but the conversations after winning with other schools and how this event has inspired them to potentially host their conferences.”
The award follows the success of the conference, “Addressing Erasure: Designing our Future,” which the chapter organized and held in Charleston in March 2022.
“With the goal to address issues of inequality, injustice, racial discrimination, and bigotry, cNOMAS knew Charleston would be an appropriate setting,” said Michael Urueta, former cNOMAS president. “A romanticized and typically veiled history of enslavement and social issues increased the need to have critical conversations about the truth of the city, the designed environment, and how we can design a better future.”
Urueta and Johnson, along with fellow Clemson School of Architecture students Diego Bazanni, Angie Mendoza, Seth Moore and Adrianna Spence organized the conference with support from faculty advisors Clarissa Mendez and David Allison.
The conference unfolded across three locations: the Clemson Design Center in Charleston (CDC.C), Mother Emmanuel AME Church, and the new International African American Museum. The keynote was delivered at Mother Emmanuel by Michael Murphy, Founding Principal and Executive Director of MASS Design Group.
In addition to Murphy, the students secured a lineup of speakers who would be impressive even by the standards of professionally-organized conferences: Professor Rhondda Robinson Thomas, whose Call My Name project has revealed the impact of enslaved or convicted African American laborers on Clemson’s built environment; Michael Arad, partner at Handel Architects, LLC, whose design, “Reflecting Absence,” was selected for the September 11 Memorial at the World Trade Center site; Ray Huff, former director of the CDC.C; Michael Allen, ’99, founder of MOA Architecture, Inc. and leader of the Echo Theater Project; and Kimberly Dowdell, former NOMA National President and marketing principal at HOK.
“The NOMA board was impressed that we accomplished so much as a student chapter without a professional chapter in the state, and we hope that the students’ achievement will encourage architects across South Carolina to establish a NOMA chapter here,” Mendez said.
The conference was not the only way in which cNOMAS made an impact, however. During the 2021-2022 school year they organized a “Welcome Back” tailgate party for their fellow students and partnered with other student organizations to serve a “Thanksgiving Potluck” during midterms. They also recorded podcasts, inviting architecture professionals to speak on justice, equity, diversity and inclusion.
“Our goal as cNOMAS is to create a more impactful and collaborative architecture studio space for our fellow peers to help breed both creativity and camaraderie between classmates,” Johnson said. “If we can design healthy spaces for our future clients to grow and evolve, why not create spaces for our future architects to do the same?”
cNOMAS was founded in 2015 by R.J. Wilson, Rayshad Dorsey and Julian Owens, AIA, NOMA. Owens has gone on to become the parliamentarian for NOMA, Dorsey is pursuing a master’s degree at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design and R.J. Wilson remains an active cNOMAS member, currently pursuing a Master of Architecture degree at Clemson.
“It has been an amazing and humbling opportunity to see the strides the cNOMAS chapter has made since it was founded,” Wilson said. “At the time we didn’t know the major impact the chapter would have on the School of Architecture, but we knew it was a needed organization. Being able to see cNOMAS go from a relatively unknown chapter to being nationally recognized for its efforts over the past few years confirms how needed the chapter was.”
NOMA was established in 1971 by a group of 14 architects who recognized the desperate need for an organization dedicated to the development and advancement of minority architects. Its 2022 conference attracted more than 1,250 attendees from across the country.
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