“You want to come out of college having developed for the better,” said Kelsey Mitchell, an architecture student at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. “I can definitely say my time at RPI has allowed that to happen for me.”
As she prepares to graduate with a Bachelor of Architecture degree in May, Mitchell reflected on how far she has come in the last five years. Growing up as a quadruplet in North Carolina, going to college on her own in upstate New York required significant adjustment. But one thing that has not changed is her interest in architecture.
“I like to do things that are purposeful or intentional, and architecture is a great way for me to impact various people and communities directly,” Mitchell said.
She was encouraged to apply to Rensselaer by a cherished high school teacher, who happened to be an alumnus, but what clinched the decision for her was a personal phone call from the dean of the School of Architecture, in addition to an innovative and challenging curriculum.
After arriving on campus, she wasted no time getting involved with the reconstituted Rensselaer chapter of the National Organization of Minority Architecture Students. Having been involved for several years, serving in the capacity of both treasurer and secretary, she now serves as the chapter’s president. In addition to offering educational and networking opportunities concerning architecture, justice, and inclusion, the organization enables Mitchell to give back to the community — a priority for her — by offering the Pre-College Design Program, a seminar designed for middle and high school students to expose them to the various career trajectories of architecture and design.
Her approach to architecture also emphasizes responding to communities, with an emphasis on enhancing equity in urban environments.
“Architects have this power to make sure that the human experience is something that’s available to everyone,” she said. “My intention is to make it known that architecture to supposed to be accessible for all people.”
In addition to exploring ways to creating opportunity for others, Mitchell has taken advantage of the offerings at Rensselaer to expand her own horizons. In addition to branching out socially and meeting people from around the country and the world, she participated in the School of Architecture’s Italy Study Abroad Program. A challenge itself, navigating a new country and culture, the experience encouraged her to strive for more — to never shy away from any challenges, or shrink in the face of the unknown.
“We are the creators of tomorrow,” she said of her fellow students. “We’re the ones who are going to shape the world and the built environment for later generations, so instead of limiting ourselves, we need to push ourselves.”
Mitchell has also been involved in the Black Students’ Alliance, a nonprofit organization — called She’s the First — that raises money for girls’ education in developing countries, and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., an organization of college-educated women that “focuses on public service in the Black community and pushes women of color to be greater, and changemakers.”
Her desire to serve as a guiding example for the next generation of young women like herself is one of the reasons Mitchell is eager to join the workforce.
“The disparity in the number of licensed women of color architects still remains to be a daunting statistic, so that is my main priority: to get the hours in, take the exams, and actually get licensed,” she said. “That way, I can be a beacon of hope to someone else, some little girl out there who doesn’t know if she can do architecture, who doesn’t know that it exists or is possible.”
Having her undergraduate experience culminate during the COVID-19 pandemic, she said, made her realize that architecture can be something that evolves over time, and that there are many questions left to explore regarding the role architecture plays in communities. But with her hard-earned diploma in hand, she’s ready for what’s next.
“I appreciate every moment, every experience, every challenge, and every late night,” she said. “All of it has been worth it to shape me into a globally minded, culturally conscience person.”