architecture: Je’Nen Chastain
Life as a Leader
In her commencement address at Mills College in Oakland, California, where she recently received a Master of Business Administration, Je’Nen Chastain reminded her classmates and colleagues that several buildings on the campus had been designed by Julia Morgan, the first woman to become a licensed architect in California and the first to win an American Institute of Architects (AIA) Gold Medal (awarded posthumously in 2014). It was fitting that Je’Nen recognized Morgan; while a student at UNC Charlotte, she served as the national president of the American Institute of Architecture Students (AIAS), the first female to serve in that role in a decade.
When Je’Nen graduated from UNC Charlotte in 2009, the recession had all but obliterated job opportunities for emerging professionals. But that hardship ultimately inspired her to move to California and pursue a graduate degree. While at Mills College, Je’Nen focused her research on social entrepreneurship and the intersections of business and architecture. In recognition of her academic leadership, she received a Career Development Grant with the American Association of University Women (AAUW) and a Forté Fellowship with the Forté Foundation.
It was at this same time that she began to notice that there was a widespread need for leadership training in the architecture field. “During the recession I saw firms really struggling with how to lead their practices through the complications of not having incoming clients and losing employees—how to lay them off as well as how to build back up after the economy came back.”
As a Past Chair of the AIA Center for Civic Leadership, Je’Nen developed the re-imagined AIA Leadership Institute, an annual one-day summit that teaches leadership skills to architects and designers all over the country. In recognition for her work, she was awarded a Presidential Citation from the AIA California Council for her efforts.
Je’Nen strongly believes that leadership training is a crucial area of professional development necessary for the practice of architecture. She served as a key contributor and editor to the Living Your Life as a Leader workbook for the AIA, now in its third edition, which reflects 10 years of research collected in partnership with her mentor Georgia Cameron, AIA. In addition to the workbook, Je’Nen presents that research publicly, most recently at the 2017 AIA Women's Leadership Summit.
Je’Nen is in her third year as a designer with Heller Manus Architects in San Francisco. Last year, AIA San Francisco honored her with the Emerging Professionals Award as part of the Community Alliance Awards program, and AIA National awarded her a 2017 Associates Award, “given to individual Associate AIA members to recognize outstanding leaders and creative thinkers for significant contributions to their communities and the architecture profession.”