Being Open to New Opportunities with Mike Chiappa

AIAS Northeast Quad Director, 2017 – 2018 Michael Chiappa, joins us on the Young Architect Podcast to share what double majoring in improvisational theater has taught him about architecture, why our lives aren’t meant to follow just one singular path, and the importance of good physical and mental wellness as an architecture student and beyond.  

Copy of Copy of Using Design to do good for the World 2 Being Open to New Opportunities with Mike Chiappa Podcast

AIAS Northeast Quad Director Michael Chiappa 

Despite how uneasy he found math to be and his 6th grade teacher telling his parents he’d never be an architect because of it, Michael Chiappa, loved to create and design house plans. Just like many other architects, his teacher’s negative attitude did not get in the way of his interest and dreams to work in the architecture industry.  

So, in 2010, he began his educational career studying at the School of Art and Design at the New Jersey Institute of Technology. Not only did he focus on design but he ended up double majoring in improvisational theatre after falling in love with an elective course he took.  

Today, he is continuing his education as a third year Master of Architecture candidate at New Jersey Institute of Technology while also serving as President of AIAS NJIT for the 2017-2018 year and the AIAS Northeast Quad Director.  

As the AIAS Northeast Quad Director, Michael is also serving on two committees as a liaison for the Financial Committee and the Health & Wellness Task Force. He is especially excited for what’s to come for the latter as their goal is to make sure all architecture students are aware of the importance of their physical and mental health plus where to find help on campus such as free counseling, health services, massages, fitness and yoga classes.   

On top of all of that, he is also now focusing on getting his license, doing work as a CAD Draftsman for Montclair State University, and further pursuing a career in design.  

What You’ll Hear on This Episode  

  • What inspired him to become an architect and why he loved drawing house plans so much as a child.
  • Why he chose improvisational theatre for a university elective, fell in love with it, and how it has helped him with his career in architecture.  
  • How having a passion or deep interest in something else other than architecture is wonderful to have in your life and will help you in your career path.  
  • Steps you can take to decide what you really want to do with your life 
  • What he’s currently focusing now by getting his license, doing work as a as a CAD Draftsman for Montclair State University, and pursuing design.  
  • His interest in design when it comes to solving a problem and proposing an intervention.  
  • How he and Michael Riscica have allowed themselves to be more open to new opportunities that might come their way. 
  • His experience as the Northeast Quad Director and working with the AIAS.  
  • How AIAS was able to bring together both the NJIT undergrad and graduate students together for a common interest.  
  • How his path has been built on what other people have seen in him that he never saw in himself before. 
  • Why you should always focus on quality over quantity to do great work.  
  • What he does in his role as the Northeast Quad Director to help other AIAS chapters.  
  • The upcoming Forum Conference in Seattle Washington and what he’s looking forward to the most.
  • How he’s helping expand the AIAS national committees by taking on additional roles as a liaison for both the Finance Committee and the Health & Wellness Task Force.  
  • Why he’s so excited to be a liaison for the AIAS Health & Wellness Task Force, what they’ve accomplished thus far, and what their future plans will be.  
  • How to take care of your own health during architecture school.  
  • Why you will spend a lot more time managing people, ideas, and projects once you’re in the real world as an architect.  
  • Expectations vs. Reality as an architect and what life will really be like as a student and then a professional in the industry.  
  • The benefits of participating in a Freedom of Design competition and how it covers all 3 of AIAS’ pillars.  
  • How his Apple watch has been so beneficial with helping him keep up with his health and not spend so much time on his phone.  

Top 3 Takeaways from This Episode 

  1. We never know where we will be in the future and maybe you have a goal or idea of what you want to be doing but don’t let that hold you back from new opportunities. If you allow yourself to be open to new projects, goals, or career paths, it can lead to amazing experiences you never thought were possible.
  2.  Despite students’ differences – undergrad or graduate, architect or designer and our various interests, AIAS has this amazing capability to bring students together and bring out the best in them. If you’re looking to grow, have a community, and be open to new opportunities, AIAS can bring you that and more.
  3. People will often see our own strengths and capabilities that we never saw before or thought were possible. If someone sees you as a leader or capable of doing something awesome, take their words into account. Likewise, if you see something in another person, let them know. A little encouragement can go a long way.  

Michael Chiappa’s Advice for Aspiring Architects 

“Focus less on what you can do for yourself, your resume, your ego, or your career. I firmly believe that we should be asking ourselves, “Why am I doing this?” Because no matter what you do or what aspect of architecture, academia, or design you follow, it should be about what you’re doing for others. Whether that’s at the community level, within the office, or the state within the world, if you focus on creating something bigger than the sum of its parts, the resume will take care of itself and the career will take care of itself. I highly believe in avoiding focusing on, ‘How will this make me look?’ or ‘Where do I want to be?’ Let opportunity take you places, just say, ‘yes,’ and then add something to it.”

Favorite Quotes  

“Maybe the best approach is to know exactly where you want to be in a couple of years but sort of follow a vision and then let life take you there.” – Michael Chiappa on what studying improvisation theater has taught him about life and finding your calling.  

“If you want to become an amazing architect, one of the best things to do is fall in love with a passion that’s not architecture and pursue that while you’re also pursuing your architecture degree.” – Some of the best advice an architecture professor gave to Michael Riscica while he was a student. 

“More than anything else, AIAS brought the undergrad and graduate students together at my school. That was the first time I ever saw the power and potential that AIAS has to bring a community of people with shared interests together.” – Michael Chiappa on the bonds that AIAS helps to create amongst students.  

“There are a lot of stigmas about counseling but there doesn’t need to be. Just having someone to talk to helps and maybe you don’t even know that this person exists at your school. Maybe you don’t know that your school offers free yoga, meditation, or resources that can just help you become a better person and balance the stress of architecture school.” – Michael Chiappa on his role as a liaison for the AIAS Health & Wellness Task Force and how they’re bringing awareness to how students can take care of their own health through campus resources.  

“The best advice I’ve been given is to not follow a specific path or goal because if you do that and things come your way but you’re not open to going down different paths while still knowing what you value, you will be turning down so many things in life because you think that that’s the goal. I never saw myself getting into improvisational theatre, having a double major, or even teaching a couple of years later. I would not be who I am today without any of that. Wherever I go, I’ll know if I’m somewhere that I don’t want to be but I will just follow these opportunities based on what I believe in and what I can do for others. I think that has made a lot of the difference from where I thought I’d be.” – Michael Chiappa on what he knows today that he didn’t know back then.  

“The reason why people who have been either successful or inspirational, however, you want to define, ‘success,’ is because they don’t sell you a plan nor tell you what they’re going to do. They talk about why they do it and then what happens after that result; it’s not the end but a means to an end. I try to view every role that I do not as ‘the end goal but as ‘What can I do or what can be created from this role?’” – Michael Chiappa on how we can become a catalyst for change and improvement in each role we take on.  

Resources Mentioned in the Show 


Michael Riscica

Michael Riscica is a Licensed Architect, Founder and Head Coach of the ARE Boot Camp Coaching Program & Online Study Group.

Hi I’m Michael Riscica.

My goal is to help as many people as I can PASS their exams and succeed in their architecture careers.

This is accomplished with the following offerings:

Free FB group that is 12k+ members strong
Low-cost, high-value upcoming webinar
Affordable and Quality ARE Study materials
Professional Development and Powerful Networking
Premium 10-week ARE study program