What’s it Like to Intern at HKS? A Summer Perspective

By Hannah K. George

My internship at the Dallas HKS office was everything I thought it would be. A typical week included watercolor class on Tuesday, a ‘Lunch and Learn’ lecture on Wednesday, a site visit on Thursday, and maybe even an intern happy hour on Friday.

Not only were the events fun, but many of them also taught us about this global company and the people who are a part of it. 

One of the Lunch and Learns, for example, was about Citizen HKS, the impact initiative inspiring philanthropy in the firm. Ellen Mitchell-Kozack, Citizen HKS’ director, explained how the initiative is helping to make the world a better place one project at a time. She also told us about HKS’ Month of Service each fall. Teams of employees in HKS offices around the world volunteer together locally to make connections and meaningful change in their communities.

Hearing about that effort inspired me to think about the impact my summer internship might have beyond my own personal growth. Perhaps the HKS interns could serve together, too, for a day.

Ellen met with me and within days an entire network of HKS employees joined to make it happen. We volunteered at CitySquare, a Dallas non-profit organization that fights “the cases and effects of poverty through service, advocacy and friendship.” We joined a group serving food and lead an architecture-inspired activity for kids in Dallas. It’s so important to keep kids fed when school lunches go on summer hiatus, and to minimize summer learning loss in communities without systemic head-starts. HKS is already working with CitySquare to build a project, so contributing on the ground made sense as a way to deepen the roots of that relationship and bring the service full circle.

Our “Day of Service” in Dallas was fantastic, but interns in other HKS offices also had great experiences this summer, too.

Aditi Agarwal, who is studying at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, worked at HKS’ Washington D.C. office, where she conducted interviews with industry professionals and made surveys to learn more about sustainability in architecture. She planned to take what she learned about sustainability and turn it into a template for further initiative across HKS offices going forward because “we need to change the status quo to be more proactive about it.”

Ezra Rossi Mizrahi, a recent University of Central Florida State graduate, interned at the HKS Orlando office this summer. He said his biggest takeaway from the experience was the chance to work with consultants and clients and be treated as fellow professional during meetings.

“It’s been nice to be in the meeting and not only be there but be part of the meeting, be included in the project,” he said.

Helen Fialkowski, a first-year student at Princeton graduate school, has previous experience at HKS. This was her second summer internship after working with the firm on and off for three years. I asked Helen, who spent the summer in the Atlanta HKS office, about her takeaways as a veteran intern and academic.

I think my biggest takeaway is that work is really different from school. Both are important, but nothing you learn in school prepares you for working,” Helen said. “But it’s nice because you get the really fluffy design stuff from school and then you come to work, and you can really see how buildings get put together and all the details.”

Frances Yang is a rising UC Berkeley senior who worked in the HKS Singapore office. Like Helen, she said the biggest thing she learned is that the actual work environment is much different than what she absorbs in the classroom.

 “A lot of people say you learn more from hands-on work and it’s true! School is great and you learn a lot of tools you need, but at work you learn an entirely different set of skills. The way you interact with colleagues or how you should approach a client’s problem are things you can only pick up at an internship.”

Neno Videnovic, a rising senior at Sci Arch, lived on a boat for nine years — two of those while in architecture school. He shared his perspective on his summer working at HKS’ Los Angeles office. Neno, who had previously interned at smaller firms, said he sought the internship at HKS because he wanted a change of pace.

 “I wanted to meet new people and try out working at a larger firm. This is the last summer before I graduate so next year when it comes time to apply for jobs, I want to know that I’ve had experiences in both situations so that I’ll be more prepared to start my career,” Neno said.  “I really like working in bigger teams with a lot of people. HKS seems to be doing something different with the way the culture is cultivated in the office.”

Miguel Lopez Angel, a native of Spain, recently graduated from the Illinois institute of Technology and interned in the HKS Chicago office this summer. He worked on the ‘DesignGreen’ team analyzing the nature of other projects, energy modelling, and doing some research on future sustainability techniques we can apply in architecture.

I asked Miguel if he looked at architecture differently because of what he learned this summer.

“I feel like, after learning about embodied carbon — embodied carbon is a thing that nobody talks about in school. It wasn’t taught, or even mentioned — and that really changes my whole approach to architecture, from the materials you choose to the way you design.”

Elva li, a graduate student at the University of Utah, spent her internship at the HKS Salt Lake City office. She said that she observed the dedication of the firm’s employees, several of whom have worked for HKS for decades. In addition to that, Elva said she appreciated the firm’s commitment to diversity.

“I can tell they really support diversity and have a global mindset,” Elva said. ” When I said I know Japanese and Chinese, they brought up projects HKS has in Asia and made an effort for me to feel connections across the firm. And it’s a reminder that they see diversity is an advantage here.”

I think the breadth of experiences me and my fellow interns brings to light something important — although HKS is one of the largest design firms in the world, it isn’t impersonal. During my three-month summer internship, people here helped me start a new tradition — and expressed interest in maintaining it annually. It seems that wherever you go in this organization, there are people who will inspire and engage in your work, which made us feel like we were part of something bigger than ourselves.

Learn more about HKS internship opportunities.

Hannah K. George

Hannah K. George is senior at the University of Texas at Austin, where she is majoring in Architecture and Plan II. She interned this summer at HKS headquarters in Dallas, where she worked on the Healthcare team.