Team Member Highlight - Clay Rodriguez
Date: June 01, 2022
Author: Chris Lujan, Design Principal, TSK Henderson
Clay, I remember the first day you came to our office. You were eager to see what we were working on and engaged everyone you met. How did TSK cross your radar and what drew you in?
It was May of 2011, and I was about a month away from graduating at SECTA High School. My father worked for Whiting-Turner as a Laborer. The Smith Center was the project that my father was on at the time, so I used to go there & ask questions to his higher-ups. There was a couple of civil engineers on the site that were very helpful in giving me advice. One day I showed up with a scale model of my high school project, and presented it to one of the civil engineers. As I was showing him my model, the engineer told me that I shouldn’t be an engineer, and that I should pursue architecture (What he really said was that when he was in high school, that he would’ve just rolled up & smoked the materials I’ve used to build my model, but we’ll leave that story for another day). Anyway, that was the pivoting point in my career. After our conversation was finished, the civil engineer asked if I would be interested in a summer internship if there would be one available. “Of course, absolutely” was my response, but I didn’t think much of it really.
The reality of that time was that the country, and really Las Vegas in particular, was coming out of a major recession. The probability of a young & dumb high school graduate working at an architecture firm was more of a dream, and less of a reality. As it turns out, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Whilst I was in drafting class in high school, I get a random text. It’s the civil engineer from Whiting-Turner. He was asking if I would be interested in working for “TSK Architects” and that the person in contact would be “Mike Purtill”. I couldn’t believe what I was reading! I thought it was so cool to have the opportunity to be working at an architecture firm during high school! So of course I’ve responded yes, and started to exchange info for the interview.
On a Friday afternoon, I drove my 1996 Ford Ranger XLT to Tate Snyder Kimsey Architects at 709 Valle Verde Ct (surprisingly close to SECTA). I showed up with my beautiful model house, my size M white Calvin Klein button shirt, my checkered plaid Calvin Klein slacks, and of course, the bright white Stacy Biscuits! (Stacy Adams). To be frank, I’ve (my mom) purchased pretty much all of my clothes at either Burlington or Ross, so I wasn’t ballin’ like that. As soon as I’ve walked into 709, I was immediately taken by all the different shapes of the building. Natalie greeted me, along with Shelly. I shook both of their hands, and sat down at the sofas near the entrance. Coming out of the Alcorn conference room was Aaron Reddick, Windom Kimsey, Mike Purtill, and you (Chris Lujan)! I shook the hands of all the people that came my way, and looked right in their eyes to see what they’re about. Everyone greeted me with respect, and I felt at home right away.
Having a family of your own, do you feel TSK grew as an extension of your crew? Did that impact your connection to your passion for architecture?
I’ve been working at TSK for 11 years, let’s just start there. You (Chris) have been there since 2007 I want to say? Mike Purtill, Jesse, Wendy, Natalie, Ziao, Ken, Tom, George, Jeni, Shelly; these are all people that have been at TSK when I was hired. Ramsey, Oni, Natalie, Jeni are people that have left and came back. That should tell people how TSK does business. Not once have I felt any of my co-workers genuinely hate each other to the point of becoming a constant issue for work. Of course, there will always be fights here & there, but people get over it (at least I do anyway).
Working for TSK since I was 18-years-old, everybody has watch me grow from a boy to a man. I don’t look at my co-workers as just co-workers, but as family. I look up to you (Chris) because you are a young Latino moving up in the ladder. Tom has always had my back, especially when it came to school. George always looked out for me, giving me opportunities like refereeing for soccer for example. Mike Purtill, cool, calm, and collected, no matter the situation, and will answer your phone call, or call you back even when he’s slammed to the tee. Jesse is the reason I’m still working at TSK. He taught me Revit, plain & simple. Shelly, one of the most beautiful spirits you will ever meet, and will always be my tía. Natalie & I share similar stories, since she came to TSK as a 19 year old. I’ve gotten lots of advice from her for sure. The people that got hired after me like Jeff, Tim, Jason, RJ, Hugo, Liddy, Basham, Oni, Ramsey, Mike, Juana, Rosanna, Anthony, Daniel, Wei, Darah, Silvia, and many others; they all fit in TSK like a glove.
I feel like one of my strong assets in my personality is being able to talk to everyone, and get to know them on a personal level. Seeing what their interested in, and be able to have conversations. Obviously, as a human, it is impossible to have a seamless connection with the entire world, and quite frankly, I would prefer not to try and make friends with the masses. It would be too exhausting! But if I can figure out a way to connect with just my world, the people around me, then it will always benefit me in the long run.
What do you see in today’s classroom that has you question how our profession will be impacted by tomorrow’s students?
“Will this classroom get me a job?” or “Can I make good money doing this?” Those questions will always be asked, and rightfully so. Just like the great DJ Quik once said, “If it don’t make dollars, it don’t make sense.” In an environment where everything is getting more & more expensive, while the pay-wages across the entire work force are not keeping up. How can I convince a student to choose a career path that will take 4 to 6 years of college, and another 2 years of ARE licensing? All of that just to get paid $60,000 to $80,000 salary. The construction process begins & ends with the architect, but yet they seem to get the smaller piece of the pie. Contractors, Engineers, Electricians, Iron Workers, Laborers, will all make more money in a year than the architect. Hell, the workers installing the casework in the building that you helped create, will get paid more money than you. So, after explaining this to the kids, I’d say more than half of them (the smart ones) will immediately decide to go the Engineering route, or the Contractor route. The few kids that decide to stay in architecture (the ‘motivated’ ones) have understood that the architecture profession isn’t meant to make the average joe lots of money. Only the highly motivated, ambitious, borderline cut-throat, will be the ones making all the money.
If you could turn-back time, what advice does SECTA teacher Clay have for SECTA student Clay?
Join the Electrical Union. Make $125,000 salary, have a proper pension, good health insurance, and have no student debt…….. (and tragically die on the job because I didn’t pay attention of which wires to cut) Or Go straight into UNLV, don’t go CSN. Get involved with the Architecture program right away. Absolutely destroy every single one of your peers in college by showing them how superior you are in your thought process & your design, (all whilst listening to Metallica’s ‘Seek & Destroy’). Joking aside (not really) I simply would just not worry so much about the money side of going to school. I know I would’ve been just fine with the help of my parents to go to UNLV. I didn’t want my father to spend all that money, I would feel guilty, even though he says I shouldn’t. I would’ve been a licensed Architect by now, living the life. I know I can always come back, but maybe all of this happened for a reason. Perhaps, if I was a licensed architect, I would have never taken the teaching job to begin with.
You know, the number 23 has always followed me. I was born on the 23rd, my sister was born on the 23rd, my parents were married on the 23rd, I was baptized on the 23rd, I got married on the 23rd. When I took my wife, Maria, on our first date, George hooked me up with a Groupon for the restaurant that Maria & I were going for dinner. Hilariously, I’ve decided not to use it because I didn’t want Maria to think I was a cheap-ass (Tom & George still give me crap). When I got the check, the number on it said, ‘Order 23’. The reason why I’m bringing this up is because when I looked who was going to be my first graduating class as a teacher, I’m sure you can guess what class it is….Class 2023. God gave us the freedom of will, but that doesn’t mean He won’t steer you in the right direction…
Looking forward, where do you go from here? How will your time at TSK influence your focus for the next step?
I gotta go back to school! I have to take some classes for my teaching license. Then I have to decide what career path I’m going to take in order to move up the columns for pay raises as a teacher. TSK will forever be part of my life. It’s because of TSK that I am able to teach at CCSD, and to return to my alma mater to give back to the program that gave me so much. I’ve never been to an Autodesk University course, nor did I ever graduate from Architecture School. I’ve never been trained to become a teacher, and yet here I am. What & how the hell am I ending up with all these opportunities!?! The standards that TSK has showed me over years have stuck to me. Simple things like, how is a detail supposed to look, how a floor plan is laid out, how to keynote, and a whole bunch of other skills that I have learned by simply just showing up to work. I hope to implement these standards to these kids, and show them how to present a set of plans so by the time that the kids decide to go to college, or go straight to work, they will be more prepared than the average FNG (F#####G New Guy) (acronym courtesy from the great Bill Snyder himself).
Clay, I thank you for ALWAYS being a great part of our crew. Your willingness to help out, no matter the task, speaks to your character and dedication to the team. TSK is proud to share in a few chapters of your life and much has yet to be written. I wish you all the best in your future endeavors and look ahead to your continued successes!