There is a voice in the mind of Jeremiah Tolbert, AIA. It is that of a 78-year-old Silicon Valley developer who has mentored him as much as anyone—and still teaching him today. “Get it done right now.” This five-word mantra is the reason he responds quickly to emails and phone calls. It’s what drives him to complete the projects on which he works. It is what those whom he mentors can expect to hear. “Get it done right now” has less to do with instant gratification and more to do with not letting things sit so long they become stale and forgotten.
Even as Tolbert talks about the mentorship experience, he hears it in his head. And it drives him not only to be a better architect, but an empathetic mentor, and a more efficient communicator.
“He knows what he wants, and it drives me to be efficient in my work with him,” explained the 2014 AIA East Bay president.
Tolbert, 34, is young for a mentor, but he has had experience mentoring, both formally as well as informal. The age factor is not any sort of hindrance for him. One of his current formal mentees whom he has had under his architectural wing for the past three years, is actually older than Tolbert. “The age gap is backwards,” Tolbert said laughing. Another one of his formal mentees he’s never met in person. She is an architectural student at Columbia University in New York, and Tolbert has given her advice on many projects and situations, thanks to convenience of modern-day communication methods.
The absence of age recognition only contributes a portion of Tolbert’s success as a mentor. This, combined with his positive attitude and his willingness to learn is an excellent combination. One of his favorite things about the mentoring process is witnessing the reaction when someone finally understands a concept—the instance their face changes and the imaginary bulb atop their head alights. “I love when people get it and you get to see that they get it,” Tolbert said.
This is akin to something he mentioned last year when talking about the Fam. 1st Family Foundation Architecture Camp. (2nd Annual happening Jun. 24-27.) Last summer, he excitedly explained the process of introducing at-risk youth to the world of architecture on the University of California, Berkeley campus. One of his favorite moments occurred when he saw a girl “get it” as he explained the interconnectedness of the art and life—music, literature, communication, building design.
Anyone who spends any time with Tolbert will immediately understand how he is a natural at the mentorship game. He is open to learning just as much, if not more, as he is to teaching. Mentoring is a natural fit because, as he put it: “I like to teach; I like to share, and I get a lot from other people.” Tolbert learns from others successes as well as their mistakes, and makes no qualms about affording the same process to those he mentors. “That’s the way I live life. I will give that information to anyone who is willing to listen.”
Perhaps because Tolbert is a one man show—he is the only on the payroll—he doesn’t entertain negativity. He doesn’t have time. Tolbert feels as though he is doing the work of 30, and that is a blessing, not a curse. “It’s about the power of networking,” Tolbert said on the success of his practice so far. Tolbert joined AIA to utilize it and study for licensure in 2008, but then that was going to be it. Then he discovered himself in a community and the AIA value rose exponentially. His one year turned into two, then three. Eventually, he found himself Associate Director, soon to become the Chapter’s youngest president.
Tolbert is proud of his chapter, the AIA at large, and the members. Basically, Tolbert wants to contribute, both with his designs and with mentoring. Whether he signs an architect’s Intern Development Program (IDP) paperwork or gives you some friendly advice at an AIA East Bay event, he’ll do what he can.
“I mentor because I want to and I enjoy it. Because no one is forcing me, I have all control to avoid the annoying parts of mentorship.”