Sparking Interest

Emily Godefroid By: Emily Godefroid

Shaping the Next Generation: Inside a High Schooler’s Internship with MMA


For Erick Ruiz Labra, that childhood fascination with those brightly colored bricks laid the foundation for his journey into architecture, complemented by a family background rich in construction. His mechanical and engineering interests, coupled with a knack for mathematics, set the foundation for his passion for design. Erick, a Senior at Parkway Central High School, sought new experiences through the SPARK! internship program, aiming to bridge the gap between engineering and architecture, and MMA was glad to help fuel this exploration.

Erick Ruiz Labra

SPARK! is an immersive journey that pairs high school students with real-world experiences, thanks to collaborative efforts between businesses, community leaders, and educators. Across various high schools, SPARK! provides a tailored approach to education that gives students a more realistic and holistic understanding of different career paths.

Erick’s journey may have started as play by building towers with Legos, but it evolved into the desire to someday make a real impact. From crafting interiors for his father’s projects to innovating 3D-printed medical devices, with a keen eye for fabrication and product development, he aims to transform ideas into reality.

Through SPARK!, Erick began a seven-week journey led by Mackey Mitchell Architects, focusing on the design phases of a real-life regional transportation project. Each week brought new challenges and opportunities for growth as Erick navigated through the intricate stages of the design process. Under the mentorship of MMA industry experts Jordan Gatewood, Nick Fratta, and Paola Badea, Erick grew his skills in conceptual design and presentation methods, culminating in a final presentation alongside the MMA project team. Erick stated, “Working in a team is very fun, I love the team environment here!”.


The internship began with a week one introduction, setting the stage for design and research. Weeks two and three focused on research: on-site analysis, sustainability, and independent exploration with mentors Chris Wilson and Nick Fratta. Erick applied learning in pre-design, using Revit and sketching concepts. A midway evaluation brought valuable feedback from the team. “I love learning what he does and how he thinks,” Erick exclaimed after an in-depth mentoring session that gave him insight into the thought process of designers. During the final weeks of his internship, Erick dug deeper into site concepts and fine-tuned his ideas, learning effective techniques for communicating ideas to clients and utilizing design software to refine his vision.

Nick Fratta & Erick Ruiz Labra

The final week at MMA was dedicated to preparing a final presentation to the firm and receiving feedback alongside the MMA project team. Erick said his biggest takeaway from presenting was to “be more relaxed and to be as fluid as you can be, making your presentation slides flow smoothly from each topic.”

Spark ignited: a bright future ahead

When interviewed about his experience working with SPARK! and mentoring Erick, Nick had a lot to say:

Hosting our first SPARK! architecture internship with Erick has exceeded our expectations and set a high standard for future engagements. Erick’s eagerness to dig into every aspect of the design process has been remarkable and he consistently sought additional resources to inform his design decisions, often raising insightful questions prompting valuable discussions. Despite the challenge of condensing the extensive architectural design process into a two-month internship, Erick tackled each session with determination and made significant progress along the way.

 Lifelong learning is a core value of MMA that is instilled in everything we do; Erick’s journey exemplifies the transformative power of mentorship and sharing what we have learned throughout our careers with the potential architects of tomorrow. We asked Erick if he would recommend SPARK! and he said, “A hundred times, every single day, I would recommend participating.”

MMA wishes Erick the best of luck as he concludes his senior year and further prepares himself for his future at Washington University in St. Louis.

“Sharing the joy of the design process through mentorship is one of my favorite aspects of practicing design, and hosting Erick was a great reminder of this. Erick’s enthusiastic undertaking of the project embodied how we value curiosity in design, and mentoring reinforced the importance of lifelong learning.” -Nick Fratta

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