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Thaddeus Stevens grads play vital role in leading architecture firm

Samuel Betancourt went to work at his first job about a day and a-half after removing his cap and gown from Thaddeus Stevens College’s 2014 commencement. After another 18 months, he took a new job at RLPS Architects, and he’s loved his career since then.


Samuel Bentancourt '14 

Samuel is not alone. He’s one in a long line of Stevens alumni—currently, he’s one of 14 on staff—to join the RLPS team.

“I can’t imagine what we would be, or who we would be if Thaddeus Stevens didn’t exist,” says Craig Kimmel, one of the partners who has been with RLPS since 1988. “It’s been a great relationship.”

Craig P. Kimmel, Partner, RLPS employee since 1986

The connection runs all the way back to George Lower, ’65, who started as a draftsperson with Haak & Kaufman and worked his way up to becoming partner by the time the firm changed its name to Reese, Lower, Patrick & Scott in 1982. He’s still the “L” in the RLPS, even though he’s retired and the firm is up to 14 partners.

“The quality hasn’t changed,” says Richard Dropik, another partner. “They can still be George Lower in 20 or 25 years.”

Dropik says Stevens graduates combine two key skills the firm is looking for: experience using Autodesk Revit, the industry standard software for modeling building designs in 3D, and a technical knowledge of how buildings are put together.

“I can’t think of anything that someone from Stevens doesn’t do for us,” Dropik says. And he would know—Dropik is the partner most responsible for building teams to execute the firm’s projects. Alumni provide detailed drafting services, produce computer-generated renderings, conduct in-field building surveys, as well as help with construction administration work.

Justin Martin '06Justin Martin '06

Take Justin Martin, ’06, for example. Colleagues say he’s one of the most accomplished Stevens grads at RLPS, and he’s done “a little bit of everything” for the firm, including drafting, Revit, IT, 3D technology and 3D printing. In fact, he developed a test the firm now gives to new employees to determine their proficiency with the firm’s software. He’s even done a few stints as an adjunct faculty back at his alma mater.

“I think the best part about Sevens was that It really prepared you and gave you a sense of everything the field has to offer,” he says. “We touched on everything—drafting, design history, code analysis It was a good eye opener for what we would face when we graduated.”

He describes the value of his Stevens degree as “fantastic,” setting him up for a career with no debt, and believes it can take him far in the industry. “I’m one of the people who wants to push that degree as far as I can take it. We have people here who all they want to do is draft, and that’s great. But me, I want to go farther than just drafting.”

Some grads, like Lisa Cowen, ’00, become registered architects, which today requires at least a five-year undergrad program or a master’s degree. Cowen spent seven years driving to Drexel University twice a week before earning her license.

Her license, combined with her experience in corporate architecture at Fulton Bank, makes her one of the firm’s top interior architects.

“I loved my two years at Stevens,” she says. “We had such a great class, and there was such support for each other. I’ve stayed in touch with some of the people, and they’re all in high-level positions, I would say.”

Samuel Betancourt is one of the younger employees at RLPS, but he’s already making a name for himself for his work in 3D modeling.

“I work with people who get hired with five year degrees from Penn State who know all the architectural stuff,” he says. “But when it comes to [Revit], there are just some things that they can’t do that I find easy and that I’ve done a million times before.”

In addition to technical training, Stevens also changed his life.

“I would not have gone to college—at all—if it hadn’t been for the Stevens Grant,” he admits. “I can’t say enough about how amazing that has been for me.”

RLPS has grown by a third since moving into its new facility almost five years ago, and it’s hiring now. The partners say Stevens will continue to be one of its top feeder schools.

“The bigger the projects that come through the office, the more need we have for technically-trained people,” Kimmel says. “Beyond the skill set, their ability to work hard, to understand what it means to work hard, to have a good head on their shoulders so they have growth potential.”

Dropik agrees. “The quality of the education—and the person—is top notch. We’ve seen that consistently; that’s the important thing. It started with George Lower 40 years ago, we have students from last year—and it’s no different.”

Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology is consistently ranked as Pennsylvania’s best technical college and awards associate degrees in 22 high-demand, skilled occupations. A full listing of programs is available at www.StevensCollege.edu.

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Second Chance Employment: Good for Business and the Community

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Prior to joining the team at Penn Stone, Pablo felt like he was in a rut. Looking for work after a dark chapter in his life, he felt that no one wanted to hire him. He faced rejections from employers after the results of his clearances came back. He felt that his "past mistakes kept him from the place I wanted to be.” In short, he needed a second chance. Second chance employment refers to companies intentionally hiring individuals who have barriers to employment like criminal backgrounds. One of those companies is Lancaster Works, a for-profit enterprise of local non-profit ASSETS that offers temporary hires for local employers. Pablo got connected to Tyrone Miller, Director of Lancaster Works, who matched him as a yard attendant at Penn Stone that soon turned into a permanent job that he feels has helped him find his purpose.

In Lancaster County’s tight labor market, employers are finding it harder and harder to find qualified employees. Looking past a criminal background can open up a new pool of good employees like Pablo. Eric Athey, attorney at McNees Wallace and Nurick, comments that hiring managers should be aware of federal and state laws that impact the hiring of individuals with criminal records. For example, the Pennsylvania Criminal History Information Act and federal EEOC Guidance both require employers to determine whether an applicant’s prior conviction truly affects his or her “suitability” for employment before making a hiring decision. Employers are expected to consider each candidate on the unique circumstances of his or her record as opposed to implementing rigid, broadly applicable bans on hiring individuals with certain types of convictions. Some factors to consider when making this determination include:

  • The severity of the conviction and its relevance
    to the role for which he/she is being considered.
    Certain violent or sexual offenses may preclude certain types of employment. But many other non-violent convictions are a different story. For example, consider a DUI or a drug possession. Those might give a hiring manager pause for a bus driver position, but be less of a concern for a hiring manager seeking to fill a customer service position.
  • The date of the conviction. For example, employers
    should ask themselves if a shoplifting charge from 15 years ago (when the applicant was 20 years old) truly causes for concern when there have been no other convictions since.
  • Evidence of rehabilitation/education. Has the candidate obtained training or taken other steps to establish readiness for the workforce?

Employees with a criminal record may face some unique
challenges once on-board. These include:

  • Challenges with opening a bank account, which can
    make direct deposit difficult
  • Potential stigma from colleagues
  • Dealing with the effects of traumatic experiences
    from incarceration
  • Exercising soft skills (conflict management and effective
    communication among them)

But there are actions employers can take to set these new team members up for success. These include training for HR professionals about the unique barriers and training for the staff as a whole that communicates that your work place is a returning citizen-friendly environment.

There are many benefits to this approach to hiring and retention for both employers and the community as a whole. At Johns Hopkins Hospital, which has a long-standing commitment to hiring returning citizens, a five-year study of nearly 500 returning citizens found a lower turnover rate than the overall employee population. Among a subset with serious records, 92.4 percent were still employed at the end of the study period. 

Additional resources can be found at:

This article was written:

BY MIKE MCKENNA,
Chief Impact Officer, Community
Action Partnership of Lancaster County
Contact Mike at

You can find the article in the Spring/Summer 2018 issue of the Lancaster Chamber's Thriving! 

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