Hard work pays off. Just ask Lawrence “Lonnie” Johns, who took his lifelong passion for drawing and turned it into an illustrious career in architecture. When Johns developed a love for drawing in 8th grade, he knew he wanted to continue to use that skill. He took drafting classes in high school and, afterwards, jumped right into the architecture program at Virginia Tech.
“In the end, the architecture won out. Tech had one of the best programs, so that was one of the key reasons I came here.”Lawrence "Lonnie" Johns
Being a student in the architecture program has never been easy, even for someone like Johns, who began studying drafting in high school. On top of the difficult coursework, Johns noticed he was only one of few African American students in the program.
It was a little different because, being an African American student, there were maybe seven of us in the whole class, so we all knew it each other. It was pretty good learning there, but the hours for architectural seemed grueling. Like I would always hear everybody say, ‘Yeah, you’re going to be there a lot, late nights and everything,’ and that was true. It was a lot.”Lawrence "Lonnie" Johns
During his time at Virginia Tech, Johns had amazing opportunities to build himself up as a future architect. One of these opportunities included having the University’s former president, Charles Steger, as a personal mentor.
“When I first got here I was in this program where they paired me up with Dean Steger who ended up being the president, but he was the college dean of architecture, so I got pretty close with him at the time. He invited me over to his house a few times to eat with his family. He was one, a big impression. He was a very nice guy. He told me about the architecture. I mean I loved that.” Lawrence "Lonnie" Johns
When Johns was not spending grueling hours completing work for his major, he participated in various organizations on campus, including Omega Psi Phi and the Black Student Alliance (BSA). The BSA even nominated Johns as their representative for homecoming king, making Johns the first African American to do so.
I was the first African American homecoming king representative, so I had to run against the other guys, and it was a fun campaign. I had a campaign manager, and so within my particular community it was a nice experience of getting everybody together and trying to get me elected. I think I came in second.”
Lawrence "Lonnie" Johns
After Johns graduated in 1992, he went on to work for a computer drafting company and then at an architecture firm for over a decade. Currently, he works as an architect with the Navy for the Department of Defense.
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About this Story
Date Recorded: April 22, 2016
Interviewer: Carmen Bolt
Date Posted: February 27, 2017
Editor: Ashley Stant