Circle of Life

Growing up you have your dreams of what you want to be when you grow up. For me, I knew that I wanted my career choice to be something creative, but yet still challenging. As a young girl, I was always crafting and making different projects that allowed me to express my creativity. Through a family friend, I was introduced into baking and pastry design and began to realize how much I actually loved being able to take a client's ideas and turn them into reality. Through high school, I worked at a local bakery where I was able to release my creativity and help deliver beautiful creations. In the years leading up to my junior and senior year of high school, I thought culinary was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, but after some knee issues, I realized that standing in a kitchen for my career may not be the most ideal situation for me. This realization occurred about the same time I enrolled myselfin an architecture elective course that was being offered by my school, Cy-Fair High School. During my enrollment in this course, I met not only one of the best teachers, but also someone that I consider as one of my most influential mentors.

My teacher's name was Mr. Clyde Johnson (Mr. J.). He was one of those teachers that went beyond just teaching out of the book. If you found an interest in something in the class from engineering to architecture, he was there to help you. He made an effort to give his students one on one time to make sure that his students understood the programs that were being taught. From time to time, he would talk about his past students that had completed his program, and that were now either enrolled in college or had already completed their degree, and were now working in the field. After spending my junior year in his class, I knew that I wanted to enroll in his level two class and continue learning and exploring the world of architecture. In 2009, with the economic downturn, the idea of entering the world of architecture seemed like an awful idea. But with Mr. J's guidance, I knew that this was a career that I wanted to pursue. That next year, I became more involved in our architecture program and went on to compete at the TSA, Technology Student Association, State Competition where I was awarded for my projects. This gave me the extra confidence boost that I needed to move forward with my decision to apply to colleges that offered a degree in architecture.

Throughout my college career, I felt it was important to find a way to influence students just as I was influenced in high school. Through the years, I kept in touch with Mr. Johnson and he even helped me find supplies for one of the projects that I was working on. Time to time, I would come back to my alma mater to encourage his new students and share my experience in applying to colleges and about the projects that we were doing at Texas A&M. My biggest goal was to be able to show students that the things that they are learning in high school really do apply to the real world, and those skills that Mr. Johnson is teaching are skills that we use every day. In my last semester at Texas A&M, I was given the opportunity to participate in the mentoring program with elementary age students, and although I wasn't talking to them about skills that apply to architecture, we taught them about community planning and architecture. In the Spring 2015, I met Charles Johnson and Melissa Fleming at a career fair hosted by our AIAS Chapter at Texas A&M and became intrigued about VLK Architects. I spoke with Charles both days of the fair and eagerly awaited to hear from him in the weeks following. I honestly had no idea what type of architecture that I wanted to practice after college, but after looking into the projects that VLK had produced, as well as looking at my journey, education was a clear choice. I loved that VLK not only worked with schools, but also with the very districts that I grew up in and call home. I completed my degree in Environmental Design on May 15th, 2015 and was offered the opportunity to start my dream career with VLK. Sparing no time, on May 26th, I began working at VLK Architects in Houston.

In my short time at the firm, I have had the opportunity to collaborate on absolutely stunning projects, and feel that I truly made the right decision in my quest of finding the right career path. In August, VLK offered the opportunity for me to assist Brad Ewing, VLK Designer and CANstruction Mentor, in being a mentor for CANstruction with Langham Creek High School. I immediately said yes and suddenly felt the nostalgia begin to set in. I was not only able to be a mentor to students, but I was given the opportunity to be a mentor to students that are enrolled in the exact same program that kick-started my career. Langham Creek is located in Cypress Fairbanks Independent School District which is in the same District and the rival high school that I attended. After talking with Ms. O'Brian, the teacher at Langham Creek, I was excited to learn that the program had expanded into much more than what it was when I was in high school. The students are still participating in the same competitions that I once competed in at TSA, and have even began to compete at higher levels. Being able to see this transformation in the program made me thankful that the district recognized the potential of the students, and are embracing the creative student minds that fill their district. On the first day of meeting with the students, introducing myself as someone that was in the same shoes as these students are today was most rewarding. Of course I got a couple of boo's for being from a rival school, but none of that mattered when I realized how far I had come. Brad and I were able to meet with the students every two weeks to discuss the design of our CANstructure. We started the design process like we would do with any project, with a design charrette. But instead of Brad and I creating the designs, the students each presented four designs, and from there the students voted on their favorite. We encouraged them to look at the design, structural integrity, and of course, wow factor of the different ideas presented. From there, we came up with our original idea of 'take a quarter out of the earth' to show the theme 'Section Out Hunger'. Like any design process this idea was then studied deeper, and we all came to the conclusion to change the theme to 'Core Out Hunger,' so that we could incorporate the Houston Food Bank's logo. Watching the students throw out their ideas was incredibly rewarding because it reminded methat creativity has no limit. The students hadn't been faced with the practicality of design and that's where Brad and I stepped in to help develop their ideas into a more practical structure. Because the students knew I had been in the very class that they were in, some would ask me about my experience and how I got to the position I am in today.

When talking with the students about college and a possible career in architecture, I could see that same spark that I had while in high school, a mix of excitement about the future but also scared. I tried to make it clear that sometimes the path to your dreams is not at all as straight as you imagine it to be. I struggled from college denials to medical withdrawals, and I was still able to achieve my dream of becoming an architect. I feel that it is important to encourage students to chase their career goals because if I would have listened to all the negativity that all the articles online were saying about architecture back in 2008-2009, I would have never been able to do what I truly love. Today's students are tomorrow's future and being able to influence one student or even an entire class is something that will benefit everyone. You never think that you will make it to that other side when you are just a high school student, but with enough passion and support from mentors like Mr. Johnson and Ms. O'Brian, you can achieve your wildest dreams. I am excited to see what the next few months bring for me, and I am looking forward to the next opportunity to influence more students to chase their dreams of being an architect, and support the design of spaces in schools where dreams begin.