As first-year Architectural Drafting & Design student Estela Gomez explored career-minded groups related to her field of study, she saw a need and decided to act.
“It was very overwhelming,” Gomez said. “With such big groups, I kind of felt lost, and I wasn’t sure where my place was or how I could contribute.”
She decided Dunwoody Architecture students needed a smaller group — more focused than what the American Institute of Architecture Students (AIAS) and the student chapter of the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMAS) offered — a place where women from different backgrounds could come together to share resources and experiences.
By the end of the second semester, the Women in Architecture group was formed.
“It is very unusual for a first-year student to put forth so much effort to start and lead a student group,” Jessica Ainsworth-Truong, Architecture & Interior Design Senior Instructor said.
Going forward, the group hopes to build a robust community that will include mentors, not only from the industry, but from also within the Architecture program itself.
“Estela is full of thoughtful ideas to grow the Women in Architecture group, all of which will benefit our students,” Ainsworth-Truong said. “She is highly engaged and wants to create a variety of opportunities for others to be as well. We are fortunate she has taken this on.”
Gomez has hopes that the group will be able to share helpful tips not only with newer students coming into the program, but with interested high school students. “That can only come from a place of knowledge and experience,” she said.
For this, she was presented the Dunwoody Diversity and Inclusion Award, an honor bestowed upon a student who has shown commitment to multicultural and diversity initiatives, as well as evidence of a positive impact upon the College.
The practice of mentorship comes naturally to Gomez, who has worked as a Spanish teacher and currently as an early childhood educator. She continues to incorporate Spanish into her curriculum. “It not only expands their vocabulary, but it opens doors to different cultures and traditions,” she said.
When Gomez was 6 years-old, she immigrated from Central Mexico to Minnesota with her family. Excited by both Mexican and American building styles from an early age, she was drawn to the idea of becoming an architect and owning her own firm someday.
An introductory architecture course in high school further cemented this idea. However, as a young mother, the idea of attending a large university right after graduating from Richfield High School did not appeal to her.
“The thought of going straight to the ‘U’ was intimidating,” she said.
Instead, she pursued her generals at a local community college, keeping her dream of architecture simmering on the back burner.
When Gomez realized the mother of one of her students was a project manager at RSP Architects Ltd., she asked her if she would give her a tour.
It was this interaction that would eventually lead her to Dunwoody.
“Just going there was like going into a candy store,” Gomez said.
She talked to architects and learned about other job titles within the field. One employee happened to be teaching at Dunwoody at the time and told her about Dunwoody’s uniquely structured program.
After looking into it, Gomez thought the program would be a good fit, and applied. Once accepted, she was offered a Women in Technical Careers (WITC) scholarship, something she said has greatly helped her finance her dream.
The idea of returning to school as a non-traditional student was daunting for Gomez. She worried she was going to be the oldest person in her class, but she was pleasantly surprised.
“You see people from different backgrounds and different stages of their lives,” Gomez said. “There were people here who already had a career and coming back to school, trying something new or furthering their education. Dunwoody has facilitated that.”
She was also drawn to Dunwoody’s hands-on approach to learning.
“Being able to work with CAD right off the bat, being able to work with all those programs, being able to develop a building the first semester was really exciting,” she said.
Gomez considers her first year, while completely virtual thanks to COVID19, a success.
She loved hand-drafting, and the sense of community that came with being in a cohort of like-minded people. Not only were the professors encouraging, “they have your best interests at heart, and they really want to help you wherever you are,” she said.
And her classmates all rolled up their sleeves and created virtual study groups to help support each other.
“Seeing all the things that I have been able to achieve as a first-year student just gives me hope,” Gomez said. “There is so much we can do and that we can achieve.”
She is looking forward to attending class in person in the Fall and looking for ways the Women in Architecture group can become more involved.
“As the group’s future begins to develop, I am excited and empowered by all the amazing possibilities that we can accomplish,” Gomez said. “Not only within Dunwoody, but in the next generation of women in architecture.”