nEXt-UP Alumni Panel Advocates for Students to Pursue Their Passions in Architecture

The nEXt-UP Alumni Panel & Networking Reception featured CMU School of Architecture alumni recounting their career paths through college to well after graduation. The panel included Erica Cochran, Avneet Gujral, Suzy Li, Lauren Schmidt, and Rachel Zsembery, with moderation from Christine Mondor. Photos by Christina Brown and Michael Powell.

By Evan Lehner 

In place of the traditional weekly Fall Lecture Series speaker, on Monday 5 November the School of Architecture hosted the second annual nEXt-UP Alumni Panel & Networking Reception, a collection of CMU School of Architecture graduates recounting their career paths through college to well after graduation. The all-female lineup featured moderator Christine Mondor (B.Arch ‘93), as well as panelists Erica Cochran (MSSD ‘09, PhD-BPD ‘14), Avneet Gujral (MSSD ‘07), Suzy Li (MUD ’13, M.S. Architecture ’14, PhD-BPD Candidate), Lauren Schmidt (B.Arch ‘04), and Rachel Zsembery (B.Arch ‘01). Through various, yet often overlapping perspectives, each shared their unique journey to becoming an architect and radiated their passion for their work to the audience gathered in Kresge Theatre.

Each woman had her own story to tell, and each approached the history of their work and career path through a different lens. Erica led the audience through her story, from the discovery of her passion in architecture, to her education, project works, and ultimately coming full circle to educating and inspiring the passions of the next generation of students. Avneet described her path towards becoming a LEED and affordable housing specialist through various works in India and the Washington, D.C. area. Following her, Suzy explained her belief in laying strong foundations in knowledge to influence change, a conviction she backed up by pursuing three graduate degrees from CMU. Lauren joked that she had taken the most boring and standard route of the architect, but her successful work as a job captain on numerous sites in New York City and as a LEED certified  professional point to a career that proves otherwise. Lastly, Rachel elaborated on the advantages of building a diverse and flexible background in order to “facilitate the development of my client’s fullest potential.”

Even though their talks followed different career narratives, the values that each panelist stressed remained the same. Taking risks, working passionately, being flexible, and staying patient were noticeable themes that permeated through all of the discussions. Above all, passion was a driving theme of each panelist’s career. Erica proclaimed, “I have to change the world,” and Avneet asserted, “If you’re not committed or passionate and don’t feel committed to giving back, your goals will not work.” It is easy to see the fervor that each of these women bring to their jobs as workers and educators. In turn, it makes it easier for others to learn from them.

Following the individual presentations, Christine posed several questions to the panel. When asked if the definition of an architect is changing, Rachel replied, “(Firms) are hiring people from different backgrounds, but with the same passion and purpose. We are not just designing spaces, but events that happen within space.” This mindset diminishes the stereotype of the master-architect, and instead points towards an ever increasing collaborative culture in the arena of design. Lauren added, “Getting a new set of challenges is what makes being an architect so great, you are always coming up with new answers,” indicating that as long as there are new problems for architects to face, their role will continue to evolve.  

Evan Lehner is a third-year Bachelor of Architecture student in the Carnegie Mellon University School of Architecture.