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Name: Sophia Aguayo-Garber
Class: BS Architecture 2021
Hometown: Worcester, MA

Last semester, I had the exciting opportunity to attend FORUM, an annual conference hosted by the AIAS. It was held here in Boston and was hosted by Wentworth and Massachusetts College of Art. Being a first-year student who had never attended a conference before, I had no clue what it entailed but I was excited.

I knew this would be an amazing experience that would allow me to explore the field of architecture more fully Knowing that it would be interesting to get a glimpse behind the scenes, I also signed up to be a volunteer. This also gave me the chance to show off my city to students visiting from elsewhere.

As first year student who had never been to a conference before, I had blindly registered for sessions that had even mild appeal. I also knew that with my fledgling portfolio, the networking options would not mean that I would walk out of there with prospective jobs. I went into the conference with an open mind and hoped for a learning experience.

The entire conference opened my eyes to not only my future options in architecture but the future of the profession as a whole. There were certain moments that stood out. Every evening, there was a general session that not only held the thrilling “roll call,” but also the keynote speakers.

On the first evening, there was a panel that included Emily Grandstaff-Rice of Arrowstreet Inc. who has chaired a national commission on equity and diversity in architecture.

During the panel discussion, she addressed the lack of diversity in the field. As a Hispanic woman in architecture, I know how the imbalance sometimes intimidates women, Hispanics, African-Americans, and other minorities. However, hearing her talk about this inspired me to also advocate for our presence, to be more noticeable and important within the field. Ever since I decided to go into architecture, I have been warned about the gender gap, and her reassurance that there are people out there trying to improve this was incredible to hear.

The next day, the keynote speaker was Gary Handel. I knew generally who he was and about Handel Architects, but when he mentioned his work on the High Line in Manhattan, I had a realization that as an architect, I could potentially work on projects like that. The High Line is one of my favorite spots in New York and has been a great innovation in urban parks. I would be thrilled to work on a unique project. Although I know generally what I can do with an architecture degree, this opened up new paths that I had never really thought about.

The final keynote speaker that impacted me was Alan Ricks of MASS Design Group. I have always had a desire to work to change the world, but have never been sure how exactly to tie that into architecture. Ricks’ projects included not only building hospitals in Africa but also building houses to attract doctors to work in these hospitals. The work that MASS Design Group does reassured me that I could help others through my design skills.  Every keynote speaker brought a new aspect to the conference and exposed me to various aspects of architecture in a new and interesting way.

Along with the general sessions, there were many great informational sessions. I heard local architects as well as some from across the country talk about everything from augmented reality to the future of the field. The tours I went on also provided me a new insight on Boston though I have lived locally my entire life. I also met colleagues not only from the neighboring schools of Wentworth and Mass Art, but from all around the country. These people were inspiring and it was great to meet other people who are interested in the same things as I. Overall, my experience at FORUM opened my eyes to many new exciting things as well as led to friendships that I know will last.