How to Grow Your Network in the AIA with Graciela Carrillo

Architect at Cashin AssociatesAIA Long Island Women in Architecture Co- Chair, AIA Young Architects Forum Regional Director and 2019 Presidential Elect of AIA Long IslandGraciela Carrillo, joins us to share how she went from being an architect in Colombia to the USA, how she buckled down and prepared for the AREs with excellent time management skills, and the key ingredient to live a work-life balance that makes you happy.  

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Graciela Carrillo | Architect & President Elect of AIA Long Island  

Originally from Bogota, Colombia, Graciela grew up within the construction industry environment as her father and two older brothers were passionate about their careers as civil engineers. She had considered a similar path but wasn’t sure about construction because she was not a huge fan of the analytical side to it. However, because she loved design and being creative, she found a good match with architecture. 

She received her Bachelor of Architecture from Pontificia Universidad Javeriana and worked in an engineering company. Soon after that, she worked for The Institute of Urban Development as a Project Coordinator in Bogota before making the decision to move to New York City. 

Since coming to the USA, starting over wasn’t easy but determination was a key ingredient to becoming a licensed architect in the state of New York. She first received her Master’s Degree in Science, Urban Environmental Planning from the Pratt Institute. Then, she had to complete the required 3 years of the NCAARB Architectural Experience Program (AXP) (back then called the Intern Development Program). Finally, she could begin studying for the AREs and taking the exams.  

Along the way, she joined organizations such as AIA Long Island which helped her grow her network and meet new people. Once a shy person, she has now blossomed into a strong leader of AIA Long Island having worked on projects such as their first ever Emerging Professionals Committee and Women in Architecture Committee not to mention taking on the role of Regional Director for the AIA Young Architects Forum and currently the 2019 President Elect for AIA Long Island. 

With a lot on her shoulders, how does she do it all? Graciela has cracked the code to work-life balance by finding activities to do that she loves including going for a bike ride, playing with her French bulldog, Gamble, or even taking on second job at Oakley just to focus on something other than architecture.  

From being a leader, to the benefits of networking, learning time management skills, and teaching others how to find time for themselves, there is a lot we can learn from Graciela about professional career development.  

What You’ll Hear on This Episode  

  • What it was like to grow up in Bogota, Colombia with a family full of civil engineers. 
  • Why she chose to pursue a career in architecture over construction like her family members.  
  • The process she faced to become licensed through the NAAP accreditation process. 
  • What life-changing event brought her to move and work in the USA.  
  • How her education in Colombia differs from the requirements in the USA for licensed architects.  
  • Why she enjoys taking on various roles at work in environmental projects, construction management, architectural projectsand lead management role. 
  • The different projects she has worked on at her company and what she has learned from each one.  
  • Various events and situations that have come up for Graciela, Michael, and others during the middle of preparing for the AREs.  
  • What it’s like to work with the AIA and what they have in store for the future of AIA Long Island.  
  • How she became involved in AIA Long Island when she first began working in the USA.  
  • What she’s done to improve her way up in AIA Long Island including beginning their first ever Emerging Professionals Committee. 
  • All of her involvement in AIA Long Island including the outreach to young, emerging professionals. 
  • Her position as the Young Architect Director of AIA New York and how that helped her to reach out to even more young, emerging professionals.  
  • How she began the Women in Architecture Committee in Long Island by being inspired by the AIA Women’s Leadership Summit 
  • What steps she takes to make sure she has a healthy work-life balance and her advice for others.  
  • Why tracking her time and keeping a timesheet while studying for the AREs was key to helping improve her time management skills. 

Top 3 Takeaways from This Episode 

  1. The sooner you can focus and complete your AREs, the better. Don’t take breaks and come back to them weeks or months later. It’s better if you just buckle down now, focus, and get them done. 
  2. Make sure you take the time for yourself to do something that you love. Even if it’s as simple as going for a walk in your neighborhood. Taking a break and doing something to clear your mind can do wonders for studying or focusing on having a better work-life balance.
  3. You never know when networking can come in handy. Someone you meet today could be beneficial to you on a project you’re working on years from now. So, don’t hesitate from attending an organization or networking event because building your community will be so helpful down the road.  

Graciela Carrillo’s Advice for Aspiring Architects 

“Get involved with your community. Get involved with your association. Go volunteer; volunteering is precious time. You learn a lot from it and you can meet a lot of people who you can help or they can help you. I have met a lot of amazing people through AIA and believe it or not but we have worked together on various projects. So, it’s good to always be networking.” 

“Find a mentor but try to find someone outside of your company because that person will really give you valuable advice.” 

“Always ask questions and never stop dreaming. Set goals for yourself; that’s very important but never stop dreaming. You can always achieve what you want; you just have to have the planning and organizational skills that will eventually help you achieve it.”  

Favorite Quotes 

“Just take your exams and don’t even overthink about it. Don’t procrastinate, take them one after the next, and don’t take breaks. Don’t take breaks during the AREs because that’s what will kill you. To have to start again with your routine and get used to studying every night or week isn’t worth it. Just do it. Just dedicate your time every day to studying for the exams. Take a break once or twice a week but other than that, just do it and finish your exams as soon as you can because it’s precious time.” – Graciela Carrillo’s advice on preparing for the AREs.   

“I see a lot of people struggling with long work hours. Especially for architects who sometimes work nights or even during the weekends. On top of that, a lot of them are studying for the AREs which is not easy and you have to dedicate a lot of time to it. Sometimes, all of that effort and energy really consumes you and you don’t even remember what you did during the day. At some point, my life was just like that and I realized it wasn’t what I wanted. So, I put myself in check and my husband, Vincent, helped me bring a lot of fun into my life. Since that moment, I try to work as much as I can but I also try to enjoy life. Enjoying life just means doing other activities that will bring you that happiness you need. Even something simple like riding bikes or playing with our French bulldog, Gamble, makes my day better. We’ve actually met a lot of people and made a lot of friends because of the events we go to with Gamble. On top of that, I had to decide what I was going to do with all of my free time once my AREs were over. So, I actually began working a second job in retail at Oakley just to do something outside of architecture and I really love working there a couple of nights a week.” – Graciela Carrillo on the importance of work-life balance and how she achieved it to match her lifestyle and interests.   

“You should do what you like no matter what. If you find something that makes you happy, even if it brings you just a little bit of happiness, do it.” – Graciela Carrillo on work-life balance and doing something that you love.  

“I used to be so shy and quiet but I came to learn the importance and value of networking. Thanks to being an AIA associate, I was exposed to all of these other architects that I could learn from. You don’t always have to reinvent the wheel when you have people you can contact. It’s just good to network because we all work in different scenarios and businesses. Some people do a lot of residential, municipal, or hospitality work. The architecture profession is just very vast and you can always find someone that can help you with something. That’s the value of belonging to an organization like AIA.” – Graciela Carrillo on the power of networking and being a part of an association.  

Resources Mentioned in the Show 



Michael Riscica

Michael Riscica is a Licensed Architect, Founder and Head Coach of the ARE Boot Camp Coaching Program & Online Study Group.

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