Graciela Carrillo is an Architect from Colombia. Currently, she works as a Senior Manager for Nassau BOCES, based in Garden City, NY. Over the past ten years, she has been involved with the AIA at the local, state, and national level, currently serving as the LI Chapter’s President 2020-2021 and Women In Architecture Co-Founder and Co-Chair.
As you will quickly learn from our conversation, Graciela is an exceptional advocate for immigrant professionals established here in the US and plays an active role in supporting them in their path towards licensure. Also, Graciela founded the PowerwfulSpeechesWia platform to champion women architects, promote, advance, and elevate women in our profession. I am really excited to share her story with everyone today!
Graciela, please share with us your personal story that led to where you are today.
I received my B. Arch in Bogota, Colombia. While in Colombia, I worked as an Architect at Bogota’s Institute of Urban Development (IDU), a Government-owned institution in charge of city planning and infrastructure construction for Bogotá.
For security issues back in Bogota, I decided to leave Colombia and explore NY possibilities. After interviewing at a few firms in 2003, I accepted an offer. I processed my work HB1 visa and moved to Long Island, NY, to work for Cashin Associates, P.C, an Engineering Consulting firm based in Long Island, NY. While at Cashin, I led all scales of urban design, planning, and architectural projects, including leading municipalities to integrate sustainability features within their projects and LEED project administration and commissioning services.
Before getting licensed, I completed a Master in Environmental Management Systems at Pratt Institute and became a LEED accredited professional. In 2013 after many ARE failed tests, I completed the licensing process and started my leadership path.
This year, I started working as a Senior Manager position at Nassau BOCES Facilities Services, an NYS agency in charge of the maintenance, renovations, and construction of schools in Long Island.
Another important aspect of my professional life is my volunteering time at AIA. I joined the AIA Long Island Board of Directors as the Associate Director in 2012. Once I got licensed, I stepped up as Director, Secretary, Treasurer, Vice President until now that I was elected the 2020-2021 President. I also served as the Young Architect Regional Director (YARD) for NYS in 2017-2018.
I know you are working on two incredible projects, Powerful Speeches WIA and the Immigrants Architects Coalition. Can you describe each and tell our readers what they should know about them?
Powerful Speeches was an initiative that started in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. All the AIA Women In Architecture groups were hosting significant events in an online format. I realized that we needed to take advantage of the endless possibilities of networking and social media exposure.
As a result, I created the website to compile as many WIA events as possible so people have one place to register for the events. My position as the AIA LI WIA Co-Chair allows me to communicate with a network of WIAs Co-Chairs. Therefore I receive information about these great events around the US.
Also, I dedicated a page to compile podcasts hosted by women in design and a page with WIA-related resources. Lastly, I collaborated with colleague Diane Leeson, AIA, to develop a WIA Salary Survey.
This project is an important endeavor and a necessary step toward ensuring transparency and equity in the profession. We hope to process the data over the upcoming months and release results in summer 2021.
The Immigrant Architects Coalition is an initiative that started in 2019 where three of us, all architects immigrants, got together to present at A19 in Las Vegas the session “How Immigrant Architects Can Prosper in the US”. After the session, we noticed among the session attendees the need for a support network to navigate the professional, cultural, and legal paths to succeed in this country. The Coalition is developing a comprehensive guide with other immigrant architects’ help to provide resources and mentoring opportunities.
What are you doing to support immigrant architects to build healthy and successful careers?
A few people have approached me lately because they want to start a professional career in the US. Some of them have reached out to me after listening to the podcast that Young Architect Michael Riscica did with me in 2018, where I talked about my career and leadership path as an immigrant. My past experience allows me to mentor them in different aspects from a professional and cultural perspective.
During my conversations with immigrant architects, I usually emphasize the importance of obtaining a professional license and improving their education. Also, we discuss topics such as cultural bias, cultural shock, and the immigration process.
You are an exceptional advocate for mentorship and empowering women in architecture. What advice or tips do you have for our readers on seeking mentorship or showing up as a mentor for others?
Mentoring should happen naturally. Usually, mentees find their mentor just by starting a conversation or asking questions. After making that connection, the relation mentor/mentee starts to develop organically without knowing that a mentorship relationship is happening. This organic situation would be the ideal situation for mentoring. Mentoring also develops after a mentee reaches out to an experienced professional. I have had the opportunity to start a mentoring process in both scenarios. Both are very successful if both parties comply with the time commitment, honesty, and willingness to accept criticism and advice.
I advise mentors to follow the “Five Questions Every Mentor Musk Ask.”*
1. What is it that you want to be and do?
2. What are you doing well that is helping you get there?
3. What are you not doing well that is preventing you from getting there?
4. What will you do differently tomorrow to meet those challenges?
5. How can I help / where do you need the most help?
Young Professionals should also look for local mentoring programs with organizations/programs like AIA, USGBC, ACE Mentorship programs. As an example, every year, we run a Mentoring program at the AIA Long Island Chapter. The Emerging Professionals Committee organizes the program, a Committee I co-founded in 2015 and since then has been very active in supporting the future generation of professionals.
In the AIA LIEP Mentoring program, groups formed consisting of one or more college student(s), a non-licensed professional, a newly licensed professional, and a Senior Architect (usually a Principal or Owner of an architectural firm). Meetings happen every week or every other week for about two months. At the end of the program, we host a panel discussion with the Senior Architects where they discuss the outcome of their mentoring sessions and provide an opportunity for mentees to ask questions to the rest of the experienced architects.
Lastly, I believe that we all need mentors throughout our entire professional life. It is healthy and productive to seek out help, advice, and collaboration. It is also essential to find a mentor outside of your work environment to have an opinion that is not biased because of the work situation.
What is NEXT for you? What is the most important thing you are working on for the future?
Besides all the advocacy work I do as part of my AIA Presidency role, the most important initiative that I want to take further is Powerful Speeches.
Through the platform, I want to make an impact outside my job and outside of AIA Long Island. I started highlighting the events hosted by WIA groups, podcast, and their websites.
My next step is to consolidate a database for the WIA committees to identify those regions/components that are lacking a WIA group. The goal is to create a network of collaborators to help those components create WIA committees. Also, the salary survey will be another vital task. We want to improve the study to gather a more solid database.
Our next step will include men in the study to compare apples to apples and determine the real gap in salary compensation.
Finally, please let us know how our readers can connect with you and learn more.
Thank you for reading my story. If anyone is looking to connect, collaborate, seek advice, I’m always willing to help and have a nice conversation. You can reach out to me at:
Immigrant Coalition https://www.immigrantarchitects.org