By Tracey Leibach

Odette Gonzalez Ferreras, who will graduate from Rensselaer on May 18 with a Bachelor of Architecture degree, moved to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic in high school with the goal of pursuing her bachelor’s degree in architecture. In her design work, she takes into consideration the needs of the users, “especially those of minorities and people from communities like mine,” she said.

Open space, ease of circulation, accessibility, adaptive reuse, and sustainability are also values that she keeps in mind when creating her designs. She tries to include lighter materials such as wood and glass. “That is more my style rather than exposed concrete like we see in brutalism, and this choice is also generally better for the environment,” she said.

Gonzalez Ferreras was a recipient of the Hickok Cole RISE Internship and Stipend in 2023. The program provides financial assistance and professional experience to support promising Black architecture and interior design students. Recipients receive a paid summer internship and a $5,000 stipend for university-related expenses. She worked in Hickok Cole’s Washington, D.C., office.

“Helping the interior design team with a lobby iteration, and being there when the client liked it, was great,” she said. “Sitting in work sessions and client meetings allowed me to see the inner workings of the design team, how they take feedback from the client, and how that reflects on new iterations. This internship helped me establish short-term goals regarding the type of firm I want to work for and the type of work I’d like to do in the future.”

One of the reasons Gonzalez Ferreras chose RPI was the opportunity to study abroad. She spent her semester in Italy. “Besides enjoying the program in Rome, this also opened the possibilities for me to explore other parts of Italy and do some independent travel to other countries in Europe,” she said. She visited the Colosseum, the Louvre, St. Peter’s Basilica, and the ruins in Agrigento, Sicily.

On campus, she was particularly involved in the RPI chapters of the American Institute of Architecture Students and the National Organization of Minority Architecture Students. A minor in graphic design allowed her to learn new art forms such as screen printing and 2D motion graphics. “Additionally, I also got to see really interesting lectures and exhibitions through programs like the School of Architecture’s lecture series and field trips with art professors.”

After graduation, she plans to head back to the Dominican Republic to visit family and friends. She is deciding on starting her career or continuing on to earn a master’s degree.

Her advice to incoming students is to be patient and persistent. “Just take it one step at a time. Some weeks are harder than others, but as long as you stay afloat and keep going, you’ll get it done,” she said.

Always hand something in,” she continued. “It may not be your proudest work but having something to show when class time comes is essential, that way you can have a discussion with the professor and you don’t fall behind. Surround yourself with people that don’t give up and keep as positive an attitude as possible.”