Graduate profile: Architecture student wants to use design to improve lives
Graduating senior Erin Sanchez of Highland Park, N.J., is completing her bachelor of architecture in the College and Architecture and Urban Studies. Her senior thesis is a design concept for a community wellness center for lower income families in a derelict neighborhood, and her focus is on ways of creating new opportunities for the people who live there. The project represents the culmination of her personal journey as an architecture student to realize how she might use her talents and education to help others.
Sanchez is one of those people whose positive energy and enthusiasm for life are contagious. When asked what drives her on a daily basis, she says that it is the thought of making other people happy, whether it is through singing a song or designing something that improves someone’s life.
Reflecting on her college experience and plans for her future career, Sanchez says that her third year was pivotal for her. “That’s when I realized that I can use design to help people and to make the world a better place. It was a life-changing year,” she said.
During that year, Sanchez participated in a three-week industrial design study abroad program in Northern India, where she helped design a financial literacy tool for women. That same year, she was part of the student team that designed and built the Covington Farmers Market during the two-semester design/buildLAB. That project solidified her vision of a career in architecture that fits with her passion for helping people.
“I am not really interested in designing beautiful skyscrapers — I respect people who do that — but one of my biggest struggles throughout architecture school was that I want to help people, and I wasn’t sure how I could do that,” said Sanchez. “After I did design/buildLAB, I realized that there is a way you can be an architect for the people, that you can design for the community and help people, and that’s what I want to do.”
For Sanchez, who says she has been interested in architecture since she was six years old, the School of Architecture + Design — consistently ranked among the top in the nation — was a good fit for her career aspirations.
She felt an immediate connection with Virginia Tech from her first visit to campus, and made the most of her time at the university, filling her schedule with her academic pursuits and extracurricular activities.
While architecture is a demanding major, Sanchez also completed minors in Spanish in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences and industrial design in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies, tailoring her academic pursuits to her personal interests and goals. Sanchez is bilingual and has travelled extensively across Latin America, studying culture, taking courses taught in Spanish, and even volunteering at local orphanages. Sanchez elected to pursue the minor in Spanish to improve her grammar, because while many would consider her fluent, she felt that she had more to learn. Her desire to help people led her to the minor in industrial design as a continued exploration of ways to use design to improve lives.
Sanchez felt that it was important to balance academics with other activities, finding that her extracurricular pursuits improved her creativity in the studio. She was involved with Alpha Rho Chi, the professional design fraternity, and participated in numerous activities on campus, including singing in a capella groups, salsa dancing, playing ultimate Frisbee and soccer, and participating in the Big Event and Relay for Life. She is also an avid Hokies football fan, and could regularly be found cheering on the team at games.
“When you have a major that’s really time consuming, you have to prioritize what you want to do, because if you are not doing what you want to do, then you are not really living the life you want to live,” Sanchez said. “So you have to be sure you’re involved with what you want to spend time on, and at the same time, don’t let your studies fall behind.”
Sanchez also made the time to be a student ambassador for the College of Architecture and Urban Studies, which she said she loved doing. “I have always wanted to help people find where they belong — to find their niche — I know that people did that for me when I got here,” she said. “I love Virginia Tech, so I want to share that enthusiasm with people.”