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Meet Catherine Harrison of American Institute of Architecture Students (AIAS)

Today we’d like to introduce you to Catherine Harrison.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
My architectural journey started during my sophomore year of high school. I confirmed my passion for architecture when I started taking classes at the Guthrie Center. There, I learned the basics of architecture such as scaling, sketching with a time limit, computer drafting, hand drafting and modeling at a young age. I was given access to materials that could not have been accessible in a normal school such as a 3D printer, a laser cutter, and computers with AutoCAD, Revit, Google Sketchup, and other computer drafting applications used by professional architects.

At the center, I got certified in both AutoCAD and Revit, giving me a headstart in college. I have participated in multiple architectural competitions thanks to this program and have even placed in two out of three of those competitions. They have prepared me for future experiences when working with tight deadlines and under pressure as well as how to work in a group. Not only have I participated in architecture programs during high school, but I have also participated in Pratt Institute’s Summer Pre-College Program for architecture in Brooklyn, NY back in 2015. There, I refined my hand drafting and modeling skills with real college classes and professors. I was also able to expand my knowledge in art and design by visiting New York’s museums.

During my first year of studying architecture at the Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture at the University of Houston, I came into contact with the student organization, “American Institute of Architecture Students” (AIAS). Being a very outgoing person, I was really excited to be able to share my passion for architecture with others on a national level. I signed up immediately and became very involved with the organization: going to all of the events, volunteering, and networking. Around the end of my second semester of college, I had the opportunity to run for an officer position. The current president, Michael Chang, suggested I run for Social Coordinator for the 2017-2018 board and my close friend, Lisa Evans, nominated me.

After a few interviews and a speech, I received an email telling me that I got the position! I was thrilled to be able to help my student organization more than I already was and am enjoying it to this day. AIAS is not the only student organization that I participate in; I am also a student ambassador for the College of Architecture and Design and give weekly tours to incoming freshman. I take part in the Industrial Design Intramural Soccer team and I am the Social Media Coordinator for the ESport group at UH. My involvement in these organizations doesn’t stop me from giving it my all in studio and other classes because I have learned how to manage my time.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Rheumatoid Arthritis is an autoimmune disease that causes your immune system to attack the lining of your joints, causing a painful swelling that can eventually result in bone erosion and joint deformity. The pain was gradual: At first, the exterior of the balls of my feet only felt like a small bruise but the pain escalated to where I could not climb flights of stairs. I did not go see a rheumatologist until my elbow locked at a 45-degree angle after donating blood in 2015.

After a few blood tests, the doctor concluded that I had Rheumatoid Arthritis. I was given a large variety of medication and was told to stop any type of contact sport. Being told so at a young age is heartbreaking but I didn’t give up; I found joy in swimming and weightlifting. The mix of physical therapy and medication allowed my elbow to straighten out after four months of limited movement. I learned to manage the pain and take time to take care of myself.

RA can be triggered with stress, making my first year studying architecture in college painful; I had to take frequent breaks while hand drafting due to my swelling knuckles. After sleepless nights of designing, I would have very painful days, flaring up easily due to the pressure of the first-year studio. Thanks to the advancement in medication in the past years and the transfer from hand drafting to digital design, I am able to control my pain and keep pursuing my dream of becoming the better RA (Registered Architect).

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about American Institute of Architecture Students (AIAS) – what should we know?
The American Institute of Architecture Students is a non-profit, national organization that allows students to become better leaders, designers, and advance in the architectural field. AIAS allows leadership and professional development for college students before being exposed to the world of architecture. We hold many professional events ranging from firm tours to programming classes to allow professional networking and development. Students also give back to the community with Freedom By Design: the AIAS community service program that allows students to use their designs and talents to impact the lives around them and allows real-world interactions with clients.

My role in the AIAS Houston Chapter is Social Coordinator. My job is to plan social events around the College of Architecture and Design, which allow students to network between each other and take breaks from their projects. These events range from small movie nights to Architorture (our large Halloween party). I create connections in the real world and learn to be professional in exchanges with clients.

Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
Being outgoing while remaining professional is an essential quality to be where I am. I am not afraid to go up to someone and introduce myself in order to create connections that could help later in life. Ambition is another quality that I believe is a requirement to achieve success followed by hard work and dedication.

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