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    Designing for a Brighter Future

    By thebacboston
    Sep 7, '23 2:17 PM EST

    When Haydée Hernandez, M.Arch'23, logged onto Zoom from her home in San Antonio, Texas, a Boston Architectural College black commencement gown, purple hood, and black beret were pressed and hanging on her closet door in the background.

    The next week she would venture to Boston for the first time in her life to attend her BAC commencement, walk across the stage to the applause of the 158 other Class of 2023 graduates, and receive her Online Master of Architecture degree.

    Haydée Hernandez, M.Arch'23, receives her diploma at the 2023 Commencement. L to R: Judy Nitsch, BAC Board Chair, Mahesh Daas, BAC President, Haydée Hernandez, M.Arch'23, and Karen Nelson, Dean of the School of Architecture.

    For the 55-year-old single mom who had worked her way through the BAC while parenting a teenager through the Covid-19 pandemic, there was a tremendous amount to celebrate.

    The following week during his commencement address, BAC President Mahesh Daas would recognize Haydée as “A commendable example of resilience and dedication that encapsulates the spirit of this transformative class.”

    Her 17-year-old daughter Sophia was in the audience cheering. Sophia and her mom have done their homework side by side at the library for as long as she can remember.

    “When I first started my academic journey, she was five years old,” Haydée said, flipping through selfies of the pair at her graduation from Houston Community College and then with her bachelor’s degree from the University of Houston. But the degree that had the ability to transform her professional horizons the most was this one.

    Left Photo: Haydée Hernandez (center) with her mom, Magdalena (left), and her daughter, Sophia (right) graduates from Houston Community College. Right Photo: Haydée Hernandez (right) with her daughter, Sophia (left), graduates from the University of Houston.

    Prior to choosing the BAC, Haydée worked at an upscale furniture showroom in Houston where she visited clients’ homes and created floor plans and interior design schemes. “It was a very personal experience, designing someone’s space, managing the budget, and supervising tradespeople to work on each project,” she said. But it wasn’t enough for her. “I wanted to work on the architecture side of things too.” Haydée’s dream is to design commercial and civic spaces that make a significant difference in communities.

    The BAC Online Master of Architecture degree gave her the chance to make that dream a graspable reality.

    Instead of having to relocate Sophia and pay for rent in a new city, Haydée was able to study from home on Zoom and keep up a freelance job redesigning floorplans in between classes and parenting.

    After Sophia went to sleep, Haydée would often keep going at her drafting table in the corner of their living room. “I’m really into the structure, analyzing the demographics, the topography and hydrology of a site,” she explained. “Sometimes I would draft until three or four in the morning on Revit. I would get on a roll because I love the process so much.”

    Although all of Haydée’s classes, tutorials, and office hours took place virtually, she didn’t feel like that put her at a disadvantage when it came to accessing a high-quality education or one-on-one attention.

    “The coursework was not easy at all, but there were always people helping me, and that alleviated the stress,” she explained. Elizabeth Stuhlsatz, the Manager of the Learning Resource Center, explained complex concepts, while Dana Sly, the former Associate Director of the Library, helped Haydée think deeply about research topics for her projects.

    Haydée Hernandez, M.Arch'23, takes a selfie with her daughter, Sophia (left), during her graduation at the BAC 2023 Commencement.

    Although she received a partial scholarship, when Covid-19 lockdowns made it hard for Haydée to make tuition payments, the bursar’s office worked with her to make a payment plan.

    “I told my classmates that if you don’t use all of the resources that the BAC provides to students, you’re making school a lot harder for yourself,” she said.

    When it came time to formulate her thesis project, Haydée was closely guided by her mentor Karen Nelson, Dean and Faculty of Architecture. The problem she wanted to tackle was a personal one—mass migration at the border of Texas and Mexico. Haydée grew up in Mexico and came to the U.S. as an international student, but she saw the crowds of migrants crossing the border and heard the stories about detention centers, people sleeping under bridges, and in tent cities with unsanitary conditions.

    At Karen’s suggestion, she designed a safe, permanent shelter for migrants awaiting legal proceedings. She titled the project, Torre Pico: Dignified Housing for the Flow of Refugees. Located in the Tamaulipas region, which is close to the Gulf of Mexico, with a rich agricultural economy, Haydee’s city offers residents close proximity to employment.

    Haydée Hernandez, M.Arch'23, thesis project: "Torre Pico: Dignified Housing for the flow of Refugees."

    “Through thoughtful, human-based architecture, refugees’ cities of the future can avoid becoming tent camps. Instead, they can become vibrant communities that support diversity by interconnecting populations and increasing mental health resources, community support, and a productive lifestyle,” Haydée said.

    It was a long and winding path, but with her degree in hand, Haydée is literally designing her own future. “I now not only have a career, but I also love what I do. My master’s degree has given me the ability to interview for jobs that I really care about—and will also give me a better lifestyle,” she said.

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