Q&A: NOMA Foundation Fellow shares insights about Populous experience

July 25, 2022

Throughout the summer of 2022, Pablo Guzman participated in the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) Foundation Fellowship program as an intern at Populous. This fellowship seeks to increase diversity within the architecture and design field, as well as offer firm mentorship and design research experience for young emerging professionals.

Pablo was born and raised in San Fernando Valley, California, and is entering his final year of the architecture master’s program at California Baptist University. Kayla Jemes — a senior at the University of Kansas and a 2022 marketing intern at Populous — sat down with Pablo to learn about him and his experience with the fellowship program.

Q: What sparked your interest in architecture?

A: My dad is a contractor in the Hollywood and Los Angeles area who works on residential homes and commercial buildings. Starting at the age of 10, I have helped him on job sites. At first, I simply brought my dad tools when he asked for them, which helped me learn their names and purposes. As I got older, I began to help with hands-on projects like home renovations, interiors, painting and tile work. I thoroughly enjoyed the process of revitalizing these homes into more effective and beautiful spaces, so I decided to pursue a career in architecture.

Q: How does your construction work experience influence your design process?

A: Working with my dad provided me a deeper understanding of the labor intensity each step of the construction process requires and how the materials utilized for a project may affect this intensity. This side of the design process helps me keep my ideas innovative yet realistic. I also emphasize the importance of a cohesive exterior and interior within my designs.

Q: How did you first become involved with the NOMA Foundation Fellowship?

A: I am involved with my school’s NOMA chapter, which I have always enjoyed taking part in. After speaking with a friend who participated in the fellowship program last summer with an architecture firm in Washington, D.C., I knew I had to apply. After I applied, I completed interviews with a few architecture firms and then NOMA acted as a mediator to facilitate a match process between students and firms. I was very excited when I matched with Populous!

Q: What hands-on experience have you gained through the fellowship?

A: I am currently working in Populous’ Design Studio, a creative team purpose-built to collaborate and problem solve with project teams across the firm. This has allowed me to gain experience on a variety of projects including, master plans, revising models and renderings and contributing to final presentation decks. I have mainly worked with Rhino, Photoshop, InDesign and Illustrator to complete these projects. These new skill sets and experiences will be very helpful moving forward and I am eager to apply them in the classroom when I return to school in the fall.

Q: What has been your favorite part of the fellowship?

A: The connections I have made. Everyone at Populous has been welcoming, supportive and willing to help when I have questions or want to learn new skills. We have had intern events such as a Kansas City Royals game and happy hours, which have allowed me to build connections with other interns. I have also been able to broaden my mindset by surrounding myself with people with different backgrounds than me. Each intern is matched an advocate and mine is Joel-Laurent Mbala-Nkanga, the treasurer of Kansas City’s NOMA chapter. He is always willing to provide feedback on my work and lend advice.

Q: What advice would you give to other individuals interested in the NOMA Foundation Fellowship?

A: Apply! This fellowship has been a positive and enriching experience as I have made new connections, gained new knowledge and hands-on experience. This fellowship is a great way to build a connection with a firm that cares about diversifying the architecture field and that has a culture established around this. I would suggest applying to the program as early as you can and practicing your interview skills. Before every interview I researched the firm and practiced answers to potential questions with a friend or family member. I would also suggest meeting with a professor or advisor at your school to revise and strengthen your portfolio.

Q: How has the fellowship positively impacted your life?

A: It has positively impacted my life in so many ways. I have been able to experience things I never thought I would. This has been my first time in the Midwest and thanks to a moving stipend provided by NOMA, this opportunity was able to become a reality. Throughout the entire experience, I have felt as though a system is supporting me and rooting for my success.

Q: What are your future aspirations after college graduation?

A: After college I intend to pursue an architecture and design career focused on commercial, event and mixed-use venues. I am excited to see where the connections that I have made at Populous this summer may lead me next.


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