Reflecting On Our NOMA Foundation Fellowship Experience

James Chidiac and Amalia Sosa
James Chidiac and Amalia Sosa

James Chidiac didn’t know he wanted to be an architect or designer until the summer of his junior year at California Baptist University. At that time, he had the opportunity to participate in a summer program focused on designing at different scales and using different ways of representation. From then on, James says, “I knew I loved design and that I excelled in it.” Similarly, Amalia Sosa recalls being interested in architecture, design, and construction at a young age, but it wasn’t until she stumbled upon an architecture history class at Citrus Community College that it clicked. That class prompted her to sign up for her first drawing course, and from there she says, “I knew I wanted to become an architect.”

Fast forward to summer 2022. HDR had the privilege of welcoming James and Amalia into our Los Angeles and Seattle architecture studios, respectively, for eight weeks as NOMA Foundation Fellows.

NOMA, the National Organization of Minority Architects, is an organization dedicated to minimizing the effect of racism in architecture, a profession known for having low levels of diversity.

“As one of the largest architecture firms in the world, it is our moral imperative to play a bigger role in promoting inclusion, diversity and equity in our company and our profession,” said Sangmin Lee, chair of the HDR Architecture Inclusion, Diversity & Equity Council. “As sponsors of the NOMA Foundation Fellowship, we provide mentorship and firm access for the next generation of minority architects and designers, which is crucial to promoting inclusion, diversity, and equity in all aspects of our work.”

A Glimpse into their Experience

Leadership in each HDR office worked together with James and Amalia to define what a successful internship would be like for each of them and created a plan for accomplishing specific goals. “As a result,” Sangmin said, “James and Amalia spent their time working on real projects, in alignment with their interests, that generate results.”

HDR Seattle Managing Principal Duncan Griffin recalls introducing Amalia to the concept of carbon balanced buildings. “She very quickly became adept at the analysis, helping out tremendously on the Plant Biosciences Research Building,” Duncan said. “It was a great learning experience,” Amalia said, “I learned a grand amount about regenerative design research that I will apply in my future work.”

“You know you have a great intern with they bring a combination of talent, digital skills, and most importantly, they take pleasure in learning about the reality of the practice,” said Civic Design Director Kate Diamond. “I apologized to James when we needed him to work on laying out a series of parking configurations for a campus master plan because it wasn’t a great design opportunity. He beamed and stated that it was great experience that would contribute to his goals of opening his own practice!”

Watching Kate Diamond interact with clients stands out as a most memorable moment for James. “It was amazing to watch her in action, always asking the right questions and moving through the presentation without a hiccup,” James said. “I will always refer to that memory and take it with me in my architecture journey.”

For Amalia, visiting the Sound Transit East Link project site in Bellevue, Washington was an invaluable experience. “It was great to learn what it takes to build grand projects like this one and hear the many ways the public will benefit from the project.” 

Amalia with group
Amalia (front row) is pictured here with her Seattle colleagues outside their office in Union Square.

Making a Positive Impact on our Culture

In just a short eight weeks, James and Amalia made a positive impact on our culture. Their enthusiasm toward learning as much as possible about how we work and how buildings go together brought fresh perspectives to the Los Angeles and Seattle offices.

HDR Interior Designer Ruby Thorp says having Amalia in the Seattle office inspired people to put on their mentor hats. “Everyone was great about not just explaining the tasks, but also providing reason for why a task is done a certain way and how it comes into play later,” Ruby said. “It was nice to see everyone taking an extra step back to set the stage.” As a result, Amalia said, “I will carry the importance of working as a team and having great communication with colleagues and clients with me from this experience.”

James valued establishing connections with people in the LA office. “I will never forget the amazing community the LA office has and use it as a standard moving forward in my career,” James said.

group picture of teammates wearing hard hats
James (second from the left, front row) and his colleagues at a hard hat tour of the Orange Country Sanitation District Administrative Headquarters project.

Looking Forward

James is on track to graduate from the Southern California Institute of Architecture with a Master of Architecture in September 2023. Amalia is on target to earn her M.A. in architecture from the California Baptist University in September 2023.

“We wish them great success as they continue their studies and careers” Sangmin said. “As for HDR, we are most certainly participating in NOMA Fellowships for as many years as NOMA allows. Diversity levels within design professions are not where they need to be. We are proud to support the NOMA Foundation Fellowship as it helps increase our efforts and investments in identifying and removing the barriers for emerging professionals pursuing careers in design.”