This summer, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Chicago honored School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) student Roberto Quiroz with their Diversity Scholarship. Launched in honor of AIA’s 150th anniversary, the $6,000 scholarship is meant to attract diverse, talented professionals to the city, recognizing the unique contributions they can make to the profession.
Quiroz is working towards his Master of Architecture with a Certificate in Historic Preservation, and is about to begin his second year in the program. He first fell in love with the field when he was in middle school. His father—who sadly passed away when Quiroz was in high school—was a carpenter, and Quiroz often went to the sites he worked on. “I knew I liked houses and the idea of building things, even though at the time I didn’t know exactly what architecture was,” Quiroz said. He went on to study the field at Kent State University, becoming the first in his family to graduate from college.
The road to his undergraduate degree wasn’t easy. “I was paying for everything out of pocket—working as a bartender while also having an internship and being a student. I don’t know how I found the time,” Quiroz said. After graduating, he worked for a year at an architecture firm outside of Cleveland, but knew that he’d have to pursue a graduate degree to become fully licensed. He’d visited Chicago previously and fallen in love with the city, and knew that he wanted a school whose program was committed to sustainability, something he’d become passionate about at Kent State. SAIC was a perfect fit.
We can improve lives through design [and] influence the way people are and interact.
“The Certificate in Historic Preservation is one of the reasons I applied to SAIC,” Quiroz said. “There aren’t too many vacant lots anymore, so I think it makes the most sense financially and sustainably to use what’s already here. This is also what creates really interesting designs. You get things you’d never get just from building from the ground up.”
Though he had a strong fall, like countless other students, Quiroz’s school year was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Amidst this upheaval, Quiroz also experienced the unexpected loss of his mother, which forced him to return home for several weeks so he could be with his family. Though the past several months have been incredibly challenging, they’ve affirmed his commitment to his field. “I’m realizing the role of an architect is about much more than design,” Quiroz said. “We can improve lives through design [and] influence the way people are and interact. A lot of firms are thinking through what design for equity even looks like, what we need to have in mind while designing, and I’m excited to see where all of that goes.”
For Quiroz, the AIA scholarship feels like a recognition of everything he has accomplished. “It’s been a long road to get where I am,” Quiroz said. “To get this scholarship from AIA is a reassurance that all the hurdles are going to pay off. All of this has meaning.”