Nov 18th 2019

AIA Chicago Foundation's Inaugural Diversity Scholarship Goes to Two Illinois Tech Students

Maria Hidalgo (left) and Aman Panach (right)

On October 25 the American Institute of Architects Chicago held its annual Designight, which, this year, marked 150 years for the organization. Also celebrated was the inaugural AIA Chicago Foundation Diversity Scholarship and its first two recipients: Maria Hidalgo (B.ARCH. 4th Year) and Aman Panach (M.ARCH. 1st Year), both students from Illinois Institute of Technology’s College of Architecture.

The scholarship is a result of a multiyear initiative of AIA Chicago, and awards $10,000 each to an undergraduate student and a graduate student in a National Architectural Accrediting Board-accredited architecture program. In addition, both students receive mentorship from a seasoned architect and member of AIA Chicago. By providing these resources, the organization’s aim is to attract and promote young and diverse talent in Chicago.

“In a diverse and inclusive design team, creative solutions tend to be more innovative and comprehensive,” says Chris-Annmarie Spencer, AIA Chicago Foundation board member and longtime champion of the Diversity Scholarship. “With diversity in individuals, a team benefits from different experiences and perspectives.”

Growing up, both Hidalgo and Panach showed a passion for architecture and design, even if they didn’t fully realize it at the time. Hidalgo says that in her spare time as a kid, she would make detailed interior design models inspired by her uncle’s cardboard construction models. Panach, meanwhile, says she first took a real interest in buildings when her grandfather was renovating his home in India when she was 4 years old.

“We would walk around and talk about it, like, ‘Oh we should do this and that.’ The one thing I remember is that I really wanted a bedroom on the terrace overlooking the fields,” Panach says. “After that, I moved to the U.S. and forgot about it, but then after a few years, when we went back to visit, I was given a surprise: there it all was; he had taken my advice. That really showed me the power of design and how it can be realized.”

Yet, despite their intrinsic interest in the built world, both Hidalgo and Panach say the decision to pursue architecture wasn’t an obvious one. Hidalgo says that her lack of awareness about the architecture industry in her community while growing up was a barrier to entry, one she hopes she can bring down in her career.

“Even in my community my parents didn’t know anything about architecture either, which is why I guess I never found out about it. We all thought it was just construction workers making everything—we never realized there was a design aspect to it,” she says. “In that aspect I would want to bring more attention to architecture, especially to people that are growing up like me or who live in smaller communities where architecture isn’t a part of the curriculum in high school.”

Panach hopes to explore greener alternatives to conventional construction materials, but similarly, would also like to work on projects that bring communities together through architecture.

“I want to expand the ability of architecture to form a strong sense of belonging and resilient communities that can stand up for what they believe. Creating environments where everyone feels comfortable and welcomed is a huge challenge given the diversity of a city like Chicago,” she says.

“Maria and Aman are amazing women,” says Spencer. “They share a remarkable narrative on their path to architecture and commitment to community, and both demonstrated incredible potential. They are determined to excel as design professionals.”