Mar 21st 2024

Building Strength Together: NOMASiit Forges Tight Community Bond

Alex Sanchez (B.ARCH. 4th Year) was browsing for student organizations to join during her first weeks at Illinois Institute of Technology. She found one, a group supporting minority students in architecture, that has since become a bedrock for her time at the university.

Seven years ago, architecture students looking for support both inside and outside of the classroom founded the Illinois Institute of Technology chapter of the National Organization of Minority Architecture Students, or NOMASiit.

“NOMASiit is a community of people who look like me, relate to me, talk about certain issues and try to be on common ground, and help each other succeed professionally and socially,” says Sanchez, now NOMASiit president.

Between 15–30 students join meetings, hangouts, or events through NOMASiit, from outings downtown to lectures with prominent industry insiders. Older members also work to guide new students through the ups and downs of architecture and the college experience as a whole.

“I had so many questions when I started,” Sanchez says. “There’s so much to know about software, woodshop. I just had to ask simple questions that made me feel dumb. In NOMASiit, I can get help, learn shortcuts, and be comfortable with people in the same situation.”

Outside of events, members become more than study buddies. NOMASiit vice president Mya Huddleson (B.ARCH. 5th Year), also a sorority member and member of the women’s lacrosse team, says minority organizations are vital for students even outside architecture.

“We’re like a family. It sounds kind of cheesy, but it’s true. Seeing people like you become licensed architects makes you want to keep going for opportunities after college,” says Huddleson.

NOMASiit is the student arm of the National Organization of Minority Architects, which will continue to be an important part of both Sanchez and Huddleson’s future in the field. The two, along with other NOMASiit members, attended the national conference last year and saw the relationships, connections, and support available after graduation.

“Yes, this is for minority architects, but it’s way bigger than that. It really is comforting to see people who look like you, in the major you’re in, become licensed architects,” Huddleson says.

While NOMASiit offers a unique space for members, Sanchez and Huddleson say that more minority architects and figures should be celebrated at the College of Architecture. “We appreciate the college’s effort in exposing us to the different neighborhoods of Chicago, but we wish the history of IIT in Bronzeville was known to everyone. The campus is located in the heart of a neighborhood that is rich with Black history, but it has become forgotten,” Sanchez says.

There’s no lack of standout minority architects in Chicago, though. Sanchez found inspiration from Maurice Cox, the former Chicago Department of Planning and Development commissioner who spearheaded an initiative aimed at reversing decades of disinvestment on Chicago’s South and West sides. Landscape architect Ernie Wong, named the 2010 Chicagoan of the Year by the Chicago Tribune for his lasting contribution to city parks, such as Ping Tom Memorial Park, also stands tall among Sanchez’s inspirations.

Both Sanchez and Huddleson encourage students looking for help studying, learning, or building friendships to check out future NOMASiit events. “Some of us are fully on board, while others are looking for a low key group for help. We know the struggle of architecture, everyone’s been there,” Huddleson says.