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Student Spotlight – Sonia Diaz


When Sonia Diaz first came to Houston eight years ago, she had just graduated from high school in Mexico and didn’t speak a word of English.

Now, she is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in architecture from the University of Houston, with hopes of one day owning her own company.

Diaz grew up in the municipality of Morelos, which lies in the northern state of Coahuila. When she was a teenager, her father was working in the United States and caring for her older sister. Diaz remained in Mexico with her mother and brother.

When she was 17, she joined her father and sister in Houston, followed two years later by the rest of her family.

Not speaking English was difficult, so she took ESL classes at Houston Community College for two years, then went on to earn an associate’s degree.

“I decided to grow even more intellectually and made the decision to apply to UH,” she said.

She was accepted into the College of Engineering, but after a year changed her major to architecture.

“I have two cousins in Mexico who are architects, but of course I am going to be the first architect in my family to study this career in a different language and in a different country,” she said.

Between her studies and working as a student worker in Facilities Planning and Construction three days a week, she has little spare time for much else.

Under the supervision of space inventory manager Camille Porter, she and the other student workers help keep all the campus building floor plans updated. That means if a building is remodeled, she walks through it, takes down all the dimensions and the door locations, marks down how many people use it and what type of room it is, and takes notes on if it has all the proper signage.

“Then, when we come back to the office, we are in charge of fixing the drawings,” she said.

Sometimes, she said, they discover they don’t have any recent drawings for a building.

“I remember I worked on the Fleming building, and the only information I had was PDF drawings from 30 or 40 years ago,” Diaz said. “So I measured the whole building.”

She expects to graduate in two years, then hopefully land an internship that will groom her for a successful career as an architect.

“My plan is to have my own company and do my own projects,” she said.

In architecture, one has to start out small and build up experience. That means working on smaller-type buildings first, such as residential homes, in the first phase of her career.

Diaz hopes Houston will be where she anchors her architectural career. She doesn’t see any reason to start fresh anywhere else.

She is the second member of her family to attend UH, following in the footsteps of her older sister, Keydy, who graduated two years ago and is now a registered nurse.

As a student who was raised in another country, she was pleasantly surprised by the diversity within the student body and staff that UH has. If she had attended college in Mexico, she would not have been exposed to that diversity, she said.

“You can learn so much about the different cultures of all the students,” she said.