(Headshot taken by Remedios’ husband, Genaro Cobián)
Remedios Cobián is a 33 year old woman who graduated from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 2007 with a degree in architecture. She immigrated to the U.S. when she was seven years old and was immediately placed in elementary school. She entered a new school with no friends, and classmates who spoke a completely different language. School became increasingly difficult, as she was forced to learn English, keep her grades up, and make friends in a completely unfamiliar environment.
Remedios’ first encounter with architecture was when she was visiting a family member at the hospital. She recounts looking out of the window at the tied off construction site with a slight smile on her face. Her fondest memory is how the workers and materials were moving like a colony of ants. From the hospital window, she stared in awe at the builders, each with their individual jobs, working, while the shadow of the crane towered overhead. It wasn’t until high school that Remedios would explore her interest for architecture.
Drafting class was a requirement by the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) system in the early 2000s. Remedios chuckled at our age difference when I asked about it, “I can’t believe I have to explain that to you” she says, jokingly. In drafting class, students would learn how to draw building plans, and other manufactured goods, according to scale. It was in drafting class that Remedios was able to learn a fundamental skill for architects, and the first class that she genuinely enjoyed.
By the time college applications rolled around, Remedios was stuck. “I didn’t even think I was going to go to college,” she remembers. It wasn’t until the Latin American Recruitment Education Services (LARES) from UIC made a visit to Lane Tech High School, where she attended, that she ever seriously considered college as an option. Because of her citizenship status and socioeconomic standing, it seemed too far for her to reach. Despite this, the LARES representative encouraged her to apply. That night, Remedios consulted her mother about the conversation she had with the LARES representative and was met with immediate encouragement. “I felt like everything from before had prepared me for this moment” Remedios said, recounting how she had been forced to adapt to her surroundings since she first came to the U.S.
Almost as soon as the opportunity came, Remedios seized it. The only thing that came to mind when deciding what she should major in was architecture. Watching the construction site and thriving in her drafting classes both being huge influencers in her decision. However, Remedios didn’t have the resources to take any more than 4 years of college, so she stuck with architecture. “I didn’t really have the opportunity to say ‘Well let me just see [what I should apply for].’ For me, it was more like ‘you have to decide, and whatever you decide you have to stick with it.’” By 2007, Remedios graduated UIC; her hard work had finally paid off.
(One of Remedios’ projects, Arlington Downs is now a set of apartments in a building that was once a hotel.)
Today, Remedios has worked for 11 years as a project manager. The job entails overseeing the construction of buildings so that nothing goes wrong, and there’s coordination and communication between all the different trades (electricians, plumbing, etc.). She also makes strides to keep the construction deadline even if there’s a change in plans. Her favorite part of the job is that it’s challenging and requires a lot of problem solving, “It’s rare that [the building] is always going to happen exactly how it’s drawn… there’s always going to be something, so you just have to work through it.”
Her advice for other women interested in entering her field is to just go for it. Take every opportunity life throws, and put your mind to everything that you do, because “When you have no other chance, and this is all you’ve got, you just make it happen because you have to make it happen.”