“My parents came to the U.S. 15 years ago in search of a better life,” says Bushwick resident Carolina Leon, who will be receiving her Bachelor of Technology Degree in Architectural Technology from New York City College of Technology (City Tech), June 3. “In Ecuador, my mother was an architect and my father was a civil engineer. Professionally, it didn’t quite work out the way they planned. Today, my mother is a waitress and my father works for a catering company.”
When the now 29-year-old Leon arrived here from Guayaquil, Ecuador, seven years ago, she had scant knowledge of English and little idea of how to pursue her career goals. But she was sure of two things: she wanted to earn a degree in architecture and she was determined to lend a helping hand to her parents who, she says “are my inspiration.”
“My goal is to get licensed as a professional architect,” says Leon, who had earned a Bachelor’s Degree in architecture from Catholic University of Santiago in Guayaquil before coming to New York. “And then I want to earn a master’s degree in construction management.” Eventually, she says, she plans to have her own firm with her brother, who will graduate in two years from Baruch College with a degree in business administration.
“How wonderful it would be,” she explains, “if we’re able to realize our ambition — a family construction business that would enable my parents to work with us and use their skills and talents.”
Leon has come a long way in a short time. She says she was “petrified” at her first interview with the architectural technology department at City Tech. Her biggest hurdle was unfamiliarity with English. “I just didn’t know how to express my ideas,” she confides. Nevertheless, she forged ahead and received her acceptance letter in the fall of 2005.
“When I started attending City Tech,” she says, “I came into contact with people from different countries and diverse cultures. The process of adapting to this cosmopolitan city has expanded my mind and enriched my personal life in ways I never could have imagined.”
Leon, who is graduating summa cum laude with a 3.9 grade point average (out of a possible 4.0), was one of a handful of students who were candidates for class valedictorian. Her feelings about City Tech — and how it has enriched her life’s journey — were expressed in her candidate essay: “On commencement day, I will have the chance to thank the teachers and administrators of this noble institution. My triumph is their triumph, for they have given me the self-determination to challenge, the courage to outshine and the conviction to achieve my best.”
While at City Tech, Leon expanded her horizons in many ways. She worked as a summer intern for MTA Bridges and Tunnels, in the quality assurance department; she worked as an architect assistant in the New York City Department of Design and Construction; and, most recently, was a construction assistant in the Department of Facilities Management at John Jay College.
Among the honors she has received are the Helena Rubenstein Scholarship and the Tau Chi Sigma Scholarship. Her achievements have been noted and lauded by her professors. Says Professor Robert Zagaroli III, chair of the architectural technology department: “Carolina is strong-willed in her execution of ideas and designs. She attacks her coursework with joy and determination. I am confident,” he adds, “that she has the skills and drive to pursue a successful career in the field.”
City Tech is located at 300 Jay Street in Downtown Brooklyn, at the MetroTech Center academic and commercial complex.