If you were at a pool party with Zuleika Baldeo and her cousins Holly and Quinn in June, your relaxing day was likely interrupted by quite a scene.
“I read the email and burst out crying,” she recalls. “I was jumping up and down with my cousins. They were confused at first about what I was talking about until I showed them the email.”
Zuleika Baldeo, a sophomore student at Morgan State University, had just received news that she won the Curry Stone Foundation Diversity Advancement Scholarship. successfully.
Her journey to that memorable moment highlights what it means to be a Black woman in the architecture industry and what the industry is currently doing to provide more resources for students like her to enter the field.
When Zuleika started her college journey, she had one goal in mind. “Get a degree. No matter how long it takes, whether it was five or fifty years, I needed to graduate.”
The goal was clear, but the path forward would be more complicated. Unsure of what she wanted to study, Zuleika began at Ithaca College as a psychology major before transferring to community college in her hometown and changing her interest to criminology. She then studied mechanical engineering at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), where her path toward architecture truly began.
“I realized that I was interested in something tactical and hands-on. I enjoyed the classes I was taking at UMBC, but I wasn’t interested in the functional aspect. My heart was in the design of the buildings.” With a lifelong love for art, she understood that this was an opportunity to combine her passion for creativity with her talents in math and science.
Like many, architecture wasn’t a field that Zuleika would have considered before her experiences at UMBC. “Architecture is a pretty expensive pursuit,” says Kimberly Dowdell, former president of the National Organization of Minority Architects. “Aside from tuition costs for five to seven years, there are the books, the drafting and modeling materials, the needed software and more. It can quickly add up.”
Kimberly’s work helps foster collaboration between students and senior staff at architecture firms through mentorship programs and networking opportunities. But there’s a largescale visibility issue within the industry to even get Black people to consider architecture as an option for a career path. According to the Directory of African American Architects, there are less than 2,500 licensed Black architects in the United States. This number is just a fraction of the more than 100,000 total licensed architects in the country.
This fact, combined with growing unrest and social action against police brutality toward African Americans, pushed Kimberly to combine forces with more than 400 other architects and major firms to sign on to an announcement. On October 25, 2020, they took out a full-page ad in The New York Times’ Sunday edition with the important message: Black Lives Matter.
“It wasn’t so much a political statement,” Kimberly says, “but it certainly was recognition that the livelihood of Black people matters, and within the architecture industry there is a clear disparity and need to close the gap.”
The ad included a call to action to contribute to the Diversity Advancement Scholarship through an appeal of the Historically Black College and University (HBCU) fund. As a direct result, Clifford Curry, FAIA and Dr. Delight Stone, RPA, funded the Curry Stone Foundation Diversity Advancement Scholarship. Zuleika was selected as the recipient of this transformational scholarship of $20,000 per year for five years.
“Today, there are many people who are interested in increasing representation in the architect industry, but more still needs to be done,” says Cliff. “This scholarship is a way to encourage more diversity in the industry. I hope that this award will enable Zuleika to worry a little less on paying her tuition costs and excel her forward as an architect.”
Zuleika almost missed out on the opportunity. “I only heard about it through a former coworker, who isn’t even an architect. She knew that this was my field and thought I’d be a good fit for it.” But there was one problem: “I only had a week to apply.”
The near-miss opportunity and scramble for materials such as recommendation letters and transcripts highlights some of the obstacles students encounter, especially those of color. “We may hear that there are scholarships and funds available, but if we don’t have the right connections or proper resources and time to apply to them – and believe me, they take a lot of work – then it doesn’t work in our favor.”
Zuleika hopes that opportunities like her scholarship can be made more readily available to Black people like her. “This scholarship allowed me to dream about things that I thought were out of grasp for me, like being a homeowner. It could open a doorway for so many others to realize their full potential by lifting the burden of tuition and make it just a little easier for people who look like me to enter the profession.”
As for what’s next, Zuleika hopes that this is just the start of her new path forward in the profession. Through the twists and turns that she has experienced, one thing has remained constant. “On my first day in the architecture school’s center, seeing all of the models and posters from student work, I knew in my heart that I was in the right place.”
The Diversity Advancement Scholarship program is one of several facilitated by the Architects Foundation. The Architects Foundation leads philanthropic efforts that lay the foundation of architecture’s future, by attracting, inspiring, and investing in new and diverse generations of architects who will create inclusive spaces and places. Last year, the Architects Foundation raised more than $500,000 to support 66 students. To donate or learn more, visit https://architectsfoundation.org/