Carnegie Mellon University
August 19, 2015

Dreaming of New Cities

Ashley Cox (A 2017) wanted to bring her dreams into focus. After graduating from Howard University with an undergraduate degree in architecture, she wasn't sure what to do next. Then a friend told her about Carnegie Mellon University's UDream program.

UDream (Urban Design Regional Employment Action for Minorities), an 18-week intensive program offered in the summer and fall at Carnegie Mellon University, gives minority students a hands-on approach to urban design with a goal of keeping them in the city. Cox applied and was accepted last year.

UDream Group

The program recently received national recognition. It was recognized twice this year by the American Institute of Architects (AIA), once at its 2015 Grassroots Leadership and Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C., for its innovative methods to diversify Pittsburgh's urban design workforce, and once as a Diversity Recognition Program at the AIA National Convention in Atlanta.

Many participants have stayed in Pittsburgh, implementing new concepts for neighborhoods, working in local architecture firms and participating in a new local chapter of the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA). Before the program began seven years ago, it was a very different city — Pittsburgh had lost its NOMA chapter because there were so few minority architects.

Cox arrived at CMU with other UDream students, and they set to work on five weeks of academic classes, all of which tied into a project in the Hill District. They were charged with creating a plan for a residential corridor, and Cox was introduced to the idea of "authentic replication."

"It's thinking about what makes a community a community," Cox said. "How do you develop a new thing that resonates with what was there?"

While students work hard, Program Director Erica Cochran mixes in social events to sell them on Pittsburgh.

"CMU faculty and staff are tied in with the industry of Pittsburgh — we're not an ivory tower." — Erica Cochran

"I make sure that if you are with me that you'll grow to love the city," Cochran said.

Cochran and her colleagues in CMU's School of Architecture bring in architecture firms for the second portion of the UDream program — a 12-week internship.

Victoria Acevedo, who is the Northeast University liaison for the NOMA national board, interned at Rothschild Doyno Collaborative last year.

"It was my first internship at an architecture office. I learned a lot about their unique design process and how important it is to effectively communicate your ideas in different ways (graphically, verbally, written). I also learned how to voice my opinions and ideas in a group setting, to not be afraid to ask any questions, to be actively engaged in everything I am tasked to do, and to effectively keep and make new relationships in the work environment," Acevedo said.

Cox interned at evolveEA, and was hired to stay on as a design consultant. Her work in the Hill District during UDream paid off; evolveEA put her on the bid to do the Hill's Centre Avenue redevelopment plan, and they won the job. She also applied to earn her Master of Urban Design at CMU, and she was accepted. Because she participated in the UDream program, her tuition is covered, thanks to School of Architecture scholarships. And thanks to support from the Heinz Endowments, the UDream program is also free for participants.

Cochran's dream for the future is to see the UDream structure grow to help encourage minority participation in fields such as engineering and computer science. She wants to leverage her relationships with colleges with high minority populations and her relationships across the city to bring in more students. CMU is the perfect place for UDream to grow, she said.

"CMU faculty and staff are tied in with the industry of Pittsburgh — we're not an ivory tower," Cochran said.