“I was constant thinking about constructing things,” explains Jessica Castillo, the New York City College of Technology’s (City Tech’s) 2013 Salutatorian (second in the graduating class). “I would try to use all the pieces I could to make a big structure.”
Castillo, 25, who will receive her bachelor of technology degree in architectural technology at the City Tech commencement on June 4, has been preparing herself for a career as an architect specializing in historic preservation.
“I love the old buildings,” explains Castillo, whose favorite is Grand Central Terminal. “We live in the greatest city in the world. We have so much history here, and there is so much structural damage that people don’t know about. I’d love to help preserve the architecture so that future generations can enjoy it, too.”
Castillo, who has been an artist for as long as she can remember, officially started on her career path at Brooklyn Technical High School, studying architecture, computer-aided design (CAD), building planning and construction. At City Tech, she combined her natural drawing ability with courses in design and space planning, and also tutored students in architecture.
“My professors always encouraged me to do better and see things from a different perspective,” says Castillo, who earned a grade point average of 3.84 out of a possible 4.0. “In order to make something that comes out of your mind a reality, something that is functional and anyone can use, you have to think not only about how you feel about it, but also how other people feel about it.”
As an example, Castillo recalls a project she worked on while at City Tech in one of the last design-centered classes she took for her bachelor’s degree. The challenge was to design something in a style she had never tried before. “I decided to create a university that focused on animation. Animation is another passion of mine,” she explains.
Castillo challenged herself to break out of the habit of creating things that were symmetrical and rectilinear. To make it even harder, she chose a triangular site on a slope. The whole semester was dedicated to that one project, designing the school, researching what equipment a college of animation would need and creating a curriculum. “I was so immersed in it, I even had dreams about it,” she recalls.
What Castillo took away from the experience is something that will help her in the future. “One of the most difficult parts of the project was creating the three-dimensional model, especially since my design was very organic; the shapes were curved like flowing pages,” she says.
“I realized the only way to deal with this was to focus on my strengths to complete the project,” she adds. “I was able to create sketches and a physical model to bring my vision to the 3D plane.”
Being a successful architect takes more than artistic and technical skills, Castillo knows. After graduating from Brooklyn Tech, she became an explainer at the New York Hall of Science in Queens, guiding and educating visitors.
While at City Tech, she climbed the Hall of Science’s Science Career Ladder, an education and employment program providing work experience to college students. She became a supervisor of other explainers, led workshops and after-school programs and gave demonstrations, including one in which she dissected a cow’s eye and explain its different parts.
“What’s great about my experience at the Hall of Science,” Castillo says, “is that I learned leadership skills and public speaking. As an architect, when you’re talking to a client or proposing something to a committee, you have to be able to defend your design. If you’re the big cheese in your firm, you have to be able to lead your company to advance your vision.”
To achieve her dreams, Castillo she has to pay her dues. She hopes to obtain an internship to learn the ins and outs of working at an architectural firm first-hand. “I’m also considering continuing my education. My plans aren’t set in stone, but there are certain things that I know I want to do,” she says. “I want to stay here in New York City. Not only is this my home, but it is also one of the best classrooms an architectural student and enthusiast could hope for.”
Castillo, who lives in Briarwood, Queens, realizes she has much to be thankful for; her parents, who came to the U.S. from El Salvador in the 1980s, were very supportive of her and her older sister going to college. Castillo’s workload and monetary issues were challenging, she says, “but with a dedicated family, a strong will and a chocolate stash, there was nothing to stop me.”
New York City College of Technology (City Tech) of The City University of New York (CUNY) is the largest public college of technology in New York State. Located at 300 Jay Street in Downtown Brooklyn, the College enrolls more than 16,000 students in 62 baccalaureate, associate and specialized certificate programs.