Kathryn Van Dinh
An Unusual Path to Architecture
A MEL/ARCH Story
When I started with MEL/ARCH studio, I gained so much knowledge about the industry through the work and conversations with my co-workers. I was interested to hear their paths to architecture and was surprise to find that my own differed so much from theirs.
Their experiences followed a path that we all know. The Life Plan. You finish high school, go to college, get a job, and bam. You have a career and everything is set for life. This does happen but things don’t always fall perfectly into place for everyone. My journey definitely falls into this category but I would not change a single bump in the road. It led me to architecture, a field I didn’t really know but fit me perfectly.
After high school, I went to a small liberal arts college with the goal to become a math teacher. I was able to experience so many different opportunities and grow as a person. I did math research in Knot Theory. I joined an improv troupe. I minored in Creative Writing. I presented research at a national mathematics conference. My analytic brain was enjoying the problems set before me but I found a need for thinking creatively.
It was incredibly hard decision to leave my dream of teaching. Since middle school, whenever someone asked me “What do you want to be when you grow up?”, my answer had always been "a math teacher". I’m grateful for all the amazing teachers that influenced my education and my respect only grew with my student teaching. But it wasn’t for me. I couldn’t see myself teaching 50 years, let alone 5 years down the road. After months of thinking, I dropped my teaching program. I was off the road and taking a completely new path. I had a blank page. And as any creative knows, sometimes a blank page is the scariest thing in the world.
What could I do? What would I do? What did I want to do? Someone important in my life suggested graduate school. That felt like a good decision but graduate school for what? Math didn’t feel right. Writing didn’t feel right. Something STEM or something Creative? Why not both? By looking at different graduate school programs, I literally stumbled onto architecture. A chance to be creative while problem solving.
The only problem was I didn’t know what architecture really was! Not wanting to dive straight in, I enrolled and completed a program for an associate’s degree, specializing in architecture. By testing the architectural waters, I fell in love with design. I started staring at buildings. I started to voice my opinions about friends’ and siblings’ apartments, much to their displeasure. Soon I was ready to take the plunge. Over the course of a year, I researched, applied, and was accepted to six different architecture programs. I am currently studying at the University of Texas at Arlington for my third degree, a Master’s of Architecture.
All of this is to say, life can be unexpected and that is a good thing. It can take you to places you may not have explored or known you would love. All my experiences have made me an avid advocate for taking the unusual paths through life.