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Alumni Spotlights2021-03-16T15:38:19+00:00

Graduates from FIU’s Department of Interior Architecture are Worlds Ahead. Click on the stories below to find out more about our successful alumni family. For more Interior Architecture alumni spotlights, events, and news stories, please visit the CARTANews website or contact Maria Claverie, Associate Director of Alumni Relations at 305-348-1805 or by email mgclaver@fiu.edu.

Born in Manhattan and raised in the Dominican Republic, Interior Architecture alumna Aida M. Lora moved to Miami in 2012 to pursue her dream of earning her master’s degree. After graduating from FIU in 2016 with a master’s in Interior Architecture, Lora worked with AECOM Miami as an interior designer. She is currently working at the Royal Caribbean Group as an architectural associate III and also recently founded Aida Lora LLC, a consulting Interior Design firm that provides educational workshops for interior designers and design services non-related to the cruise ship industry.

Graduation year: 2016

Major: Master’s in Interior Architecture

Why did you decide to come to FIU and study Interior Architecture?

In 2012, I completed my bachelor’s in architecture in my hometown, Santiago, Dominican Republic and decided to move to Miami to get my master’s degree. I researched different master’s programs throughout the country and FIU’s Interior Architecture program felt the most complete, fulfilling and exciting to me. The Cruise Ship and Yacht Certificate program especially attracted me.

What was your first job after graduating from FIU-IA?

During my senior year at FIU, I went to the career fair that the School of Architecture hosts every year, and AECOM, an international architectural and construction firm, interviewed me. During the summer of 2016, after I graduated, I got an offer from AECOM to work with the local Design Icon Lorraine Bragg on hospitality projects as an interior designer.

How did your experiences and your education at FIU-IA shape your life after college and your career path thus far?

My education at FIU taught me not only the skills I needed to succeed as an interior designer but also the importance of being present, building professional relationships and networking.

What is your favorite memory of your time at FIU-IA?

I loved the fact that each student had a studio desk assigned. I will never forget those long and late nights working at the studio with my classmates. Another great memory I have is participating in the study abroad program in La Spezia, Italy where I learned about naval design.

Did you have a favorite FIU-IA professor, mentor or class that really impacted your life?

Phil Abbot, I liked his methodology of teaching. He is patient and friendly but also sets boundaries for respect and responsibility.

What did you learn at FIU-IA that has served you well throughout your life?

It’s not only what you know, but also who you know and how you show yourself and your authenticity within the community.

What advice do you have for current or graduating students in FIU’s Interior Architecture program?

The most important piece of advice I have is to build relationships and meet people within our industry. Network, participate in all events, be present, support other designers, volunteer and shadow professionals as much as you can.

What does a ‘day in the life’ look like for you?

I am currently working remotely for The Royal Caribbean Group. My typical day is a day full of meetings with European partners, design firms, yard representatives and the local team. I also review design drawings and represent the Royal Caribbean Group ensuring that their branding standards are met in all design-related issues. It is very exciting to work in the Cruise Ship industry. When we were not in this pandemic, I used to travel at least twice a month to Europe for workshops, ship construction administration and managing. As a side hustle, I founded Aida Lora LLC, a consulting Interior Design firm that provides educational workshops for interior designers and design services non-related to the cruise ship industry.

What is your greatest professional accomplishment?

At the 2020 International Interior Design Association (IIDA) BRAGG Awards, I received the Star of the Year Award for my advocacy for the profession and community engagement during the difficult year. The BRAGG Awards are like the Oscar’s for the South Florida Design Community. This award meant a lot to me because these awards are named after my mentor, Lorraine Bragg, and I never thought I would win this award so early on in my career.

If you had to describe FIU-IA in three words, what would it be?

Inclusive, inspiring and supportive

If you were a student scholar recipient, what would you say to your donor today if you could?

Thank you for believing in me.

To learn more about FIU’s Interior Architecture program visit, https://carta.fiu.edu/interiors/.

Why did you decide to come to FIU and to our Interior Architecture program?

In 1992, I got married and moved to Florida. After 20 years of marriage and three wonderful, lovely and gorgeous daughters, I raised a family. I dedicated all those years to teaching my kids how to succeed in life, be happy and be good human beings. Once they had the tools to survive, I was ready to start again! Why FIU? The idea was born out of my passion for design and architecture. Having a background in architecture, I thought why not learn a little more about buildings and construction? But this time I decided to study the interiors, in more detail to make it a  complete package.

FIU’s Department of Interior Architecture offered me an accelerated master’s degree with the opportunity to improve my English and stay in Miami with my family. Besides that, it is an accredited program with excellent credentials.

What was your first job after graduating from FIU-IA?

I worked for a few months as a senior designer at Paula Hesch Design Miami on residential projects. However, I felt that something was missing at that time. Early in my career as an architect, I had the opportunity to teach. I kept that taste for teaching and helping a new generation of designers to better understand our profession. So, then-Interior Architecture chair, Janine King gave me the opportunity to teach as an instructor in the interior architecture program at FIU and since then three years have already passed!

How did your experiences and your education at FIU-IA shape your life after college and your career path thus far?

The beginning wasn’t easy. At my age, it is not common for people to be in college studying for a new degree. Society places barriers on people to succeed and we make excuses not to go back as we think it is too late. It’s never too late to pursue your education. It has been more than 20 years since my last formal schooling, but I had decades of life experience to draw on, which provided me with a strong foundation for academic success.

My master’s degree in Interior Architecture invigorated my love for the practice and encouraged me to strive for excellence for the rest of my life. I held a high GPA, I was on the Dean’s list every semester, and earned many awards that demonstrate my ability to design. Has it been challenging? Yes. Worthwhile? Yes! It helps that my personal standards are in sync with the university’s high bar. I am living proof that it is never too late to pursue your education.

What is your favorite memory of your time at FIU-IA?

Every day has been engraved in my memory. The opportunity to interact with a new generation of students, learn from them, and have them learn from you. That is invigorating. My favorite memories are the field trips, especially the study abroad program opportunity at Interior Architecture to visit the Bauhaus, Germany.

Did you have a favorite FIU-IA professor, mentor or class that really impacted your life or path?

If I talk about just one professor, it would be unfair. All the professors, in their own way, have and remained impactful in my life and career.

Janine King, my mentor, my advisor. The one that puts my feet on the ground and helps me resolve issues. She makes me understand when I am overwhelmed.  She has impacted my life through her encouragement, passion, and leadership.

Katie Rothfield, her classes have impacted me by demonstrating how important it is to maintain and value personal and professional ethics. I value her ideas, and I very much enjoy her sarcasm, sense of humor, and friendship. She is a great human being.

Phillip Abbott, my soul mate. His candor and dedication inspire me every day. His passion for education is the reason why I want to have a positive impact on my students.

Newton D’Souza, my boss! I admire his leadership & patience. He affirmed my talents as a student and now as a professional.

Darci PappanoI admire her positivism, sensitivity, and persistence. Every day she shows me how fun and exciting education can be.

You can call them “educators” because they care about their students and the profession.

What one piece of advice do you have current FIU-IA students? Or for students who will be graduating and entering “the real world” soon?

Graduation is not an ending. It’s not even really a beginning. In fact, it’s not helpful to think in these terms. Endings make you sad, beginnings make you scared and graduating from college might make you feel both. But, there is something really important one should remember:

Life is one, and there is always time for everything. There are no barriers, your future is in your hands. Act with dedication, discipline and pride, and always dignify your profession.

Tell me about your career and your current job. What does a “day in the life of you” look like and what is your greatest professional accomplishment?

In my opinion, teaching has always been a human activity. Not just in the sense that it takes humans to do it, but it is one of our most intimate relationships outside spousal and familial ones. I believe that the ideal professor-student relationship requires trust, mutual respect and inspiration. The professor-student relationship can not only change one’s way of looking at the world but also create a bond linking the past, present and future.

Unfortunately, during these times as we are living with this pandemic, we have to deal with this relationship in a different way. Without falling too far into nostalgia, I still believe that the mysterious power of professor-student interactions can’t truly be replaced by technology.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against technological advances. Ideally, a college education connects students to the past so they have a context for their lives, helps them make sense of their present circumstances, and orients them toward the future, not just with themselves but their social and world views. You can’t get that from ‘googling’ or learning online. It comes from humans passing their expertise, their energy and their faith in the future toward hopeful, passionate, younger generations who will eventually carry us all into that future. I believe that teaching and a complete education should be surrounded by complementary technology,  be habitable, and still hold humanity dear to their hearts.

That is why I miss my school days and personal interaction with my students. There is nothing more satisfying than putting on my cap & gown and accompanying them on their graduation day. And then, I think that in some way I was part of their education and intellectual growth.

 If you had to describe FIU-IA in three words/phrases, what would it be?

  • High educational standards
  • A multicultural and dynamic place
  • Unique and creative environment

Written by: Camila Fernandez

Maria Elena Holguin, ‘95 used to play with fabrics as a young girl, watching her grandfather and father design furniture in the Miami Design District.

They migrated from Cuba where her great-grandfather was also a designer.

“I remember visiting their shops after school every day,” says Holguin, “I grew up around Design.”

Holguin has worked in architecture, design, and construction for over 30 years and has completed projects in the United States, England, Africa, India, Mexico, and Colombia.

She is currently a licensed interior designer in Coral Gables for Robb & Stucky International, a high-end home furnishings and interior design firm. There, she leads the hospitality and commercial division and also does residential projects.

Holguin says working in South Florida has given her the opportunity to meet and work with clients from all over the world.  

“I’ve also been able to design for celebrities like Pitbull,” says Holguin.

She was awarded as one of the Top 15 Interior Designers of Miami in 2015 and a Mercedes-Benz Woman of Excellence Award. In 2014, she was named a Top 5 Business Woman of the Year.

Holguin was also president of her own firm Holguin Interiors for six years. She designed a 20,000-sqft home in Tanzania and another in London during that time for one of her biggest clients.

“Business plays a huge part in the interior design world,” Holguin says, “Even if you’re working for somebody, you have to be familiar with business and project management.”

Holguin also serves as Community Ambassador for ASID in Miami, and has worked for several leading international companies. Her greatest philanthropic work, however, was designing an 18-year-old girl’s room as a last wish before she passed away.

During her time at FIU, her biggest achievement was studying abroad in Italy as a 27-year-old student and single mother. She says the experience gave her the courage to travel and design anywhere.

“It was an amazing experience not only because I studied abroad in Italy, but also because as soon as I put that on my resume, it opened a lot of doors,” she says, “Being able to design in different parts of the world and to implement their cultural beliefs into my design is a great accomplishment.”

She thanks past FIU Interior Architecture Professor Romney for encouraging her to study abroad.

Maria Elena and her husband, Jesus Edison Holguin, working on a design project together.

“I will be forever grateful for him because I said there was no way I was going to go, especially with a two-year-old son,” Holguin says, “He helped me to figure out how to get there, so I’ll never forget what he did for me.”

She also thanks Architecture Professor Jaime Canaves and past Interior Architecture Professor Gisella Lopez-Mata who allowed her to bring her son during her final presentations when she was unable to find a babysitter.

Her son also eventually graduated from FIU in 2013 in Sports Management & Recreation and her youngest daughter currently participates in the Connect4Success program to soon be transferred to the university. She has another daughter who graduated in Journalism at Temple University.

“My family and I are hardcore Panther fans and we always feel a huge sense of pride when we say we’re Panthers,” says Holguin.

“My professors made me feel part of a family, while pushing me to become the designer I am today.”

lachmee-chinWritten by: Camila Fernandez

At the head of ODP Architecture & Design, FIU alumna Lachmee Chin uses her diverse cultural upbringing to lead in today’s design world.

Chin, who graduated with a bachelor’s in interior design in 2004, is Director of Design at ODP Architecture & Design where she established the firm’s design division. Raised with an Indian background in Guyana, South America, she adds a richness of culture to her choice of materials, textures and colors, designing some of the most exclusive residences, like luxury penthouse suites in the Four Seasons Hotel.

She was awarded two Kitchen & Bath Design Awards this year for the Best Powder Room category and the Best Kitchen Over $100,000 category. Previous awards include Winner of Best Bathroom of the Year in 2008 and Winner for Best Great Living Room/Living Room in 2010. Her work has also been published on Florida Design Magazine, Four Seasons Magazine and Miami Home & Decor.

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Distilled Views Residence by ODP Architecture & Design

“I have always been drawn to anything creative. I find creativity to be essential and a way to expand who we are and how we connect ourselves to the environment. I also appreciate the structure and the analytical components that are essential to architecture. Also, interior design seemed to feed both my right and left brain, so I have never regretted making the decision to choose this career path,” said Chin.

“Being part of ODP Architecture & Design’s journey has been amazing and being tasked with starting the ID department from scratch is most likely one of my biggest accomplishments. Our firm today has been associated with some of the biggest names in architecture, such as Foster + Partners, Zaha Hadid Architects and Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates.”

Chin also has a National Certification for Interior Design Qualification and serves as Interior Design critic for design studios at FIU where she was one of the first graduates to receive accreditation by the Foundation for Interior Design Education Research from the FIU School of Architecture.

“I am grateful to have been able to graduate from a young school, move into the profession, start at a young firm and develop the skills I was taught. Now both the School of Architecture and ODP are sought after by people for education and a great place to work respectively.”

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Four Seasons Lobby Bar by ODP Architecture & Design

Chin said one of her most memorable moments as an FIU student was transforming a space with her interior design class. This was highlighted when an upper division architecture student was astonished by their work, setting a benchmark for others to supersede.

Before studying at FIU, Chin developed her creativity skills in high school learning painting, ceramics, photography and charcoal nude drawings.

“One needs to be passionate and genuinely care about interior design to be successful because it requires you to constantly ‘feed’ your brain with information to remain creative.”

Chin also said a great mentor and hero for her at FIU was Chair of Interior Architecture, Janine King. She said King encouraged her to think of being both a successful designer and someone that can teach about the industry to others.

Also, she said her greatest source of inspiration is the City of Miami because of its number of different languages, ethnicities and foods, light and changes the past 10 years.

“I take Miami as my child, and it’s been amazing watching it grow up and as it develops, I get more and more excited to be part of the experience.”

To read more about Chin and ODP Architecture & Design, click here.

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Leslie Bosson is the founder of Urbangro, an ecological garden design company dedicated to helping people grow their own food through environmentally conscious and ethically driven design. Leslie graduated in 2011 with a Bachelor in Interior Architecture from Florida International University, where she was also the recipient of the Festival of the Trees Scholarship Award.

Soon after graduating, Bosson volunteered with the Miami Science Museum, where she helped build and maintain the Vertical Integrated Greenhouse™, a high-yield hydroponic growing system for building facades and large atriums. What most intrigued Leslie from the perspective of an interior designer was how one could incorporate the basic human need of food within a built environment. This experience eventually led her to become certified in Permaculture Design, a holistic design science with an emphasis on three basic principles: “Care for the Earth,” “Care for the People,” and “Share the Surplus.”

Drawing from the values and ethics of Permaculture, Leslie founded Urbangro, whose bottom line is based not on competition and profit, but rather on how to best serve humanity and the planet through ecologically sound solutions. Leslie has also received training in Edible Forest Gardens, Holistic Management and Watershed Restoration.

Leslie’s current project is to design and install an edible garden for a local non-profit organization for adults with disabilities, Community Rehabilitation Center. The goal is to provide an annual fundraising event with most, if not all of its produce. Both students and staff are an integral part of the process. Leslie is also currently apprenticing on a local farm, Little River Market Garden, in the hopes of one day owning and operating her own sustainable farm.

For more information on Leslie and Urbangro, visit her Facebook page, follow her on Twitter, and check out her photos on Instagram.

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Organically grown tomatoes

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Organically grown mulberries

1Nury Feria, award-winning founding principal of Design Perceptions, Inc., is a state-licensed interior designer and professional member of the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID). She is a VIP alumni and Honored Entrepreneur of Florida International University, where she graduated in 1976 with a Bachelor’s in Interior Design. When Florida International University celebrated its Silver Anniversary, Feria received an Outstanding Alumni Award on behalf of the School of Architecture.

Feria has earned more than fifty honors to date, including an unprecedented nine individual “Designer of the Year Awards” from the Interior Design Guild of South Florida, seven “Design Excellence Awards,” the prestigious “Buddy Award” from the Florida Chapter of the American Society of Interior Designers, and a ‘FAME Award’ from the Builders Association of South Florida.  She is also the recipient of two awards for lighting from the Illuminating Engineering Society, a NEWH Award from the Hospitality Industry Network, and an award for furniture design in the “Florida Style” competition.

Many of Feria’s residential and commercial installations have been featured in trade publications such as Interior Design Magazine, Interiors, Florida Design, and Florida Architecture as well as consumer publications like Time, Casa & Estilo International, New Miami and Cosmopolitan en Español, among many others.

Feria continues to deliver excellence in interior design, and her flexible and multifaceted services range from turnkey projects to hourly consultation.

Read more about Nury Feria and her work here, visit her website, or check out her Facebook page.

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