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Global Alumni Spotlight: Designing Our Future

Urmica Yelavarthy, class of 2021, joined NC State University to attain her master’s degree in Architecture with a certificate in Energy and Technology as well as Public Interest Design. Originally from Bangalore, India, Urmica credits the support of her father with her decision to earn a master’s degree in the United States. “If it wasn’t for my dad who encouraged me to pursue something out of the ordinary, I would have not made it this far.” 

A Passion For Architecture

Urmica decided on NC State University for its one-of-a-kind program: the Airport Design Studio. “This program allows students to fully understand the design and operation of an international airport,” says Urmica “Large-scale public architecture can be intimidating, especially if one has never designed something on such a massive scale. The programming of an airport is unique and is nothing like a residential or private building.”

The studio is taught by Professor Wayne Place, Ph.D. A Goodnight Distinguished Professor in Architecture, Professor Place challenged his students to think outside the box. “This wasn’t one of those studios where our professors said – “You cannot be designing this, there’s no way it would work in real life”. Students were imaginative and were encouraged to be visionary” reflects Urmica on her experience. “I was blown away by the futuristic design ideas proposed by my classmates – self-driving aircrafts, an airport on planet Mars, humanoids for security check and baggage, floating columns and drone ports, among others. The opportunity for me to design a futuristic airport couldn’t get any better.”

A group of students with their professor.

Building Connections

Throughout the program, students in the Airport Design Studio learned from mentors such as Mr. Curtis Fentress, NC State University alum and founder of Fentress Architects. Mr. Fentress’s work on large-scale airport projects including Raleigh-Durham International Airport and Denver International Airport gave him a unique perspective on identifying the opportunities that lie in airports around the world.

Urmica recalls Mr. Fentress’s willingness to work with NC State students. “Despite his busy schedule, Curt always remained connected with the students at NC State University and encouraged airport design through the Fentress Global Challenge – an international competition created to engage students worldwide in the exploration of future design possibilities in public architecture.”

Collaborating with peers while receiving guidance from professors and mentors, Urmica competed in the Fentress Global Challenge.

“For the competition, my teammate and I proposed an expansion for Shanghai Pudong International Airport for the year 2100. Our airport proposal for the future took into consideration the rising sea levels and typhoons that majorly affect the coastline of China. Our team also designed a new type of aircraft called the ‘Flying Wing,’ which is a highly sustainable and efficient model that overcomes the disadvantages of the fuselage form. It was a daunting task to design an entire airport in just 4 months; not to mention that we had other elective courses during the semester. I also worked a part-time job on campus for 20 hours a week. Balancing all of it was an arduous journey. However, we had incredible mentors constantly motivating us to move forward.” 

In this competition, Urmica’s team earned 4th place which led her to accept a job offer with Mr. Fentress. She now works as a Design Professional for Fentress Architects in Denver, CO. Her role involves airport planning, design and expansion of federal courthouses, research on new technologies for air travel, and digital work for architectural illustrations.

The Impact of The Pack

Urmica’s time at NC State was impacted by multiple individuals such as Professor Bryan Bell who was a key figure in her academic journey. “Through Bryan’s Public Interest Design’ studio and seminar classes, I discovered a unique perspective towards the architecture profession” says Urmica. “Architects, like doctors and lawyers, can hugely impact the lives of vulnerable communities. Professor Bryan Bell is an inspiring teacher, and I highly recommend his class to my fellow students.”

In addition to her academic life, Urmica was involved in programs such as the Alternative Fall Break program to Washington, DC focusing on hunger and homelessness. The program allowed students to engage in direct service of the homeless population in the country’s capital through various service projects.

A group of students in front of the DC capitol building

“It had only been a month since I moved to the United States,” shared Urmica. “It was astonishing to learn about housing and food insecurity in one of the world’s richest cities. During the trip, I made several friends who belonged to various countries and spoke different languages. It was a great way to get to know people from diverse cultures. This was my first time traveling with a group whom I knew little about. By the end of the trip, we all grew very close and kept in touch during our time at NC State University.”  

A Word of Advice

When asked for advice for recent graduates who just started their careers, Urmica had these words to share:

“After dedicating almost 8 years of my life to architecture, I have found where my true passion lies. For some teenagers and young adults, choosing a career path can be frightening especially when you decide on a profession that is out of the box and not the majority’s choice. It is never too late to follow your dreams and do what makes you feel fulfilled. 

Consider the first job as an opportunity to discover yourself, recognize your strengths and weaknesses and learn how to apply your knowledge in real-world scenarios. A person’s background and cultural upbringing have a great impact on one’s perception of the world. Being conscious that every individual is different and that not all people think alike can get you prepared for the natural differences that may arise in a workplace.

You are unique and your ideas matter, be confident to bring them to the table. If you are in an environment with people from various nationalities, ages, cultures, gender, experience levels, etc., always be accepting and view it as a learning opportunity. By restraining your ego and being a good listener, you are welcoming new ideas and developing networking skills. This will allow one to grow both professionally and as an individual.”