Even as a faculty member at South Texas College for the last 12 years, Sara Lozano says she can never forget what it felt like stepping out on her own for the first time into college.
Now armed with the knowledge of how to succeed academically at the highest level, Lozano, who currently serves as the program chair for STC’s Architectural Engineering Design Technology (AEDT) program, says her experience with college began like many students who come from a small town in the Rio Grande Valley.
Lugging her two big suitcases into the airport on that summer day in 2001, Lozano remembers her encounter with a Valley student as they both boarded the plane to New Haven, Conn. on their way to Yale University. As they waved goodbye to their families, Lozano said there was a sense of accomplishment just being able to break the mold for what was expected from Valley students at that time.
Coming from Edcouch, Lozano had decided early on that she would build a career stemming from her love for architecture and design. Even though she followed in the footsteps of her three older sisters who had all gone on to elite schools, she said adapting to life at an Ivy League institution presented some unique challenges.
“As I arrived at Yale, I looked around the classroom and realized that half the students had gone to private schools or had gone to boarding schools and so they were used to the culture of college, but it was very new to me,” Lozano said. “Luckily I think I adapted well, made good friends, and made progress academically because it was a huge privilege just to get accepted at Yale. And I understood that I was fortunate to be given this opportunity, so I stayed focused on my goals and knew there were people counting on me to succeed.”
She began at Yale in 2001 and within the first few weeks of her first semester in college, September 11 happened.
Suddenly feeling alone and unsure about finding her way home in the aftermath of the tragedy, the experience of 9/11 during her first year at college opened her eyes to the world and made her grow up fast, she said.
This prompted her to make an extra effort to find mentors and she connected quickly with a small but vocal community of Latino students at Yale’s Latino Cultural Center. She associated with Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, and Mexicans, which she says eventually became like a second family.
She also befriended the Assistant Dean Rosalinda Garcia who famously is credited with helping significantly grow Yale’s Latino community. Garcia would go on to become the Assistant Vice President of Student Life at Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio in 2014.
On the way to receiving her Bachelor of Arts degree in Architecture from Yale, Lozano said she studied architectural design, structural concepts, and architecture history as she prepared to enter the workforce.
Yale is considered one of the top architecture schools in the United States, according to Architectural Record, a national trade magazine that since 1891 has been dedicated to architecture and interior design.
Women make up more than 46 percent of the program, while Hispanics and Latinos comprise more than five percent of the total student body. https://www.petersons.com/graduate-schools/yale-university-school-of-architecture-000_10044879.aspx
“In learning architecture and design, there was really this collaborative environment that was created there, which I loved,” Lozano said. “While earning my degree I also worked at the dining hall at one of the residential colleges. I got to know the cafeteria staff really well and really felt like I was taken care of while away from home. As I said, there was always the sense of mentorship and of family.”
Right out of college, Lozano said she began teaching third-grade students before landing her first job at an architecture firm. While there, she was informed about the opportunity to begin teaching architectural drafting at South Texas College and eventually made the transition into academia in 2007.
The decision to teach at STC, she said, derived from her roots in Edcouch and her commitment to education and giving back to the Rio Grande Valley community.
“I share with my students that I never forgot where I was from,” she said. “I never tried to hide where I was from, I never tried to hide my culture, I never tried to hide the things that were familiar to me. I learned a lot about myself while I was at Yale and what influenced me the most to return to the RGV was that sense of community. Even though I had been pulled from my familiarity, you know, from my familiar culture and my familiar home, I was still aware of my responsibility to give back. I don't think that I would have been able to really take a step back and evaluate who I am and value those things about myself.”
More than 12 years later, Lozano is now the Program Chair for the Architectural, Engineering Design Technology (AEDT) Program and utilizes the same concepts of mentorship and family to guide STC students into successful careers.
“The people who we are teaching here, the students, we are preparing them to go out into the community and to not stay in a little bubble. And I think that's what's really important for me,” Lozano said. “In a sense, giving back to them is also telling them to open their eyes and explore the world.
“If I can continue to communicate this idea of giving back, students will graduate from our program knowing they have a responsibility to their community and that designers play a huge role in shaping the environment around them,” Lozano said. “They play a huge role in designing their future.”