Donna Terzano, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP, an architect on a traditional path in the AIA New Jersey Women In Architecture Spotlight

March 22, 2019

Donna Terzano, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP

an architect on a traditional path in the AIA New Jersey Women In Architecture Spotlight

 

My interest in architecture began while in elementary school, where I was constantly drawing, setting
up Richard Scarry’s Puzzle Town, and paging through building plan magazines (mentally noting how I
would do things differently).

I was fortunate that my high school offered architectural drawing classes. For most classes, I was the
only girl in a sea of boys, who were drawing car parts and robots in an early version of AutoCAD. Before
college, I had the opportunity to participate in a career day at The Hillier Group. I can still remember
sitting in the Alexander Road boardroom listening to Bob Hillier talk about architectural program options in college, the importance of being a well-rounded architect, and creating my own path.

Ultimately, I decided to attend Mercer County Community College (MCCC) in West Windsor, NJ, where I would be introduced to architecture and still remain close to my family and friends. While at MCCC, I met amazing teachers, who taught me how to learn and approach problem-solving in a different way.

The “Kit of Parts” became the foundation for most of the studio projects, and I thoroughly enjoyed my
senior year. My path took me to the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) in Newark, NJ. The number of females in my class expanded into the mid 20’s. However, by far, the campus was male-dominated, not only within the architecture program but also throughout other engineering programs.

While at NJIT, I was accepted into a dual-degree program, providing me the opportunity to learn about
the management and business side of the profession. Because I had transferred into NJIT with the
majority of my credits from MCCC, I was able to graduate with both my Bachelor of Architecture and my Master of Science in Management degrees at the same time.

I was fortunate to be accepted into the Constance A. Murray’s Women’s Mentoring Program which
ultimately was instrumental in introducing me to the Education Group at The Hillier Group in Princeton, NJ, where I spent the summer after my junior year of college, and for almost 12 years after I graduated. My mentors, while at Hillier, were incredible. During my tenure, I was very active in the Intern Development Program, the Professional Development Committee, and many community activities. On projects, I gravitated towards leadership positions and management-related roles, even as an intern. I absolutely enjoyed my role as a Project Architect, and, as the years passed, my engagement in project management became more formal. This experience led me to my next firm, CannonDesign in New York City. It was with Cannon that my project management skills would further develop, and I was engaged in business development. My passion for mentoring was fully supported by the firm, and I was able to lead an Architecture Construction & Engineering (ACE) team for several years. While there, I soaked up as much as I could from my amazing colleagues.

Today, I am a Project Manager in the Healthcare Group with HDR in Lawrenceville, NJ. What is special
about my current career phase is the opportunity to manage larger projects, with the skills honed from
my previous experience, coupled with a depth of resources the firm has in order to continue my career
development. I have a unique opportunity to manage alongside a colleague, Phil Toussaint, AIA, who
was my project manager almost 10 years ago. Phil had mentored me back then and continues to
mentor me now. HDR also supports my continued interest in mentoring and remaining active in the AIA, as well as community service.

 

When I look back on the last two decades, I have taken what most might identify as a traditional path
with not a lot of twists and turns along the way. I am one of the few who, in elementary school, declared
what I wanted to be when I grew up and not only pursued that dream, but live it day-to-day. I have met
very knowledgeable and supportive people along the way, and have not felt discriminated against for
being a female in a male-dominated profession. I hope, in the near future there, will be no reason to
point out that I am a female architect. I AM AN ARCHITECT!

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