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Saturday, March 02, 2024 — Houston, TX

School of Architecture graduate named president of AIA Houston

Courtesy Melavalean Mclemore-Catina

By Prasi Desai     1/16/24 9:43pm

Melvalean McLemore-Catina, a 2023 graduate of the Rice Masters of Science Architecture program, began her term as the president of the American Institute of Architects Houston Jan. 1, the first Black woman to hold the role. 

The Houston City Council recognized McLemore-Catina’s election with a ceremony and then-Mayor Sylvester Turner proclaimed Nov. 28, 2023 to be Melvalean McLemore Day. 

“I’m really looking forward to serving everyone,” McLemore-Catina said in an interview with the Thresher. 

Igor Marjanović, the William Ward Watkin Dean of Rice Architecture, said he is excited about McLemore-Catina’s appointment and future collaboration between Rice Architecture and the AIA. 

“We like to think of our graduates as agents in practice who are really actively changing the world, and this is what she is doing in this role,” Marjanović said. 

McLemore-Catina declared her undergraduate architecture major at University of Houston on accident, checking the wrong box on her college application. However, she said she quickly became drawn to the problem solving aspect of architecture. Soon after, McLemore-Catina noticed the lack of diverse representation in the field.

“When I got licensed in 2016, I became the 16th licensed black woman [architect] in Texas,” McLemore-Catina said. 

McLemore-Catina said she’s always been passionate about equity. She advocated for a more diverse executive board at the AIA and co-created the National Organization of Minority Architects’ National HBCU Professional Development Program, an initiative for HBCU architecture students to gain industry connections. She also said she wanted to do something about the lack of representation in academia, noting that she never had a Black professor in architecture. 

“I talked about [the lack of diversity in academia] so much as being something that influences our lack of representation, [and] I started to think ‘What are you going to do about it?’” McLemore-Catina said. 

According to McLemore-Catina, a master’s degree is a standard credential to teach, something she hopes to do later in her career. McLemore-Catina also said that she hopes to focus on more student outreach with Rice and other schools as president of the AIA. 

Marjanović said he believes these partnerships would be beneficial and, hopefully, productive. 

Ekene Emenike interacted with McLemore-Catina as a member of the National Organization for Minority Architecture Students, the student section of NOMA. Emenike, NOMAS’ professional development chair, said she admired McLemore-Catina for her accomplishments and ability to juggle multiple responsibilities including a full-time job, master’s thesis and parenting two young children. 

“She just became someone that was very inspirational to me,” Emenike, a McMurtry College senior, said. 

According to Emenike, diversity in architecture requires improvement.

“As much as architecture does put effort into diversifying precedent, I think it’s very limited,” Emenike said. 

Emenike said organizations like the AIA should use their influence in these areas to promote a diverse array of architecture styles as well.

President of the Rice Architecture Society Valerie Elizondo said McLemore-Catina’s appointment should serve as an example for young students and professionals looking to pursue a similar path.

“It gives other people who are still in high school, middle school or college someone to look at and aspire to be,” Elizondo, a Hanszen College senior, said. 

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