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Isabella Avilez pieces together a puzzling world

Courtesy Isabella Avilez

By Noah Berz     3/5/24 10:07pm

Isabella Avilez is a problem solver. As co-president of Rice Escape, she got the club back on its feet after it was felled by the COVID-19 pandemic. As a mechanical engineering major with a passion for renewable energy, she attempts to find ways to power the world’s technologies while leaving space for a sustainable future. And as a friend, she’s an expert at turning a rough week into a pleasant smile.

“One time during a really hard semester … I was talking to her about what I was going through, and then when I came back [to my dorm] she left a little note under my door with a really sweet letter,” Abi Parthasarathy, one of Avilez’s fellow Peer Academic Advisors, said. “Having that gesture just meant a lot to me at that time.” 

Avilez hails from a family of puzzlers and board-gamers. She tried her first escape room on a family trip to Hungary when she was in high school. Her family happened to be staying directly across the street from one, so Avilez tried it on a whim; she was hooked after that first escape. 

“I just loved it,” Avilez, a Sid Richardson College senior, said. “I love that aspect where you’re trying to break out, that fantasy world kind of thing … I think we actually came back the next day and did another one.”

Avilez said her family now tries a new escape room every time they travel, within the U.S. and abroad. She has solved over 20 escape rooms worldwide since her first one in Hungary. According to Rice Escape co-president Andrew Kim, Avilez puts some of the pros to shame. “I consider myself a big escape room fanatic, but I cede the title to her; she’s definitely the biggest escape room junkie you can find,” Kim, a Lovett College junior, said. 

Avilez joined Rice Escape soon after matriculating in the fall of 2020, one year after the club’s founding. As head game host, she helped orient teams to each room before administering their puzzling adventures, and she became co-president of the club in the spring of 2022. Avilez said putting together the rooms can be as tough as solving them.

“It’s a balance of challenging but also doable,” Avilez said. “You don’t want a room that’s impossible, because then it feels like a cheap shot, and the people leave like, ‘Ugh whatever,’ but you also want it to be challenging … to keep people mentally engaged.”

Planning and putting together rooms, submitting budget requests and leading meetings are but a few duties Rice Escape co-presidents are charged with, but those who work alongside Avilez say she goes above and beyond the expectations of her role to ensure Rice Escape thrives.

“Rice Escape particularly struggled a lot after COVID because as an escape club, the in-person aspect is very fundamental,” Kim said. “Isabella and I worked together to revive that culture that existed before COVID, and she has been super instrumental in putting her entire effort into reviving what is really a passion project.”

Avilez said she loves that Rice Escape lets her step into new and fantastical worlds. 

“I’m a mechanical engineer. It’s very logical, very analytical, very straightforward, very cut and dry,” Avilez said. “An escape room like Submerged Sea-crets … is a different world, a different thing and something very different than my own life, and I’ve always loved that.”

While she is usually the one to come up with solutions, Avilez also said she enjoys collaborating with her peers to engineer problems for other people to solve.

“I really love the creative aspect of it and all the wonderful ideas, really cool ideas that people have,” Avilez said. “Some people are like, ‘Let’s put out this puzzle,’ [and I would] have never thought of that kind of thing.” 

Avilez brings the same passion and care to her studies as an engineer, colleagues say. In 2022, she designed a harness that uses pulleys to keep weight off of wrists plagued by carpal tunnel syndrome and uploaded the blueprints to Creative Commons for public use. Her senior design team repurposes decommissioned wind turbine blades into furniture, mini-libraries and garden plots to be dispersed throughout the Houston community. 

Mechanical engineering professor Laura Schaefer said she admired Avilez’s selfless disposition and restless drive, which distinguished her from some 80 peers in a large MECH 200 class.

“There were a lot of great students in the class,” Schaefer said. “But Isabella came to office hours, she helped out her fellow students, she was very active in class, she obviously cared about the material a lot, she was one of those students who really stood out.”

Schaefer taught Avilez once more in MECH 477, a special topics class on renewable energy. When Rice senior executive director for sustainability Richard Johnson visited the class to discuss student projects aimed at improving Rice’s energy efficiency and sustainability, Avilez was all ears.

“She wanted to make sure she had the accurate data to do the accurate simulations to actually come up with something that was going to be useful in the future, which is great,” Schaefer said.

“I really enjoy that problem solving [aspect of renewable energy work], but also I have the ability to impact not just the people now but also even in the future,” Avilez said. “That really just inspired me to want to make a change and make a difference.”

Just as Avilez independently forges a path toward a career in renewables, so too does she take the first step in initiating relationships with her friends.

“I think the best thing I could say about [Avilez] is that she really identifies what each person needs and does everything in her power to either help you out or help you through tough times,” Parthasarathy said.

“I think [Avilez] is just a deeply kind person, and not just kind to her friends but kind to everyone,” Schaefer added. “She wants to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, [and] she views everyone as working together to make things better.” 

Editor’s Note: Andrew Kim is a Thresher Backpage editor.

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