Pursuing a Worthy Future: Class of 2024

Graduating students share stories of resilience and perseverance

by Stephen Schad • May 13, 2024

This year ushers in a new era for the Hines College’s annual commencement, moving its graduation ceremony from the architecture building atrium to the University of Houston’s Cullen Performance Hall. With the increasing number of graduates and, subsequently, more guests, the move comes as the University of Houston and Hines College seek to celebrate graduation festivities in a safer and more accessible environment.

The Class of 2024 includes students who began their academic journeys at the Hines College before, during, and after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. These graduates have shown they can overcome all odds despite their challenges. Several of our graduates have chosen to share their stories to encourage and motivate prospective and current students as they pursue their dreams.


Bachelor of Science in Industrial Design

Originally from Yemen and raised in Saudi Arabia, Maha Alsagheer moved to Houston in 2016. After beginning studies in nursing, Alsagheer discovered her passion for bringing together creativity and practicality – the core of industrial design – resulting in her move from healthcare to design. As a student, Alsagheer started her own graphic design business, Little Blooms Studio. It was not easy to keep up with her studies and a small business, but Alsaagheer learned to manage her time well and persevere.


Bachelor of Science in Industrial Design

Industrial design arrived in Danny Blacker’s life at the right time, but his journey there was not as expected. After leaving the Navy, Blacker found himself solving problems utilizing the design process in his own peculiar way. Eventually, he landed himself working in an academic makerspace where he began to realize his love for design. After taking classes at an art college, and recognizing it was not the right fit, Blacker discovered the Hines College’s industrial design program. As he began his studies at UH, Blacker juggled a full-time job, two young children, and the beginning of what would become the COVID-19 pandemic. His family and employer were incredibly supportive of his studies, giving him the determination to make it all work. Blacker believes in the industrial design program and its faculty's passion for supporting and forming students.


Master of Architecture

For Arely Canales, higher education was not something to be taken for granted. Hailing from the small Texas border town of Roma, Canales knows firsthand the struggles of growing up in an impoverished area. However, the challenges she encountered, whether financial or cultural, have only made Canales more resilient in pursuing great things. She is proud of overcoming stereotypes and obtaining her undergraduate degree, let alone being one of only a few in her family with a graduate degree. She discovered her passion for pleasing people through buildings and space as a child through HGTV programming. Her educational experience opened new worlds for her and moved her to expand her horizons. She hopes to continue learning about sustainable design and eventually become a sustainable consultant.


Master of Architecture

Since taking a drafting class in high school, Michelle Chandler has harbored a deep interest in pursuing a degree in architecture. Unfortunately, life’s circumstances sidelined this dream. While struggling through the pandemic and facilitating her three kids’ education, Chandler decided to take the challenging step and pursue her own education again. Throughout the three years of her graduate program, Chandler had to adapt to juggling family responsibilities, part-time work, and a lengthy commute; however, the journey has taught resilience and perseverance, showing her children that dreams can be achieved at all stages of life. This spring, Chandler celebrates her graduation alongside her son’s high school graduation and is also preparing for a major life transition as her family relocates to New Delhi, India.


Master of Architecture

Raised in Lebanon, Mohannad Elabbassi has always had a passion for achieving new ways of design. He believes architecture is a lifestyle and whatever you imagine can be realized in some form of architecture. The University of Houston allowed Elabbassi to test and advance his skills in architecture through opportunities that challenged his experience and taught him new ways of thinking.


Bachelor of Architecture

A native of the Rio Grande Valley, Benjamin Gonzalez came from a Latino background with limited financial resources, no connection to Houston, and limited experience navigating architecture education and professional spheres. Near the end of his years at UH, his curiosity about architecture deepened and significantly impacted his studies. The opportunity to intern in Houston and study abroad in Japan and Mexico gave him transformative experiences that fashioned his outlook as he prepared for his professional career. These opportunities allowed Gonzalez to perceive architecture as a technical discipline and a poetic expression transcending borders and cultures. Alongside his studies at UH, Gonzalez participated in AIAS and the AIAH board. The balance of his academic work, community involvement, and internships taught him resilience, the value of community, and the profound impact of architecture on human experiences.


Master of Architecture

For Galen Kragas, the thought of returning to school came with mixed emotions. As a nontraditional student, Kragas decided to change careers and study architecture after working in engineering. At that time, he had not taken an exam in ten years or done any hand drawing in even longer. During his second year of studies, Kragas became a father one week before the start of the spring semester. With the help of his wife and their parents, caring for his daughter, he was able to continue his education full-time. Kragas was drawn to architecture by its inescapable influence on our daily lives, and he looks forward to a career positively impacting people’s lives.


Bachelor of Architecture

Ryan Napitupulu started his educational journey in 2014; however, the following year, he took time to heal from addiction, earn an associate degree, and grow as a person, returning to the Hines College in 2019 to finish what he had started. The weekend after his ARCH 4510 final jury, he learned that his mother’s fight with cancer was coming to an end, and she had only a few weeks to live. With the loss of his mother, both Napitupulu and his sister, also a student at UH, were left to figure out how to raise their 15-year-old brother while finishing their degrees. Each day, he asked himself how he could be the best student, brother, and example to his family. While the last year has been the hardest year of his life, he now graduates with his sister, finds self-redemption, and can honor his late mother.


Bachelor of Science in Interior Architecture

Kate Rodriguez’s upbringing in a household intertwining creativity and structure led her to study interior architecture at the University of Houston. The combined influences of her mother’s career as an engineering drafter and her father’s focus on user experience and leadership in retail management sparked Rodriguez’s interest in creating engaging spaces blending art with functionality. While traversing the challenges of financial constraints throughout her education, Rodriguez was able to press on and gain experience outside of the classroom, leading the Interior Architecture Student Association as president and serving on the University’s orientation team. This involvement taught her leadership and organizational skills that only better prepare her for her professional career.


Master of Science in Architecture

Although from India, Anusuya Sridharan spent her childhood living in Tanzania, Uganda, and Ethiopia. After completing her undergraduate architectural degree in India, Sridharan went to work as a junior architect in Doha, Qatar. She decided to pursue graduate studies at the University of Houston, in the United States’ energy capital, because of Hines College’s exceptional graduate sustainable design concentration. Her studies in the US were significantly different from her British-based educational background. Initially, she encountered challenges in studio at UH, where most attention was given to exemplifying the conceptual part of the design. In her home country, the design would be integrated into construction plans early on. However, after struggling for a short time, she was able to adapt and learn from a new perspective.


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