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The Power of Connection

Earlier this May, the CHS Alumnae Association invited the graduating students of 2021 and their mothers (or a special family friend or relative) to the annual Mother-Daughter Graduation tea. For over 60 years, the CHS Alumnae Association has hosted this event to welcome its newest members. This year, the event was held virtually for the first time.

The Association welcomed alumna guest speaker Sophia Proust ’15 who shared her recent experiences with Parsons School of Design, as well as working and connecting with alumnae while living in New York. Sophia has shared a transcription of her speaking notes with CHS Alumnae Association President, Kelly (McCarthy) Eng ’90

Kelly: Welcome! We are pleased to introduce to you our guest speaker Sophia Proust. Sophia is a 2015 Crofton House graduate and 2019 Parsons School of Design graduate. She currently works at a Strategic Design and Architecture firm in New York as a Junior Designer and will be starting a Master of Architecture at the UBC School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture in the fall. 

Sophia: Thank you Kelly and a big thank you to the CHS Alumnae Association for granting me the opportunity to speak. Girls, it is a huge milestone to be in the position that you are, let alone conquering it during one of the most difficult times. You’ve put many years of time, commitment, and effort into an arduous process of self-discovery, and you’re only just getting started.
As Kelly mentioned, I am currently working as a Junior Designer at a Strategic Design and Architecture firm in New York. Over the course of my two years with the company, I have worked on a variety of projects: from residential to commercial spaces to art installations. 
K: Jumping back to your Crofton years, what was your application process like and how did you navigate what you were going to do post-CHS? How did you choose Parsons? 

S: Growing up, I was athletics oriented. I played several sports a semester in and out of school; it was my goal to go to university as a student athlete for soccer. As a student at Crofton, I had many interests but never really pinpointed a subject area that I wanted to study at university.
As I neared my grade 12 year, I was strongly thinking about art school. I kept this to myself and worked to progress my portfolio in my out-of-school hours. When it came time to decide what I wanted my post-high school experience to look like, I was conflicted because I was at a crossroads between going to university as an athlete or an art school in New York: two drastically different options. I went with my gut and chose to study Fine Arts over soccer. 

K: What was the summer before first year like? 

S: There was a lot of anticipation. I was trying to imagine every scenario, the friends I would meet, and what my classes would be like. It was fun to picture it but it’s all different once you get there. The summer went by very slowly and I tried to spend as much time as possible with my family and friends.
K: How did you adapt to living out of the house?

S: My parents came to move me into my dorm. As soon as they left and there were no more dinners out, I learned to cook in my tiny dorm kitchen. It’s important to work out a budgeting plan with your parents. For those of you moving to the US, figure out those IDs in advance! I FaceTimed a lot to keep in touch with friends and family; however, it’s important to make sure you’re living in the moment and getting the most out of the communities and cities you live in—there’s lots to offer.

K: What was your first year of school like? How did you navigate being a student at Parsons?

S: I’m the first to admit that I had a rocky first year. I realized that the Fine Art program I joined was not the path I wanted to take, and I began to explore other programs that my school had to offer. 

I reached out to an alumna who had graduated from the Strategic Design and Management program I wanted to shift into and based on conversations I thought that it was in line with my current interests.

I ended up making the change. At this point in my post-high school life, I had pivoted from soccer to the arts, and now arts to business. It wasn’t until my senior year that I found my interest in architecture which was strong enough to pursue after school.

K: How did you find work during and after graduating from Parsons?

S: In all of my experiences finding work, I had to really put myself out there for what I wanted. My very first work experience in New York was with a photographer that I had known of for a while. He was scheduled to give a talk at my school, and I planned to approach him afterwards, sort of like campaigning why he should hire me. I ended up working for him for a year, filing photographs and following him around the city on shoots.

My second work experience was really eye opening. A good friend of mine was working for a Marketing and Advertising agency that was hiring interns. By her putting in a good word, and me interviewing well, I got the job. From this experience I learned the valuable lesson of what I didn’t want to do, which I think is equally as progressive as learning what you enjoy.

K: What was it like living in New York? 

S: Very interesting, to say the least. I have heard, seen, and smelt some pretty wacky things. I’ve lived in five different apartments. At one point I was living above an Indian restaurant which practically vented into my apartment. There was this one time that my Mum and I encountered a man standing in his underpants on my fire escape trying to steal my cable.

I lived on a really well-known corner in Little Italy and from my bathroom I could talk to people in line for ice cream. I had a roommate from hell that randomly left and to make rent, I had to AirBnB the now empty bedroom! I lived with four stinky boys at Columbia. And finally, I am now happily living in the West Village with my boyfriend and cat, named Miso.
K: So how did you ultimately find your job now? 

S: After graduating at Parsons, I applied to a pre-master summer program for Architecture at Columbia University. The campus/collegiate experience is what drew me to Columbia. Parson’s doesn’t have this and I wanted to experience the physical relationship between building and student. Some of you are going to the Parsons of the world with a city campus (University of Toronto and Ryerson are two examples of this).

When I entered the program, my professor, in addition to teaching, ran an interesting Strategic Design and Architecture firm. I knew that there was a possibility to work for him so I worked my butt off in that studio. At the end of the semester, he sat me down and hired me as a full-time employee.
I want to stress here that developing and maintaining your network will present opportunities in the long run. Your grad class and CHS alumnae network is the perfect place to start. 
In addition, my trajectory is an example of making decisions for the next. Every decision I’ve made has led me where I am today.

K: What was your experience with the alum in and out of school?

S: In my first year, a CHS alumna who had graduated a year ahead of me took me under her wing. That is how I fell into a good friend group and got acquainted with the city.
At the end of my first year when I was looking to change majors, I reached out to an alumna who had graduated from that program, and it was through our conversations that led me to realizing the change. 
In addition to that, CHS alumnae who were in the city would throw an event annually for other alum, which is a great way to network and meet other like-minded individuals.
K: What’s next for you? 

S: I did my six years in New York: four in school and two years working. I will be attending UBC School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture to begin my Masters in the fall.
I’m moving back to Vancouver and am excited to hone my craft, skills, and interests in a city I love.
K: What advice can you give these girls as they transition out of Crofton and to university? 

S: The three pieces of advice I would like to leave with you all today is:

  1. Try to let go of expectations and be open minded as you can about what comes next.
  2. Your path is not meant to be straight. I could argue that the wonkier it is, the better. Changing my trajectory intentionally and letting myself follow a path has broadened my knowledge and general interests.
  3. Develop, maintain, and use your network. Alumnae are here to help! You are responsible for building and contributing to the network that will give you jobs, opportunities, friends, and family for the rest of your life.