Terps to Watch: MAPP's Best in Class, 2021

By Maggie Haslam / May 18, 2021 / Updated Jun 4, 2021

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 Terps to Watch Collage
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(L to R): Michael Chris Bryan, Marcelino Defngin, Weshi Zhang, Jemimah Asamoah and Daniella Acosta Saavedra.

Terps to Watch

Each year, the University of Maryland School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation proudly celebrates a newly-minted cadre of young professionals. Each of our graduates made their mark during their time at MAPP in the classroom, competition arena, or within their community; their talent and tenacity are what make our school special and are what will bring hope, imagination, equity, and beauty to the built environment. This year, we highlight five individuals from the class of ’21 who made the grade:


  Michael Chris Bryan

Michael Chris BryanA Pennsylvania native and a former Navy pilot, Chris Bryan’s path into preservation was sparked by project work in southern Maryland and a fascination with history. When volunteer work with the Calvert County Historic Society wasn’t adequately scratching the itch, Bryan enrolled in Maryland’s Historic Preservation Program, juggling school, fulltime work and writing a book on the Union Army’s Twelfth or XII Corps. Five years later, Bryan leaves Maryland a newly-minted preservationist and a soon-to-be published author; Cedar Mountain to Antietam: A Civil War Campaign History of the Union XII Corps, July - September 1862 is slated to hit bookshelves in November.

Favorite course or learning experience at Maryland: Two summers ago, we began documentation for Cremona Farm in Mechanicsville, Maryland. Over the fall, I went back to complete measurements of the barns and other outbuildings, which morphed into a final project. I was able to really get into the weeds on the structure investigations of these spaces and of other U.S. tobacco barns and carry that forward to further establish context and significance.

What’s something surprising that you learned? We discovered this type of joint documenting an 1820s-era barn that even Dennis [Pogue] had never seen before; we went on to find it on four barns in Calvert County. The barns were geography close, so it could have been made by the same person or just builders sharing the technique.

Where's the one place on/near campus you wish you could spend an hour before leaving UMD? We did half of our core classes at Bostwick, so I would say that. It’s a great example of early-American architecture.

What advice do you have for incoming Terps? Listen. Take the time to understand other folks that have different perspectives than you.

What’s a habit or piece of advice you learned at school that you think you will take with you into practice? As far as looking at historic structures, thinking critically about what you see. I learned a lot about how to do that.

Plans after graduating: To publish my book! I’m preparing the last draft for the editor now.

As you head into professional life, what would be your dream project? Ideally, I’d like to work for the park service or pursue something that suits my love of architectural investigations and project management background.

 

  Daniella Acosta Saavedra

Daniella AcostaThe daughter of a foreign service officer, who at various points of her life called three different continents home, Daniella Acosta fell into urban planning after a stint with Booz Allen Hamilton in Washington, D.C., where she worked with clients including the departments of energy and transportation. With a keen interest in public health and its relationship to things like transportation access and automated vehicles, Daniella discovered urban planning as the discipline to connect the dots.

What was your favorite course or learning experience at Maryland? This is nerdy, but it was an acquisitions concepts in management course that I took through the School of Public Policy. It really demonstrated the nuts and bolts of economic development and the role that public procurement plays as a social economic tool.

Where's the one place on/near campus you wish you could spend an hour before leaving UMD? The barns at the Ag school on the edge of campus, which I discovered during a walk one day. It’s a good distraction.

What advice do you have for incoming Terps? Get to know your professors and read up on their research; that’s important. Oftentimes in grad school, the academic part takes over and you can lose the point. But when you read the research, you can see those concepts imbedded in policy and practice; it shows how what you’re learning in class has practical applications.

What’s a habit or piece of advice you learned at school that you think you will take with you into practice? What I’ve learned is the power of teamwork; to trust people and allow the process to evolve organically. There is no magic to it, but it’s the key to success.

Plans after graduating: I’m interviewing. I am hoping to find a position that’s planning related but more geared towards balancing natural resources, transportation and econ development. I’d love to be in a part of the country that’s geographically different than here.

As you head into professional life, what would be your dream project? I’d love to get involved in a behind-the-scenes project that could make government processes more efficient—anything that has to do with process or modernization. For example, clearing the red tape for people wanting to start a business or a start-up and finding ways can we streamline it and make it less burdensome.

 

  Marcelino Defngin

Marcelino DefningOf the eight universities Marcelino Defngin applied to four years ago, UMD was the only one that rejected him. Now, as valedictorian for UMD’s undergraduate architecture class of ‘21, he’s getting the last laugh. Defngin transferred to UMD two years ago, joining his brother, who is currently a graduate student in bioengineering; unlike his brother, Defngin chose STEAM over STEM, flexing his design muscles in the B.S. Architecture Program. Now, a newly-minted TERP alum with graduate school on the horizon, Defngin is putting his new skills to good use this summer, working alongside other UMD alums at Grimm +Parker.

Favorite course or learning experience at Maryland: Design studio was probably my favorite experience. I was really able let go in studio classes and explore ideas more freely.

What’s something surprising that you learned? I learned that you can never full design a project; it will always receive feedback or criticism and there will always be room to build on or improve it. The goal is to get it to a place that delivers for the client. 

Where's the one place on/near campus you wish you could spend an hour before leaving UMD? I like to go to quiet places and one of my favorites is the chapel. That area of campus is a great place to just sit or study.

What advice do you have for incoming Terps? Be resourceful. Look beyond the scope of school, don’t always expect it to be the solution. There are jobs that offer tuition reimbursement—internships and nontraditional ways to fund your education. School is a great tool for a career but you have to network and look for opportunities to make your future.

What’s a habit or piece of advice you learned at school that you think you will take with you into practice? Taking breaks. They are essential, at least in my field. When you hit a wall, you have nothing else to give, just take a break.  

Plans after graduating: I am going straight into graduate school this fall here at UMD. It’s the only place I applied so luckily, I got in!

As you head into professional life, what would be your dream project? My purpose for pursuing architecture is partially because of where I’m from. I was the first in my family born in the U.S. but am 100% Pacific Islander. My family came from poverty in Micronesia and my brother and I want to bring the knowledge we learned here back to where we came from. That’s our goal.

 

  Weishi Zhang

Weishi ZhangWeishi Zhang’s plans to pursue a master’s degree in real estate development were set with her acceptance to Maryland, but required a minor detour: a three-month crash course in English. Originally from Taiyuan City in the Shanxi Province of China, with a Bachelor in Engineering and Land Resource Management, Weishi took to both her new language and new discipline quickly, becoming an indispensable asset to the program as a graduate assistant and to her NIAOP-winning competition team this spring.

Favorite course or learning experience at Maryland: I have a lot of favorite courses. Each course gave me a better and deeper understanding of the real estate industry. The negotiation class was fun; we could negotiate in groups about a given case and it gave me more connection to my classmates. Each class is so good. It is hard to pick one or even a few. 

What’s something surprising that you learned? I think, first of all, I was surprised that I could study and live in a country where my mother tongue is not the spoken language. Secondly, I have a better understanding of the laws and rules of the U.S. Before I came to the United States, I only knew that land in the United States could be privately held and that private land rights were sacred. However, after studying, I found that there were many rules and restrictions, as well meanings behind these rules. This changed my previous perceptions.

Where's the one place on/near campus you wish you could spend an hour before leaving UMD? Of course, the top one is the Architecture school and Carrie (Chard)’s office, lol. I miss my desk. 

What advice do you have for incoming Terps? When you feel that everything is difficult, remember that you are trying to improve yourself and that means stepping out of your comfort zone. If everything were that easy, there would be no need to learn. So always remember, when you are having a hard time, do not be afraid, tell yourself that you are making progress!  

What’s a habit or piece of advice you learned at school that you think you will take with you into practice? So many but I’ll just pick one— writing memos. Most of my classes required us to write memos for reading, news or lectures. I think this is a very good habit. Because so much stuff is going on in one day and I am a multi-tasker, writing memos helps me to be more organized.

Plans after graduating: I hope to find a fulltime job in the U.S., because so many of the laws, rules and regulations I learned from school are only suitable for here and I want to have an opportunity to use the knowledge I learned in the program.

As you head into professional life, what would be your dream project? In the future, my dream is to become a developer or part of a development team. I hope I can participate in a project that truly benefits society and the environment. 

 

  Jemimah Asamoah

Jemimah AsamoahBorn and raised in Accra, Ghana, Jemimah Asamoah came to Maryland after a brief stint with D.C.’s Bricklane Development Group to pursue her second master’s degree in architecture, allowing her to pursue a design career in the U.S. Since arriving, she’s made every minute—and opportunity—count: her projects have earned her accolades in regional AIA competitions, she assisted on the redesign of undergraduate and graduate studio for a virtual platform and she was the 2020 recipient of the David M Schwarz Internship Travel Scholarship. She recently capped off her UMD experience by earning the 2021 Architecture Thesis Prize.  

Favorite course or learning experience at Maryland: The Ecological Design Thinking class (Arch 678T) was definitely my favorite. The readings and class discussions were so interesting and relatable and this course ended up being the driving force for my final thesis project!

What is something surprising that you learned? One rather interesting thing I learned was the students' tradition/ritual of offering gifts to the Testudo statue in front of the McKeldin Library during exam weeks for good luck.

Where's the one place on/near campus you wish you could spend an hour before leaving UMD? If I had one more hour, I would love to spend it in the Architecture Studio and Library. Most of my memories and friends were made in that building. 

What advice do you have for incoming Terps? Have fun, make memories and be sure to take full advantage of all the wonderful opportunities UMD has to offer. Always plan ahead and learn to prioritize (school/life balance).

What’s a habit or piece of advice you learned at school that you think you will take with you into practice? Success is a process! You have to go through the process to get there.


Plans after graduating: Take a short break to catch my breath then, start working!

As you head into professional life, what would be your dream project? One of the studio projects I worked on was the redesign of the site around the John F. Kennedy Center as a gateway into historic D.C. The design included a garden and museum design that I enjoyed so much. It would be amazing to work on a project like that.