Just a few years ago, Ketty Munyenyembe ’20 was well on her way to a career in international studies. But after transferring to Smith, she discovered a passion for scientific research. Now she’s heading to a Ph.D. program at Yale, where she’ll investigate the evolution of microbial pathogens—including COVID-19.
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Chloe Hou ’20: ‘Feeling the Power of Creation’
Chloe Hou ’20 decided to declare an architecture major before she’d taken a single studio course at Smith.
It was an unusual decision, but at the end of Hou’s senior year, it turns out to have been a good choice. Hou has received a scholarship for graduate study at the Yale School of Architecture—an opportunity that she hopes will prepare her for a transformative career in the field.
Hou’s love for architecture began in Shanghai, where she grew up. In high school, she pursued renovation and preservation work through Shanghai’s Ruan Yisan Heritage Foundation.
Eager to study abroad—and especially eager to experience life at a women’s college—Hou was drawn to Smith by the open curriculum, and by the opportunities she’d have to explore a range of courses before declaring a major.
In her first year, Hou took courses in astronomy, French and math. “It was very diverse,” she laughs.
But by the end of her first year, Hou knew that architecture was where she belonged.
“It’s a challenging major,” she acknowledges, “one that requires lots of time in the studio. But it allows me to feel the power of creation.”
Hou’s Smith experience also provided ample opportunity for exploration outside the classroom. There were opportunities to study abroad: the Architecture and Art History program at Val de Seine in Paris in her junior year, and a related trip to Portugal over her junior-year spring break.
“The Paris curriculum is very rigorous and immersive,” Hou notes. “It was very helpful in building my understanding of the major.”
Those travel opportunities also gave Hou an opportunity to explore, and to immerse herself in different cities and different styles of architecture. “They broadened my understanding of the buildings in different regions around the world,” she notes.
And being at Smith during construction of the new Neilson gave Hou a chance to see Maya Lin and Shepley Bulfinch’s work up close. She speaks enthusiastically about being at the “reveal” of Lin’s design in 2016. This past fall, she and her classmates in Professor Elisa Kim’s advanced architecture studio visited the construction site for a close-up look at the structure, the electrical systems—and the unprecedented vista from the Skyline Reading Room that’s taking shape on the building’s fourth floor. “The view was amazing,” she says.
Hou’s immediate plans may be complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Eager to spend time with her family before jumping into the intensity of graduate school, and excited about exploring some historical sites in her home region, she plans to go home to Shanghai this summer. After that, it’s back to the U.S. for master’s courses at Yale this fall.
And long-term? She’d like to focus on architecture as an interdisciplinary process. “I’m interested in the environmental part of architecture,” she says, “how the building process can be more sustainable and ethical to nature.” She’s interested in the practice of architecture, and hopes eventually to lead some projects. At the same time, she’s also drawn to research—and to a deeper understanding of the theory and history of the discipline she loves.
“Smith gave me a chance to explore my identity and my interests,” she says. “And the environment encouraged me to achieve beyond what I thought I could be. I’m very grateful.”