The Catholic University of America

Nora Conley

Same Path, Different Journeys for Two Roommates

 

Graduating seniors Vincent Mazzella and Matthew Simeone first became friends during Odyssey Day before their freshman year in 2011. After bonding over a shared interest in architecture, they decided to become roommates. For the next four years, they lived together in Flather Hall, Opus Hall, and off campus. As architecture majors, they worked on similar projects and both spent time studying abroad — Mazzella in Rome and Simeone in Barcelona, Spain, and Turkey.

Even though their college experiences were very similar, their studies have led Mazzella and Simeone to unique paths. As each student prepares to graduate this Saturday, he will be heading in his own direction — Mazzella to a construction company in D.C. and Simeone to a two-year Peace Corps assignment in Panama.

“This really shows how broad the degree of architecture is,” said Simeone. “It has a lot of applications beyond what you would think.”

Mazzella said he first became interested in architecture in high school after completing a project on floating houses in Denmark. To further explore his interest, he took part in Experiences in Architecture, Catholic University’s three-week summer program for high school students.

“I did it the summer going into my senior year of high school, enjoyed it, and decided to stick with it,” Mazzella said. “That’s how I heard about CUA.”

During his sophomore year, Mazzella was one of the youngest people at CUA to participate in the Solar Decathlon, a competition in which teams of students from across the country competed to design and build a net-zero house, in which the energy used by the building is roughly equal to the amount of renewable energy created on the site. The house was later donated to Wounded Warrior Homes.

Mazzella also spent a few summers working as a contractor and held internships at a New York architecture firm and D.C.’s Clark Construction Company. Through his internships, Mazzella says he determined he was more interested in hands-on work than spending time in an office every day.

“Having the internship in New York really opened my eyes to that,” he said. “In Manhattan, you can build as high you want to, so I worked on designs for high-rise residential buildings. … At Clark, we did O Street Market and the apartment building over there, but the difference is I wasn’t doing the drawings. I was on site managing field teams and walking around.”

In fall 2014, Mazzella was named the winner of the School of Architecture and Planning’s Studio Design Competition. (Simeone was a runner-up.) Mazzella plans to put the money he won in the competition toward the two-year master’s program at CUA, which allows students to pursue dual degrees.

Mazzella will study real estate development and sustainable design. In August, he will begin work as a project engineer at Whiting-Turner Construction Company, where he interned for much of the past year. One day, he hopes to start his own business.

Simeone said his interests in architecture date back to when he was a child and he would work on building projects with his father.

“My dad was handy with a tool bench in the basement so I always had that around,” he said. “I took woodworking classes in high school since I’ve always liked making things with my hands. Architecture is kind of the more professional version of that.”

Simeone’s mother and older sister are both former volunteers with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. Hearing about their experiences, Simeone determined he was interested in long-term service of some kind. After completing his time studying abroad in Barcelona, he spent six weeks volunteering at a hostel in Portugal and two months in Palma de Mallorca, Spain, where he worked with an architect developing proposals for low-cost prefabricated houses that would be installed all over the world.

During his junior year, Simeone held an internship at the nonprofit arm of the American Institute of Architects, a professional organization for architects in the United States. There, he learned of many ways in which architects use innovative design to solve problems like poverty and homelessness. Simeone says he chose to pursue a Peace Corps assignment in Panama because he believes the projects can be a way to combine architecture, engineering, and international development and to help communities.

“Although you have a specific job there, you have so much time to do secondary projects and really figure out what a community needs,” he said. “It’s a 27-month commitment and although that sounds like a very long time, for the first few months, you’re really spending time gaining confidence and trust from the community so you can work with them to solve problems.”

After he completes his Peace Corps assignment, Simeone plans to pursue his master’s in architecture. Down the line, he hopes to find a career that will enable him to do development work with communities around the world.

“I really think design can change the world,” he said. “It’s not just about what you learned in school, but how can you solve a problem.”

Both Mazzella and Simeone say their experiences at CUA were challenging in a good way. Mazzella said he learned a lot about time management. Simeone said he was surprised at how intense the program was, and how much time students spent working together.

Looking forward, they’re excited to see where architecture will take them. They both say they have been prepared for careers that will be creative and varied.

“People think that going to school for architecture means you can only work at an architecture firm, but even in our undergrad program, we’ve seen and heard that you can do so many things,” said Simeone.

“The whole industry is changing constantly,” Mazzella said. “It’s a really great time to be an architect.”

 

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Vincent Mazzella

Hometown: Ramsey, N.J.

Major: Architecture

Favorite place in D.C.: Georgetown. "The architecture there is really nice."

Favorite class: Solar Decathlon. "We were building a house on campus and designing it. That's the cool thing about Catholic. They give you so many opportunities to build these skills."
 

Matthew Simeone

Hometown: Bethlehem, N.Y.

Major:
Architecture

Favorite place in D.C.: Union Station. "I love to see the diversity in its use, from a train station to restaurants."

Favorite class at CUA: Field sketching with Eric Jenkins. "I took it in Turkey and the whole time we were walking around and sketching. We traveled the whole country."