A Journey of Resilience: Paola Ortez '21 BS SBE

Jan. 19, 2021

Six Questions with Bachelor of Science in Sustainable Built Environments Student Paola Ortez

“To me, the CAPLA experience signifies trusting the process. The process is more significant than the end result.”

Paola Ortez, who is from Tucson, entered CAPLA's BS in Sustainable Built Environments program (Sustainable Building Emphasis) following a series of unexpected physical and mental challenges, testing her but demonstrating her resilience and commitment to sustainability.

What brought you to the University of Arizona to study sustainable built environments?

I originally came to the University of Arizona seeking a degree in architecture; however, it is true that you can never be prepared enough for your next life’s phase. Since I was successful in high school, I believed I could be successful in college if I worked hard enough. We all work at different paces and I had to be graceful and aware of the pace at which I learn. Unfortunately, the studio-based classes were too fast-paced for me, so my academic advisor suggested that I switch my major to SBE. It was a big change in my life plans; however, I am glad I chose this major.


ARC 461P window shading project, by Paola Ortez
ARC 461P window shading project, by Paola Ortez.

What do you like best about the SBE program and the College of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture?

I like the range of topics that are covered in the SBE program and the incorporation of classes from other departments. This approach allows students to have a well-rounded grasp of the multiple fields in sustainability. For instance, I enjoyed learning about closed-loop water and energy systems, geographic information systems and environmental ethics. These courses introduced a new perspective to the sustainable design strategies we applied in the main SBE courses.

What have been your biggest challenges at CAPLA at UArizona, and how have you overcome those challenges?

My biggest challenge at CAPLA has been accepting change in my career plans. At the same time that I was debating changing my major, I suffered the death of a very close friend in the CAPLA program. I had entered college with a clear vision of a career in architecture, yet his death made me realize the precarious nature of life. This realization encouraged me to look into the SBE program and begin the journey in my new career in sustainability.

At the same time, the constant deadlines, high expectations from professors and sleep deprivation triggered my mental health. Having to deal with internal challenges hindered my ability to stay on top of my schoolwork, internship applications and involvement in my community. The unconditional support from my family as well as seeking professional help aided my recovery. But when I finally thought I was back on my feet, I suffered a physical injury when I was run into by a car. Luckily, the recovery process was over the summer, but it resulted in me losing my job and missing out on summer opportunities.

The biggest lesson that I have learned has been to accept the change of plans, welcome help from family and mentors and to believe in my resilience. I am grateful for the support system that I have had, especially Sean Kramer-Lazar, my advisor, who has been empathetic of my journey. His kindness to strive and learn how to work with me so that I can reach success is the reason why I have made it this far and why I am not ashamed of my journey.


Poster by Paola Ortez: Accidents Involving Bicycles in Tucson, Arizona
Poster by Paola Ortez: Accidents Involving Bicycles in Tucson, Arizona, a GIS project.

What does the CAPLA experience mean for you?

To me, the CAPLA experience signifies trusting the process. The process is more significant than the end result.

What are your career aspirations?

The COVID-19 pandemic has helped me refine my vision of what I want post-college life to look like, and traveling is an integral part in that. As a result, I am choosing an unconventional career path: I aspire to take my knowledge of sustainable building design and build a career in travel blogging as a sustainable urban tourist. I would like to create city maps of sustainable buildings to visit and document sustainable design strategies of those different buildings. My goal is to provide a different lens through which people can view their city.


Screen wall project from first-year architecture studio
Screen wall project from first-year architecture studio, by Paola Ortez.

What advice do you have for prospective SBE students?

My advice is to increase your involvement in student clubs, lectures and networking opportunities. Also, ask questions and really get to know the SBE advisors because they truly are a beneficial resource.


Paola Ortez '21 BS SBE


Student Profile