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Q&A with Tori Cohen ‘15, Designer, Shulman + Associates

Published By Lily Zhu / published on: November 27, 2021

In this interview with Duke Business Oriented Women, Tori Cohen '15 shares how her time at Duke and Teach For America helped guide her toward a career in design. “I reflected on these experiences and realized that I was the happiest when I was doing something visual and creative,” she shares.

The following interview is reprinted from Duke Business Oriented Women’s Alumni Spotlight series.

Tori Cohen is an alumna of Duke University, graduating with an Art History degree with a minor in Visual Media Studies and Certificate in Markets and Management Studies. Upon graduation, Tori was a STEM Corps Member for Teach for America. The lessons she learned from this experience were invaluable! Now, Tori is pursuing her passion for architecture as a Designer at Shulman + Associates in Miami. We’re so grateful to Tori for sharing her various experiences, lessons learned, and offering crucial advice in this spotlight. We’re also super excited to watch her career flourish.

Thinking back, what led you to join BOW?

I was completing the Markets and Management Studies Certificate through which I learned about the organization! I thought it would be a good opportunity to network and learn about different career paths.

What’s a fun fact about yourself?

I studied abroad twice — in London (undergrad) and Rome (grad school)!

Tell us about your Teach for America experience. What inspired you to take this step? Why Miami?

I met with a recruiter and realized Teach for America was aligned with my skills and interests. I sat in on a BOW session about Teach for America and also spoke to a few Duke students/ alumni who had done or were doing Teach for America which confirmed this for me.

Teach for America matches you with a location — often, they match you with your hometown, and I am from Miami! I taught middle school math and special education inclusion classes. The experience was extremely challenging but rewarding! I learned a lot about Miami and societal injustices. I grew so much from the experience and my students ended up improving their math skills as well!

How did Teach for America set you up to move forward in your career? In general and in regards to moving into architecture?

Teach for America is a great opportunity to do something positive and give back while learning valuable skills. It gave me time to reflect and really figure out what career path I wanted to pursue. I developed a passion for teaching so I served as a Teaching Assistant in graduate school and am planning on teaching a class at my graduate school. I also developed more of an understanding about issues facing underserved communities, such as gentrification. My Teach for America experience has allowed me to look at architecture with a more critical lens and has inspired me to be a socially responsible architect. Teach for America also provides you with an AmeriCorps scholarship which you can put towards graduate school.

Were you expecting to end up in the current industry you’re working in? How is it treating you?

I thought I would pursue law because it seemed like a practical career path and I saw a lot of my peers pursuing it, but I ultimately realized the importance of doing what you love and had a change of heart! I majored in art history which exposed me to architecture and design, and I also did the Harvard Graduate School of Design Career Discovery program in architecture. I reflected on these experiences and realized that I was the happiest when I was doing something visual and creative.

I completed my 3.5 year Master of Architecture degree from the University of Miami in 2020 and am currently working for Shulman + Associates, a multi-disciplinary design firm in the Miami Design District focusing in architecture, interior design, urban design and graphic design. I love design and am learning so much every day! I am currently working towards my architecture license.

What advice do you have for current BOW members trying to navigate their job search?

  1. Try different jobs and internships! Every experience is valuable – even if you do not like the job/internship, it will lead you closer to the career that is right for you.
  2. If you get rejected from a job opportunity, do not take it personally! It probably wasn’t mean to be and you can learn and grow from each interview experience.
  3. Network and plant seeds. While at Duke, speaking to other Duke students and alumni helped me find out about different opportunities. For instance, another student told me about the Harvard Graduate School of Design Career Discovery program which ultimately ended up being the biggest catalyst for my architecture career.
  4. It is okay to not know exactly what you want to do in college! A gap year (or years) can help give you clarity before pursuing graduate school and it is never too late to switch careers. Many of my peers who thought they knew what career/ job they wanted to pursue ended up switching jobs/ careers after their first job out of college.
  5. Don’t feel pressured to pursue a career just because people around you are pursuing it. I felt like I had to go into consulting or medicine or law because that is what I saw my peers doing at Duke – these careers are all amazing but they weren’t aligned with my skills and interests.
  6. Go to the career center! I met with an advisor at Duke who helped me with my resume and job search. I learned tools such as creating vision boards which helped me gain more clarity about my job search!