Why is the UDream program important for
Pittsburgh? Because all of our studio projects
are always in a neighborhood that’s facing challenges,
it’s a way to bring the expertise in sustainable design,
urban planning, real estate design — just the expertise
that comes with CMU — to the community for free.
[Residents] may not be able to afford to hire a firm to
do a full assessment [of their neighborhood], but this
is something CMU can do to help a neighborhood
because we’re a part of the Pittsburgh community, and
we should be giving back.
What are your goals for the program?
I want to expand. I would love it to be more than
just architecture. I could see minorities and women
in everything. We could increase in [the] engineering
[field]; we could do more in math and computer
science. … I think it’s a nice formula that shouldn’t be
kept just to us.
What’s something people may not know
about you? I love sports, any type of sports, and a
couple of years ago I learned to surf.
In Pittsburgh? I don’t do it in Pittsburgh;
only when I’m not here. When I’m here I just have to
run on a treadmill. When I get away and I’m at the
beach, I just love getting out there on the water. It’s so
Erica Cochran studied architecture
in college in the early 1990s, when she
says only about 100 accredited architects
in the United States were black women.
Today, she’s working to keep improving on that statistic — and Pittsburgh — as
an assistant professor at Carnegie Mellon
University and the director of the UDream
program within the CMU School of Architecture’s Remaking Cities Institute [ cmu.edu/
UDream, which stands for Urban
Design Regional Employment Action
for Minorities, began at CMU in 2009. It
brings about 10 recent college graduates from around the country for an
intensive 18-week program focusing on
urban design in a neighborhood in need.
Students complete classes, work with high
school students to help them learn about
architecture and urban design and end
the program with a local internship in the
architecture field. The goal of the program
is to keep them in Pittsburgh, where they’ll
share their professional skills. The Heinz
Endowments and other donors pay for the
costs of student tuition, housing and travel.
“Because of the program, we’re adding
diversity on a professional level to the city,”
The students complete studio projects
in struggling areas throughout the city,
looking at problems that could be solved
through urban planning. In 2014, one project involved researching the Hill District’s
Centre Avenue corridor, which has been
a focus of redevelopment, and creating a
plan for green, affordable housing there.
Cochran, 41, of Highland Park, was at-
tending graduate school at CMU (she went
on to earn her Ph.D. there as well) when
she became a teaching assistant within the
UDream program. She became coordina-
tor in 2011 and director in 2013.
This year, the American Institute of
Architects recognized UDream as an hon-oree of its Diversity Recognition Program
for UDream’s innovative method of diversifying Pittsburgh’s urban design industry.
“People who come through the program are amazing, and they fall in love
with the city like the rest of us and become
citizens, and it increases the diversity of
the architectural profession for Pittsburgh,”
Cochran says. “It’s a nice way to recruit
the best and the brightest from across the
country and bring them here.”
— Lauren Davidson
urban design dreams