By Michael Gresham
The Texas Catholic
Where some see a myriad of straight lines, angles and mathematical formulas, Julian Cardoso sees a faithful purpose in the concepts of architecture. It’s one that draws him to pursue a career as an architect.
“It’s using space to create something beautiful and positive for the community,” Cardoso said.
That’s something Cardoso could easily say about his school, as well.
After all, Cardoso, 17, a senior at Cristo Rey Dallas College Prep, has the school’s innovative programs to thank for helping him on the path to achieving his dream.
“Cristo Rey has been a school that has opened many great opportunities for me,” said Cardoso, who with his acceptance to Cornell University’s architecture program will become Cristo Rey Dallas’ first Ivy League student. “I am truly grateful for that.”
Cristo Rey Dallas, a Catholic non-profit high school that is part of a larger national network of schools in 22 states, launched in Pleasant Grove in 2015 to serve families of limited economic means. The school provides a rigorous college prep curriculum with a unique work study program, in which students earn 65 percent of the cost of education by working as interns with partner businesses.
Cardoso’s parents, Rafael Cardoso and Irma Espino, immigrated to the United States from Mexico. His father works as a roofer while his mother maintains the home. The family moved around when he was younger, with time spent in Mexico as well as Texas. Throughout it all, Cardoso, the youngest of three siblings, said his parents instilled the importance of a good education in their children.
“From a very young age, my mother has always told us to put education first,” said Cardoso, who attended elementary and middle school in Mesquite. “It’s something that has stuck with me.”
Cardoso’s mother introduced the idea of him attending Cristo Rey Dallas after she learned about the newly opened school the spring before his freshman year.
“It was something new to not only us, but to the whole community,” he said. “Not knowing anything about the school, I decided to embark on that journey and, so far, it has been an amazing experience.”
Academically, it’s an experience that challenges students. Cardoso, though, sees those challenges as opportunities, taking a full slate of advanced placement courses as well as classes geared to professionalism in the modern workplace. His favorite course, however, focuses on another subject he holds dear: his faith.
“I end my school day with one of my favorite classes — theology. In it, I am able to learn more about my faith, but also truly connect with my peers and how we are going to go about our future,” said Cardoso, who along with his family is a parishioner at St. Philip the Apostle Catholic Church.
While his mother may have been the one who guided him to Cristo Rey, it was his father’s work that first ignited Cardoso’s passion for architecture.
“From a young age, I’ve been around the whole concept of building and construction through my dad and my family,” said Cardoso, adding that he was always fascinated with the blueprints his father would have around their home. “He first introduced me to the concept of just being able to take a space and create something positive out of it.”
Cardoso recalls that when he was 5, his father was making plans for a build that would become the family’s home.
“I fondly recall helping him out with that planning process, which was really neat because what we were doing would eventually be where we would live. It would become our home,” he said.
At Cristo Rey, Cardoso not only has had the opportunity for a quality education, but also a chance to make his dream of becoming an architect come true. Through Cristo Rey’s corporate work study program, one day each week, Cardoso trades a classroom for an office cubicle at Page Southerland Page, an architecture firm with its Dallas office located in the historic Mercantile National Bank Building in downtown.
“Working with architects, just being around the office, truly being able to engage with someone who has already accomplished what I want to accomplish is something that I think is extraordinary,” Cardoso said.
Every Thursday and one Friday a month, Cardoso joins his peers for an early morning meeting at the school before departing by bus to Dallas Area Rapid Transit’s station on Buckner Avenue, where he rides the 7:45 a.m. Green Line rail downtown. After a nearly 10-minute walk, he arrives to work at Page.
Michelle Northington, a senior associate/architect at the firm who helps mentor Cardoso, praised his work ethic and attitude.
“Julian is a pure joy. He comes in on time. He asks a lot of questions and he is just really a friendly, nice guy and great student,” she said. “He always has a smile on his face and he’s been real fun to mentor.”
As an intern, his work runs the gamut of scanning and copying files to assisting with the input of data. Cardoso said he hungrily soaks in all the information he can and makes the most of opportunities when he gets to do more.
“That’s usually where the fun begins as I get to begin working with architects. I engage in what it truly means to be an architect, which is the whole concept of designing and creating something out of nothing,” he said.
Cardoso also credited Ricardo Muñoz, an associate principal at Page who also is a professor at his alma mater of the University of Texas at Arlington, with helping him make the most of his time at the firm.
“He’s truly a been a pillar of what I’ve been able to accomplish so far within my educational career. He has done a number of things from writing recommendation letters to allowing me to explore the different things I can do within architecture,” he said.
Muñoz said he sees great potential in Cardoso.
“I’ve worked with Julian on several occasions and his enthusiasm and desire to learn are inspiring. He’s attentive, inquisitive and a great listener,” he said. “These traits coupled with his positive attitude have made him an obvious choice for design-oriented tasks in the office.”
Muñoz also praised Cardoso for being able to learn quickly and perform complicated tasks independently.
“He has been able to pick up software skills quickly and has implemented them as design tools on the projects we’ve worked on together,” said Muñoz, noting that Cardoso aided with design for a Healing Garden at St. Luke Catholic Church in Irving. “He was able to quickly create 3D visualizations of the design concept which in turn helped inform design decisions important to the project development.”
John M. Garcia, principal at Page Southerland Page, said the firm’s partnership with Cristo Rey is in the vein of giving back to the community.
“We see it as a way of giving back to the community as well as to encouraging diversity in our profession. The architecture profession is making great strides when it comes to diversity. In terms of minority architects, whether they are Hispanic, Asian or African-American, that is still where the profession overall recognizes we are behind,” Garcia said. “With Cristo Rey, this is another opportunity for Page to help by not only giving back to the community but also encouraging diversity within our profession. It’s a win-win.”
With Cardoso’s interest in architecture, Garcia said the Cristo Rey senior has been a perfect fit at Page.
“It’s a very enjoyable experience for us,” he said. “There’s a satisfaction that Page and us personally as architects derive from being able to expose Cristo Rey students such as Julian to the profession of architecture.”
Hard work, just rewards
Juggling the early mornings, the homework and his duties as an intern can be quite challenging, but like everything else, Cardoso finds the positives in it.
“Through that process, though, comes great reward,” he said. “I think through the past few years I’ve really been able to improve my time management skills. Going into college, these are skills that are truly going to play a part in the success that I will have.”
In the Pleasant Grove community where Cardoso and many of his peers live, 55 percent of the families make $34,000 or less annually. More than 40 percent of the population over 25 have not graduated from high school. Only 4 percent have college degrees.
Cardoso recognizes those challenges, noting that he is grateful for the opportunity Cristo Rey has given him.
“In the community that I have grown up, it truly is a struggle for people to achieve a dream of attending college,” he said. “Thankfully, though, I’ve been granted this opportunity to attend Cristo Rey Dallas, which has allowed me to accomplish my goals, protect my dream and truly pursue my hopes of now going to a four-year university.”