Professor uses career as platform in male-dominated field
For Sharon Chapman, being a female architect in a predominantly male field has not only proved to to be a welcomed challenge, but an empowering experience as well.
“Women are really taking power in this field, and it’s inspiring,” Chapman said.
The 1990 UH alumna spent the first part of her undergraduate career studying interior design.
“I was encouraged to study it (interior design) instead of architecture, because that was an acceptable career for a woman,” said Chapman.
“I knew in my heart it wasn’t what I wanted to do, though.”
Chapman quickly disregarded the initial career advice and began studying for an architecture degree. Since that decision, she has taught a countless number of students, received a masters in architecture, and is currently an adjunct professor at UH.
“Architecture was my real goal,” Chapman said.
“It’s about space, building, and construction, which are things that fascinate me.”
As much as Chapman enjoyed her career, she became frustrated with the small number of women that were known in the field.
“In college, I don’t remember other girls in the class, and there weren’t many female professors,” Chapman said.
“Yet, there were so many women that had done such great things.”
Chapman decided to showcase the work of women in the field in the way she knows best- through design. While working on her masters degree, Chapman’s thesis became a source of inspiration for bringing a female-centered exhibit to the architecture program. Along with other architecture professors, she brought the Women of Architecture exhibit to life.
“This exhibit is about enlightenment,” Chapman said. “It is to showcase women that were pathfinders in their fields and that have paved the way for young women today.”
The exhibit opened Oct. 9 and showcases the faces and contributions of women architects throughout history. One of Chapman’s advisors during the exhibit, Donna Kacmar, expressed her sympathies with Chapman for pushing her into architecture.
“Chapman and I get it — the hardships that women face in this field,” Kacmar said. “This exhibits honors the young female architects.”
Using research from countless places, including the Texas Society of Architects, Chapman contributed to an exhibit that gives a voice to women that may not have been heard otherwise.
“Because there are so few women, so many of the stories get lost. Chapman wanted to change that,” Kacmar said.
Chapman stressed the importance of women working together in leadership roles through her exhibit.
“People don’t realize it, but a lot of women did become architects and made great strides in the field,” Chapman said.
“When women work together, they are more productive, and companies are more profitable. It changes the family and the way money is spent, and it’s fascinating.”
Chapman has enjoyed her career as a female professor in her industry, and hopes to continue making strides in her field in both design and teaching.
“It’s wonderful to have both teaching and design capabilities,” said Chapman. “Teaching is very inspirational. You’re a catalyst for students trying to reach their dreams.”
The Women in Architecture exhibit will be available until Jan. 15 at Architecture Center Houston.