Exploring New Horizons as an Intern in Puerto Rico

Author: Mary Beth Zachariades

caitlyn_internIntern Caitlyn O'Malley with Ricardo Álvarez-Díaz and Cristina Villalón, co-founders of Álvarez-Díaz & Villalón.

Like many of her fellow students, Caitlyn O’Malley ‘16 spent her summer as an Architectural Intern. Unlike the others, she was also experiencing a new culture as she worked in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

The opportunity was made possible by Ricardo Álvarez-Díaz and Cristina Villalón, co-founders of Álvarez-Díaz & Villalón, a leading architecture firm headquartered in San Juan. For the past two summers, Ricardo, a graduate of the Notre Dame School of Architecture, and his wife Cristina have sponsored a two-month internship for a fourth-year student or a graduate student entering the final year of his or her studies. Each spring, a committee of architecture faculty members selects the student who will be offered the position, and the fact that the internship includes a stipend to cover airfare and housing makes the opportunity accessible to any student selected.

The reason Ricardo and Cristina chose to support Notre Dame students in this manner goes beyond an appreciation for his time as a Notre Dame student. In addition to wanting to give current students the ability to work in an office environment and use their design skills on professional projects prior to graduation, Ricardo saw an opportunity to provide students with a new view of his homeland. As he explains, “I feel it is important for people who aren’t from Puerto Rico to have a chance to come here and see it from a different set of eyes. Puerto Rico is getting a lot of media attention right now for the economic situation and I want people to see another perspective - there is a lot of work being done. Puerto Ricans are very hard-working and dedicated to their communities, and when the interns leave here, they will have a new understanding of this culture.”

The internship is a natural complement to the School’s longstanding international and multicultural focus which includes a diverse range of opportunities for students, from the Rome Studies Program to studio trips throughout the world, including to other Caribbean cities such as Havana, Cuba.

While in Puerto Rico, Caitlyn was able to work on a wide array of design projects and spend time with Cristina and Ricardo, learning about how a busy firm operates. Now back on campus, she said, “The entire internship was a really great experience, partly because being in Puerto Rico was new. It is an amazing place to live for eight weeks, and it is also an interesting place to work because there are a lot of similarities with the US, but there are also significant differences which made it a great learning opportunity. I was given a variety of interesting work to do so I felt like I gained a lot of knowledge in a short amount of time.”

Though she herself is not a graduate of Notre Dame, Cristina Villalón is a strong supporter of the University, “For our family, Notre Dame is a very special place, we visit every year. We believe in what Notre Dame stands for as a university, and we believe in the Notre Dame way of teaching architecture. The classical program, with an emphasis on hierarchies and proportions, offers a strong foundation in basic design principles that can apply to any style. This opportunity is really a two-way street because these students are taught in ways that we absolutely believe in and that we want to encourage. The Notre Dame interns are always the best interns that we have at the office.”