Lorena Toffer, Senior Architectural Project Manager at AECOM, co-founded CityLab High School where 40 per cent of the student body is female


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AECOMs Lorena is a co-founder of an inclusive high school

AECOM's Lorena is a co-founder of an inclusive high school

Lorena Toffer is a senior architectural project manager with the AECOM Buildings + Places Central Region in Dallas, Texas. Below, she describes her own approach to workplace equality and honoring inclusion and diversity through her founding of CityLab High School.

Providing a quality education to a diverse cohort of students

Lorena is a co-founder of CityLab High School, which is the first public school of its kind with a design focus in downtown Dallas. This involvement stemmed from Lorena's belief in design as a catalyst for bettering human experience, valued partnerships and mentoring.

The students engage with Dallas as their laboratory for learning, and develop critical thinking and creative solving skills through hands-on and real-world projects. This is all done in collaboration with organizations and professionals to prepare students for college and careers in architecture, urban planning and environmental science.

"As part of the founding team, my role included writing the original proposal, drafting the school’s curriculum and creating the CityLab Foundation, a nonprofit that enhances the school’s mission. I currently serve as a volunteer and mentor the students on a regular basis in partnership with the architecture instructor, co-founder Peter Goldstein," explains Lorena.

CityLab HS is the second pilot in the district that aims to foster socioeconomic integration, via a lottery, to draw 50 per cent low-income students and 50 per cent middle-class/affluent students into the same classes. At the same time, CityLab HS is the first pilot in the district that has geographic diversity because of its location, with up to 30 per cent of spots accessible to families outside of district boundaries, and attracts commuter families who work downtown. As its population continues to increase, the school will be an educational choice for families in the area.

"About 40 per cent of its student body is comprised of female students. This is already an improvement from what is typically seen in local schools that offer an architecture pathway, and the numbers continue to grow," adds Lorena.

"One of CityLab’s key components is to engage industry experts early on as mentors for students as an invaluable piece of their learning experience, and to build a strong network of advisors, advocates and collaborators."

AECOM CityLab high school

AECOM employees are actively involved in supporting students

AECOM employees are active with the students, giving feedback on their projects and participating in the annual conference CityLab Summit.

"We’ve established 'AECOM Week', which welcomes experts to present their current work via interactive presentations at CityLab," says Lorena.

"Through my involvement in founding CityLab, I’ve been able to further my personal goal of increasing awareness of a career in design and to create opportunities for the next generation of leaders who are a reflection of the cultural, geographical and socio-economic diversity of North Texas —and a true reflection of the communities we serve."

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