I Am Chimera Spotlight: Alumna Rachel de la Torre

CCA's I Am Chimera Spotlight series celebrates strength, knowledge, skill, and the CCA community members who embody those traits as they support creativity and diversity in themselves and each other.  

What is a Chimera? Learn more from undergraduate student leaders about what Chimera means at CCA.
 

Rachel de la Torre

Rachel de la Torre (Industrial Design 2014) can recount several moments as a CCA student when alumni support made a difference in her day, including when alumni funded coffee and snacks during crunch week:

“The coffee was great! Whoever the contributing alumni were, I wish I could say thank you -- and I hope they know that their support means a lot to students.”

Now de la Torre finds herself crossing to the other side of the philanthropy spectrum -- from that of needy student to supportive alumni mentor and 1907 Club donor, giving back to students encountering the same experiences she once did.

“Students are really focused on the day-to-day. You’re so exhausted by what you’re doing at that moment, so connecting with alumni serves as a reminder that there’s something more rewarding down the line -- that all of your hard work has a bigger outcome.”

For de la Torre, that outcome is composed of diverse interests nimbly shaped together.

Early Inspiration

“When I was a kid I wanted to be an astronaut,” de la Torre explains with a laugh, “and by high school I had a plan for how I was going to get to space.”

That plan initially included joining the Air Force Academy and becoming a pilot, but after learning from a recruiter that her vision might prohibit her from flying aircraft, de la Torre pivoted to engineering, which offered the opportunity to work on space shuttles or aircraft in a different capacity.

She completed her degree in mechanical engineering and began working with defense contractors. When that position ended, she took some time to consider how she could build upon her engineering experience and skill, and funnel it into a more creative outlet.

A friend and fellow mechanical engineer encouraged her to look into the field of industrial design -- a field de la Torre had not heard of before.

After some research, she recalls thinking, “This is what I’ve always wanted to do. I just didn’t know it!”

De la Torre is quick to add that she does not regret her mechanical engineering education one bit -- in fact, it gave her a strong foundation for entering into the Industrial Design Program at CCA.

Making the Transition to Industrial Design

But the transition was not easy. Initially, she found it difficult to break from her engineering mindset: “Things didn’t come together for me until spring [semester] of junior year. My fall project was the first project I was genuinely, truly proud of.”

The project was a traveling tea set for two people, where all of the components would fit into the kettle. For de la Torre, the task was more than just creating a clever design. Building from a valued daily ritual in British culture, de la Torre wanted the tea set to shake up American reliance on the travel mug and encourage users to take a pause in their day to share an experience with someone else.

Improving the user experience -- not just in the functionality of the object being used, but in the performative nature of the experience itself -- is still a driving interest in de la Torre’s work.

Fostering Creativity & Giving Back

After the tea set project, the synergy between de la Torre’s mechanical aptitude and creative ideas really came together. Upon graduating, de la Torre began working for a national 3D printing company making printable products for a variety of users including skateboarders and gardeners.

It was also around this time that she received an email from CCA’s Office of Alumni Engagement, asking for alumni to participate in a pilot mentorship program.

It was that same desire to improve people’s daily experiences that made de la Torre decide to mentor current students. Participating in the mentorship program has also been an opportunity for de la Torre to keep current with changes in her rapidly evolving profession.

“For me, I felt like mentoring was going to be a great opportunity for both me and my mentee -- for us to learn from each other,” de la Torre explains. “My most recent mentee made her website from scratch. I’ve never been able to do that. And while I was able to give her feedback on how to improve it, I could not do what she did.

"Although I have lessons to pass on to her, I also want to know what she knows. There’s always something new to learn, and incoming students are going to know it better than you do.”

A 1907 Club Mentor

This is also why she encourages other alumni to stay connected to CCA in a way that makes sense to them.

“When I approach alumni about CCA, I tell them that by giving back, they’re also going to get something out of it -- by giving back in all those different ways, there’s always something new to learn.”

That sense of reciprocity -- a feeling that she is part of an ecosystem at CCA where she nurtures and continues to be nurtured -- is why de la Torre also decided to become a donor to CCA, as part of the 1907 Club.

“Every CCA student understands what it feels like to practically live at school. And even though I didn’t make a sizable donation, if my contribution could replace a broken plate in the microwave that all of the students use on campus, I think that’s a big deal,” de la Torre says.

“CCA students always need something. Even the little gifts can mean a lot [to a student].”

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CCA's 1907 Club is a new group for alumni who have graduated in the past 10 years. Named for the year the college was founded, the 1907 Club was created to engage recent alumni in giving back and staying connected to CCA.

CCA’s mission is to educate students to shape culture and society through the practice and critical study of art, architecture, design, and writing.

The college is committed to preparing students for lifelong creative work by cultivating innovation, community engagement, and social and environmental responsibility.