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Ya Vaughn Harlston

Director of Architecture

Ya Vaughn Marie Harlston was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. She is the youngest of six (6) children, and also has a twin sister who is 15 minutes older than her. As a child, she drew all the time and assembled anything that required to be assembled. She would get so excited when her parents bought furniture that required assembly. She would ask if she could put the furniture together herself. They complied knowing it would give her something to do. She even built an addition to her Barbie dollhouse. She knew at 10 years old; her aspiration was to become an Architect. While growing up in Chicago, its world-renowned historic architecture has always fascinated her. Chicago architecture is a large factor in her decision to pursue architecture as a career.

In high school, she took drafting and art classes. She loved math and science as well. She didn’t have any exposure to the architectural field until she was introduced to by mother’s co-worker whose brother-in-law was an architect. He was the first black architect that she met; and he mentored her through high school and college.

She earned a Bachelor of Arts in Architectural Studies from the University of Illinois at Chicago and earned a Master of Architecture from the University of Michigan. Since completing her master’s degree, she has worked at several firms gaining experience through various sized projects in multiple sectors ranging from residential to institutional including sustainable projects. She is most intrigued by the healthcare sector. Reflecting on her career to this point, healthcare projects has been her preference, because it is the most challenging and complex building sector.

She mentors high school students through the NAACP ACT-SO Program where they compete at a local and national level. She started mentoring high school students in this organization in late fall of 2009 in the Architecture category. She chose to be a mentor, because it gives her the privilege to guide high school students along the path of architecture and offers the students the opportunity to get a glimpse of what it takes to be an architect and to know there are licensed African American architects that look like them in this field. In April 2020, she judged the architecture category for the local competition. Today, she continues to mentor teams of high school students in the NAACP ACT-SO Sustainable Building Competition. One of the teams  won a gold medal. 

She is also a member of the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) and a member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA). She is certified with National Architectural Registration Board (NCARB) and Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) where she is a certified Green Associate. I am a licensed architect in the state of Illinois and Indiana.

Her hobbies include listening to music, watching television and movies and having friend and family gatherings when possible.



Wheaton, IL


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