Valerie Poutous noticed something special about Virginia Tech’s College of Architecture and Urban Studies (CAUS) when touring as a high school senior.

“The professors, they have such a great connection with the students in the building,” Poutous said. “Walking around, they could call the students by name. It was definitely nice to see that personal connection.”

Poutous’ first impression was confirmed during the next five years. As a graduating senior, she credits the positive, welcoming environment of the college and university as a whole with helping her grow both as an architecture student and a person.

“Every time my parents come to visit, they say, 'You know so many people,'” Poutous said. “Building that kind of environment allows you to thrive and go outside of your comfort zone. That type of community helps with the growth of all your students.”

Poutous is finishing her undergraduate career as the 2019 CAUS Outstanding Senior and following her graduation, plans to move to the Washington, D.C., area to begin work with ZGF Architects.

“Valerie is a promising young architect, dedicated and passionate about her architectural studies,” said Associate Professor Patrick Doan, who wrote a letter nominating Poutous for the award. “She understands that school is more than satisfying a ‘checklist’ of course requirements, but rather a place to cultivate and build a body of knowledge that will form the foundation of her future work.”

Originally interested in medicine and engineering, Poutous first looked into architecture at the suggestion of her parents during her high school years in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She said she was partly drawn to the field because of its natural intersection between math, science, and art.

“With architecture, it wasn’t like you were always looking for the same answer,” she said. “You were always problem-solving, but it was figuring out how you could solve a problem in 20 different ways.”

While at Tech, Poutous has proven to be quite the problem-solver while also gaining experience working in multiple professional architecture firm offices and serving as an officer for the college’s organization of the American Institute of Architecture Students.

“Throughout my time working with Valerie, she has displayed outstanding qualities of leadership, maturity, and self-motivation,” Doan said. “Her thoughtfulness, creativity, and work ethic place her as one of the top students in our architecture graduating class.”

Poutous said some of the most valuable insight she’d gained as a Virginia Tech student occurred more than 4,000 miles away from Blacksburg during a school-sponsored study abroad semester in Switzerland. There, she learned the importance of immersing herself in another culture and the power of allowing it to influence her work.

“In the architecture field, how culture is represented is especially important to what you’re creating,” Poutous said.

Having benefited from such opportunities offered by CAUS, Poutous has proven extremely valuable as an ambassador for the college, where she engages with and provides tours for prospective students.

“This is an important role because she represents CAUS and is often one of the first encounters these students and their parents have with the college,” wrote Doan in the recommendation letter.

During those interactions, Poutous hopes others walk away with an impression similar to her own during that first visit.

“I just think Virginia Tech is so unique in the community that it creates,” Poutous said.

 — Written by Travis Williams