Ecem Kaya-Castro (B.F.A. ’15) came to the United States from Turkey with a suitcase and a dream. Now she is an interior designer working on high profile projects such as the new TWA Hotel at John F. Kennedy International Airport. Kaya-Castro sat down with The Box to reflect on her time at NYIT and journey to her dream career.
Why did you choose NYIT?
I was studying industrial design in Turkey, but in my third year, I wanted to change directions. I wanted to gain some international experience. I had lived and worked in Europe, but I had never been to the United States, so I started looking into American schools. Since New York is the biggest influencer in the world of design, I focused on schools in New York. I applied to a few schools and was actually accepted to all of them! However, NYIT was the most appealing. They responded to my portfolio and showed me that they really wanted to have me. They also offered me a generous scholarship, so they made my final decision easy.
Why interior design?
When I was about five or six years old, my family decided to build our first house. My dad started this intensive research and created some amazing sketches. I was watching the entire time. My dad is not an architect and I didn’t even know he had the skills to sketch like that! When he was ready, he took all his drawings to an architecture studio and I went along with him. I was amazed by the architects’ and designers’ drawings I saw on drafting tables with T-squares. (Apparently, not everybody was using computers at that point.) From then on, I started drawing my own floor plans, city plans, and landscape designs. Then I decided to study industrial design and interior design because I realized I enjoy creating experiences and functional spaces and products.
What excited you most about your field of study?
I love the idea of creating memorable moments and designing unique experiences for visitors. It amazes me how we can use a single design to change people’s habits or create new ones; habits that will last for a very long time.
Tell us about what you are doing now.
I’m currently working with Rockwell Group as an interior designer focusing on hospitality design.
At my previous job with Stonehill Taylor Architects, I worked on the TWA Hotel at John F. Kennedy Airport. I believe this played an important role in my career. My goal in my current position is to gain as many experiences as possible by exploring all the challenges each project poses.
I get to work on projects throughout the world, such as Australia, Europe, and different parts of the United States. I enjoy observing the differences and similarities between all these countries in terms of design expectation, site conditions, culture and city aspects of the design, city codes, and guest/user experience.
How did NYIT help you achieve your goals?
I’m still in touch with my professors. They’ve been amazing mentors, providing me with support and guidance even after I graduated. My internship at NYIT School of Management as well as my first job were especially instrumental in helping me to start my dream career in hospitality design. In general, NYIT helped my cultural transition.
Also, I learned not be shy about my “edgy” ideas. As I grow in my career, I continue to learn that it’s okay not to have all the answers, but it’s important to know where to look to find those answers. I learned this from my time at NYIT.
School, our jobs, or our careers, are not just places we go from nine to five every day. In my opinion, what we build in those environments is very important and helps to determine our lifestyle. Our own experiences teach us, but we also learn a lot from each other. That’s why I’m a strong believer that relationships matter in both our education and our careers; it’s important to be part of our environment.
What is one thing about you people might be surprised to find out about you?
It’s funny, but I like how people react when they find out that I just jumped on a plane with one suitcase and came to the United States without knowing a single person in this country. When my plane from Istanbul landed, I just walked out of JFK and took a cab to the Long Island (Old Westbury, N.Y.) campus. NYIT was the first place I visited in the United States. Even though I was all alone at the beginning, I made amazing friendships along the way, especially with the faculty. They’ve been a real family for me and have helped me adjust. They never let me feel alone or give up on my dreams. I’m really thankful to them.