Designing a Successful Journey
As a child, Nisha Mary Prasad would tag along to open houses with her father, a real estate agent. “I remember walking through empty homes, having the space to take in the details—how my voice would bounce around the room, how the light would hit the wood floor, but most importantly, how a space could make you feel,” she says. “That’s when I truly learned of the power that a space could have over a person and how the details held that space together.”
That curiosity led her to begin drawing and building. “I remember building random little wood cabins with branches from the yard or balsa wood from the crafts store,” she says. “When the little structures were erect and the glue dried, I would drop the Encyclopedia Britannicas I was supposed to be reading (thanks Mummy!) on top to see how it would all fall apart, which details stayed intact, and which didn’t stand a chance.”
Prasad’s father may have introduced her to architecture, but both of her parents encouraged her to follow her passion. “My parents, especially my mother, worked relentlessly to put my four older siblings and me in the best schools,” she says. “She taught us how to work hard, pay attention to the details around us, and to leave any person, place, or situation better than how we found it. This is the root of where my self-motivation, passion, and drive throughout my career came from.”
Prasad sat down with The Box to talk about her journey and the role New York Institute of Technology played in her success.
Why did you choose New York Institute of Technology?
I needed to live at home during school to help my mom. I was very fortunate that the Long Island campus had an amazing and accredited architecture program, and was close enough to home. The campus was beautiful and whimsical throughout the seasons. It ended up being the best start to my architectural story.
What excited you most about your field of study?
I wasn’t like a lot of my classmates who had taken computer-aided design (CAD) or wood shop in high school. My skills were very limited, and I was starting from scratch when I entered the design school. The unknown was intimidating, but the idea of absorbing so much about something new was exciting to me.
How did New York Tech prepare you for a career post-graduation?
I’ve worked at incredible firms such as A+I (Architecture+Information) and Gensler, to name two. I would not have been qualified enough to work at such prestigious firms without the foundation I built at New York Tech. The fundamental skills and strategies I acquired from my undergraduate career were vital to the success I’ve experienced. New York Tech prepared me to be agile and dynamic enough to be everything from a student, to TA, to intern, to urban designer, to transportation designer, to renderer, to graphic designer, to project architect, to project manager, to strategist, to Professor Prasad, and now, to principal. I’ve been blessed to be able to wear so many hats and brave enough to fill so many roles, sometimes all at the same time.
If I had to narrow it down to the most impactful experience at New York Tech, I would have to say it was the year of my thesis design studio with the incredible Associate Professor Matthias Altwicker. Thesis was where I learned the value of research and gathering all necessary information before you even begin to tackle a design problem.
In February 2019, you took the leap and started your own architecture and design studio, NM Design Collaborative located in Winston-Salem, N.C. Can you talk about the experience and the firm’s focus?
It’s been challenging but extremely fulfilling and exciting. The studio specializes in both commercial and residential design. With the company being brand new, I’m doing a lot of everything. Beyond design and management, it also entails a good amount of accounting, marketing, public relations, and so much more. I take pride in the fact that every project that leaves my studio is truly unique to the client and their dreams. We listen to our clients, we do the research, and then we apply it through design.
You also step away from your responsibilities at the firm to teach. Can you talk about what attracted you teaching?
I am an adjunct professor in the Department of Interior Architecture at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG), where I teach courses in 3D visualization as well as a senior design studio. For me, teaching is the most fulfilling and purposeful duty I have. Prior to teaching at UNCG, I was teaching evening classes at New York Tech’s Long Island and New York City campuses. People ask me why I teach while working a full-time job. I tell them I do it because I feel indebted to anyone who has ever taught me anything. Every teacher, every classmate, every stranger. I feel like the only way I can ever truly give back, is to pay it forward.
What are some lessons you’ve learned throughout your journey?
Part of growing to your fullest potential is acknowledging when you’ve reached a plateau and resisting the urge to settle there. You have to move beyond this, to leap and take back control of your dreams, or you’ll find yourself building someone else’s. And that’s exactly where I found myself a year ago—building someone else’s dreams. But life is about moving forward, not standing still. So, I took back control and took a leap with no regrets, only lessons learned. Starting my own business is not easy, but it was worth the leap to continue to design myself a fulfilling journey.