Conservation Diaries: Hillary Morales Robles, Architecture Intern
Listen this episode of Conservation Diaries as Hillary Robles shares her perspective as a Latina architectural intern with the Heritage Documentation Program.
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Nicole: Hello and welcome to a new National Park Service podcast series, Conservation Diaries. I’m your host, Nicole Segnini.
In these episodes we will be showcasing some of the Latinx interns who are working on amazing projects at the National Park Service.
There are several youth programs designed to connect kids, teens, and young adults with opportunities at national park sites to contribute to our nation’s natural, cultural, historical, and recreational resources in their own way. Like the Latino Heritage Internship Program, or LHIP.
This summer there were 32 interns working on projects in parks across the nation. I sat down with some of them to talk about the importance of their work and projects and about why representation at the parks matters.
Our first guest is Hillary Morales Robles. She is from Puerto Rico and is currently a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania, pursuing not one but two masters...one in architecture and another one historical preservation.
Hillary: Why two? Cause one is not enough. [laughs] Now to be honest is to become a licensed architect. Also, there is not enough preservation architects, especially women, in Latino communities. So, I feel like I can fill that void in the field I guess and can hopefully do great work in the future.
Nicole: For two months over the summer, Hillary worked as a Historic American Buildings Survey Architectural intern with the Heritage Documentation Programs at the National Park Service. In this role, she documented the historical and architectural features of General Simón Bolívar Park and statue outside the Department of Interior in Washington, D.C.
She told me about some of the different techniques for documenting, including the use of photogrammetry, which is the science and art of using photographs to extract three-dimensional information from a series of well-placed images.
The National Park Service uses photogrammetry to improve access to scientifically important or interesting objects and in turn enhance the visitor's experience. This includes photogrammetry of more than 40 different species of shark fossils at Mammoth Cave, paleontological treasures at the Grand Canyon, and even 3-D post-Civil War inscriptions at Gettysburg.
Hillary: We’ve been doing a lot of stuff, but mostly the goal is to produce a set of drawings that are going to be documented and included in the collection, HABS, HAER, and HALS collection in the Library of Congress. I am very excited for that. [laughs] I am also learning other things about especially technology and different techniques for documentation processes. Like we started first with photogrammetry and laser scanning of the park overall. Mostly laser scanning for the park and photogrammetry for the statue itself because we want to reach a high level of accuracy and these technologies are providing us the right tools to do that in a short period of time. [laughs] And also like, after that we generated a point cloud and colored data that we are using to produce the 2-D drawings, the plan, elevation, and details of the monument and park.
Nicole: The 27-foot bronze equestrian statue was donated by the Venezuelan government, which also paid for its installation in 1959. Simón Bolívar was known as El Gran Libertador, or “The Great Liberator,” and as a revolutionary genius. Bolivar fought in more than 200 battles against the Spanish in the fight for South American independence. He helped free six nations: Bolivia, Colombia (which then included Panama), Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela.
Historic preservation is an important way for us to transmit our understanding of the past to future generations. Our nation's history has many facets, and historic preservation helps tell these stories. Many believe having a Latina helping in the preservation of a Latino monument and its history is vital.
Hillary: I think the goal, especially for this internship, is to create more awareness of Latino culture in the U.S. But also train Latino students and professionals to be part of the goal and outreach, no?. I think we need more people like us doing our own thing. [laughs]
Nicole: Within the National Park Service, many people work in historic preservation: archeologists, architects—like Hillary—curators, historians, and other cultural resource professionals. The National Park Service carries out historic preservation both within and outside of the National Park System.
Hillary: I am an art historian too, I studied art history and environmental design in the University of Puerto Rico. So, I first knew about the HABS collection when I was 18. I did a lot of architecture history research reports and I used HABS as one of my main resources. Especially photography, I was so obsessed with that and I really wanted to learn about all the different skills the right way. They basically established the standards of documentation. Historically HABS are a very important piece in the field of preservation, and I really want to know and learn. I never expected to be here. [laughs] But let's say life put me here, I guess.
Nicole: Hillary spoke about just how important it is to have more Latinos working at national parks and involved in conservation and preservation efforts, especially when working at or with Latino heritage sites.
Hillary: Unfortunately, our communities don’t have a lot of professionals that are involved in these types of projects and we need more people like us here because it’s our heritage, it’s our culture. And I personally believe that we have the ability to represent our voices better and establish the right relationships with our communities. It doesn’t make you qualified, it’s not about that. You need to still have the capacity and knowledge and the skills to do the work. But I feel that we need more professionals, Latino professionals, in these types of projects so we can achieve a level of authenticity and represent the best we can our voices for the future.
Nicole: While discussing her internship this summer Hillary talked about inclusion and about how welcoming her supervisors were, and how important that was throughout her whole experience.
Hillary: I mean my two supervisors, Paul Davidson and Robert Arzola, I think working with both of them this summer has been really fun. I was not expecting them to be so welcoming. So, it’s been refreshing working in a healthy work environment, I think. Working with them is very interesting; they are so open-minded, they share their wisdom with me, and they treat me as an equal. That was something, I was like yes please. [laughs] I have been learning so much because of that approachness and welcoming. That can be fun, so I can be myself, and work doesn’t seem too overwhelming and intimidating, so it’s nice.
Nicole: Sometimes many in the Latinx community never really thought that they would be able to work or intern at this incredible organization. Because, although Hispanics/Latinos make up over 18% of the U.S. population, they only make up a little over 5% of the NPS workforce. And when you have leadership that makes you feel welcomed and as if your work matters, there are many benefits including a greater readiness to innovate, increased ability to recruit from a diverse talent pool, and a much higher employee retention rate.
That is why youth programs such as Latino Heritage Internship Program are so important. And Hillary wants the Latinx youth to not be discouraged and apply.
Hillary: They should definitely do it. I think I know by default because of myself, I think we get so intimidated. I think we talk about this a lot, impostor syndrome, ‘cause again we don’t have representation and role models that we can look at and say, “oh we can apply to these places,” and I feel that they should do it. It’s a great opportunity, why not? It's the federal government, it’s the National Park Service. You learn so much about the history of our landscapes, but also our heritage sites. That I think it’s a great opportunity...I don’t know, I am being very general right now but, the people you meet, the places you see... I think that is something that you will not regret. And also you are doing what’s your passion, and you expose yourself to new things and you realize that ‘oh if I can do this, I can do anything else,” right?’. I feel like we see these types of jobs very far away from our realities, but it’s something that is possible. I would love anyone to apply. [laughs] Just apply.
Nicole: Hillary’s incredible work will be documented on the HABS/HAER/HALS Collection at the Library of Congress for future generations to see. If you want to learn more about the Heritage Documentation Programs, you can visit our website nps.gov.
There are many opportunities for youth and young adults 15-30 years old and veterans 35 years old and younger to work with the National Park Service.
To learn more about these jobs, internships, and volunteering opportunities, you can go to www.nps.gov/youthprograms.
Thank you for listening!
Meet Hillary Morales Robles. During the summer of 2021, Hillary was part of the Latino Heritage Internship Program, working as an architecture intern at the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) of the Heritage Documentation Programs in Washington DC. She spent the summer documenting the historic architectural and landscape features of the General Simón Bolívar Memorial in front of the Department of the Interior building.
Hillary is a dual-degree graduate student studying Architecture and Historic Preservation at the University of Pennsylvania’s Stuart Weitzman School of Design. She was born and raised in Puerto Rico and graduated Magna Cum Laude in Environmental Design with a minor in Western Art History from the University of Puerto Rico.
"There is not enough preservation architects, especially women, in Latino communities. I feel like I can fill that void and do great work in the future."
Her project over the summer consisted of documenting the General Simón Bolívar Memorial located in front of the Department of the Interior building, in Washington, DC. The memorial is one of more than three dozen that are administered by the National Park Service’s National Mall and Memorial Parks.
Documentation consists of field sketches, hand-measuring, high-definition laser scans, and photogrammetry which are used to produce accurate existing conditions measured drawings of the site. for inclusion in the HABS/HAER/HALS Collection, the nation's largest archive of historical architectural, engineering, and landscape documentation in the Library of Congress.
"We started with photogrammetry and laser scanning of the park overall. Mostly laser scanning for the park and photogrammetry for the statue itself because we want to achieve a high level of accuracy and these technologies are providing us the right tools to do that in a short period of time. After that, we generated a point cloud and colored data that we are using to produce the 2D drawings, plan, elevation, and details of the monument and park."
The 27-foot bronze equestrian statue was presented to the United States as a gesture of friendship by the Venezuelan government in 1959. Simón Bolívar was known as “the Great Liberator” and considered by many as a revolutionary genius. Bolivar fought in more than 200 battles against the Spanish in the fight for South American independence. He helped six nations gain independence: Bolivia, Colombia (which then included Panama), Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela.
Hillary believes in the importance of having more Latinos working at national parks and involved in projects such as this one: documenting and preserving the history of a Latino monument.
"Unfortunately our communities don't have a lot of professionals involved in these types of projects and we need more people like us here because it's our heritage, it's our culture. I personally believe that we have the ability to represent our voices better."
Within the National Park Service, many people work in historic preservation: archeologists, architects—like Hillary—curators, historians, and other cultural resource professionals. The National Park Service carries out historic preservation both within and outside the National Park System. Ever since she was 18 years old, Hillary has been utilizing the HABS photography collection as one of her primary resources for many research projects and dreamed about working in the program.
"I was so obessed. I wanted to learn about all the different skills the right way. They basically established the standards for documentation. Historically HABS is a very important piece in the field of preservation, and I really wanted to learn...I never expected to be here."
During her time at the National Park Service, Hillary also had the opportunity to meet with Shannon A. Estenoz, Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, in celebration of Latino Conservation Week. Hillary was able to highlight the importance of conservation and historic preservation with her documentation project. She laid out full-size copies of the measured drawings of the park and statue, talked about her training and skills acquired throughout her internship, and showed an additional short video of an aerial animation of the point cloud data that captures the whole site of the General Simón Bolívar Memorial.
The highly detailed drawings, a historical report and large-format photographs that Hillary worked on all summer long will be displayed at the HABS/HAER/HALS Collection in The Library of Congress, where they will be made available for review and study.
Hillary wants to encourage other preservation architects to come work for the National Park Service to help keep historic sites alive for the enjoyment of future generations. She specifically believes more women, and more Latin American women, should be represented in the workforce. It is important for her to create visibility of underrepresented voices and narratives. For this, she wants Latino young adults and other minorities to not be discouraged and apply to the different youth programs that the National Park Service has to offer.
"You are doing what's your passion, you expose yourself to new things and realize that 'oh, if I can do this, I can do anything!' I think we see these types of jobs very far away from our realities, but it is possible."
Meet the Host
Nicole Segnini created the Conservation Diaries podcast series in 2021 during her Latino Heritage Internship Program internship with the National Park Service's Office of Communications in 2021. Venezuelan-born, she knows firsthand Latinx communities' passion and commitment to conservation and wanted to engage the rising generation of stewards—of all cultural backgrounds—to picture themselves in conservation careers or working in the National Park Service. Nicole used her background and experience in journalism, social media influencer, and television news producer to create the Conservation Diaries podcast series to bring out the stories of youth in the National Park Service from their own perspectives.
"There are so many young people in underrepresented and minority communities across the country who care so much about conservation, historical preservation, nature, wildlife, the outdoors, and our beautiful parks, and I think it's important that we elevate and amplify their voices and their important work. They are working hard to protect and preserve our natural, cultural, historical, and recreational resources and I believe that work is usually overlooked. That's why I wanted to start something like this." - Nicole Segnini