Sunday, June 23, 2024
Executive Q&A

Meet Maria Guerra, project designer at MJ Neal Associates


Meet Maria Guerra project designer at the architectural firm MJ Neal Associates. Although architecture has always been her true calling, Guerra has followed a winding path back to it after serving in the educational realm for many years.

Guerra is focused on finding solutions, overcoming obstacles, continuously learning and advocating for youth.

She is passionate about investing in the next generation through her volunteer work in the community. Guerra volunteers with various organizations including the Washington Apple Education Foundation, the Apple STEM Network, the St. Joseph Catholic School Advisory Council and the Eastmont School District Migrant Student career exploration workshops.

Please tell our readers about MJ Neal Associates.

MJN Associates Architects is a general practice architectural firm that specializes in meeting the needs of our clients. With over 35 years of experience, the firm provides design and development solution services from Schematic Design, Design Development, Construction Documents and Permitting, and all the way through construction. We have a diverse range of projects: fire stations, law and justice, healthcare, retail, offices, religious facilities, multi-family and residential. 


How long have you been in this role?

I have been a Project Designer for the last six and a half years.


Tell our readers a little bit about yourself.

I’m a creative thinker, problem solver, avid learner and advocate for our youth.

What led you to this position?

It has been a windy journey. My mother often advised me as a child “You should be a teacher or a counselor when you grow up,” meanwhile I wanted to become an Architect. My forte was math and art–I felt drawn to color, design, geometry and all that defined architecture. In my 8th grade class registration meeting, the counselor discouraged me from taking computer aided drafting courses–“It’s mostly boys that take these classes.” Indeed, I was the minority in the male/female student ratio. By my senior year, I enrolled in advanced drafting and architecture courses. My confidence and determination grew paralleled to my skill set.    

I pursued architecture at Washington State University and earned my Bachelor of Science in Architectural Studies 2007 and Master of Architecture in 2008. 

As a first-generation, farmworking background, Mexican female, one of my greatest accomplishments is graduating. I flourished with my odds. 

The 2008-2009 economic crisis affected many professions, in particular the architecture and construction industry. This led me to seek opportunities in the education realm. As the Washington State University CAMP (College Assistance Migrant Program) Recruiter.  In this capacity, I provided admission and support services, financial aid literacy and career exploration to migrant, seasonal farmworking background students  seeking to pursue their educational goals.  

I continued my educational journey and I became the GEAR UP Director for the Eastmont School District in 2012. I did grant writing, budgeting, managing and implementing programs to support low-income, first generation students in post-secondary education.

Ten years later, I returned to my true calling–Architecture. I had to revamp my technical skills in drafting and 3D modeling, sharpen my vocabulary and learn how to implement new building codes–a world of differences. 

I’m not a licensed architect yet, but am in the process of fulfilling the NCARB requirements to achieve that milestone in my professional career.

What are you most looking forward to in your role?

Taking a project from the conceptual stage through construction.


What does a normal day look like as an architect (Project Designer)?

No day is alike–which adds excitement. One day may include several tasks: designing a commercial building, writing specifications, writing proposals, or visiting a construction site. The next day may include meetings, 3D project modeling or coordinating between consultants on building systems.  

What is your favorite part of your job and why?

My favorite part of my job is finding design solutions with challenging parameters–It’s like laying out 1,000 puzzle pieces and mapping them all together to understand the full picture. 


Please tell our readers about your volunteer work in the community.

I am truly passionate about investing time in the next generation–their future | our future. I am involved in the Washington Apple Education Foundation scholarship, mentor and career programs, Apple STEM Network leadership team, career connected learning programs, St. Joseph Catholic School SAC (School Advisory Council) and participating in the Eastmont School District Migrant Student career exploration workshops this summer.


Who or what inspires you?

My family inspires me. We hold mutual pride in what I have accomplished and my goals yet to be met. Learning to navigate through hardships and obstacles fuels my walk on this journey toward earning my licensure. 

What do you like to do with your free time?

In my spare time, I enjoy gardening, traveling and exploring the outdoors, but above all spending time with my husband, Alex and two boys, Axel and Zyan.


Is there anything else you want our readers to know?

To the young readers: if you are interested in Architecture, I highly recommend taking a Computer Aided Drafting CAD or a 3D modeling program such as Revit, Sketchup, or Rhino.  Challenge yourself to College-in the classroom courses, Running Start or take Pre-Calculus or Calculus and Art classes. Also, do research in colleges ahead of time and follow up with your high school counselor to confirm you are taking those requirements. Best wishes in your journey.  

Quinn Propst: 509-731-3590 or


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