Palm Springs, CA

Palm Springs Modern Committee (PS ModCom) has awarded scholarships to four Palm Springs Unified School District students headed to college in the fall. The quartet was honored with a special reception on June 8 at the Desert Star in South Palm Springs, a vintage complex owned by Richard and Debra Hovel, both PSModCom members.

Each student receives a $2,500 scholarship named in honor of Robert Imber, an architectural historian and founding member of PS ModCom, who initiated the organization’s college scholarship program. Students pursuing careers in architecture, engineering or design are eligible, and scholarships are potentially renewable for four years for a total of $10,000 each.

The students and their families were treated to a catered reception and honored with congratulatory salutations from PS ModCom board members and scholarship director Peter Blackburn. Each student received a fashionable tote bag filled with coffee table books and documentaries on modernism, a map of significant Palm Springs midcentury modern architecture, and a complimentary lifetime membership to PS ModCom.

“PS ModCom’s goals of preservation and appreciation of Modern architecture and design benefit most through sharing of experience and information, and to support some of the area’s brightest students helps spread understanding and encourage future Modernists to love and preserve their built surroundings as their own landmarks and heritage,” says Peter Blackburn, a Palm Springs-based architectural designer PS ModCom board member and volunteer educator.

This year’s scholars are Reece Speer, Palm Springs High School; and three students from Desert Hot Springs High School — Jada Dotson, Johana Duran Burgos, and Vanessa Lievanos Gutierrez. Chosen from a talented pool of candidates, each selected student was honored with a certificate by PS ModCom Board members at their respective high school scholarship awards presentations.

Originally developed at St. Theresa Catholic School, PS ModCom’s Education Committee has expanded its Building Educational Architectural Models (BEAM) program to include public schools. The program is now taught at Palm Springs High School and middle schools, including Nellie Coffman, Raymond Cree, James Workman, and Painted Hills. Students learn about Desert Modern architecture, Palm Springs’ unique modern architectural history, leaders, and landmarks, and how to build scale architectural models based on what they’ve learned, seen, and toured.⁠

Presenting the profiles of the four scholars:

Reece Speer, Palm Springs High School
College attending: San Diego State University
Planned field of study: Interior Architecture
A Palm Springs native, Reece Speer was drawn to apply for the Palm Springs Modern Committee scholarship by the organization’s focus on educating students about the importance of design and architecture.
“I love the constant creativity shown throughout the PS ModCom program and how it brings people in our community together,” Speer says. “I am truly passionate about design and architecture. Seeing what an impact this PS ModCom and it’s programs has had on Palm Springs is truly inspiring and excites me
about what my future may hold.”
Speer didn’t have to look far to focus her interests on architecture. Her father is a member of the profession, and encouraged Reece to pursue her passion.
“He has continued to provide me with opportunities to learn and grow as an artist,” Speer says. “It has allowed me to reflect on my inner self, which is the key to creating engaging work. My journey has allowed me to savor every moment spent designing my bedroom, my siblings’ bedroom, and my living room. I love the way art brings people together and enhances positive experiences.”
In addition to her academic pursuits at San Diego State, Speer will also compete in women’s water polo. A competitive swimmer since she was 6 years old, Speer led Palm Springs High School’s girls’ water polo team to back-to-back playoff appearances.

Jada Dotson, Desert Hot Springs High School
College attending: Arizona State University
Planned field of study: Interior Design

Jada Dotson was first attracted to interior design when she created crafts in elementary school and brought them to her Desert Hot Springs home to decorate her bedroom. The desert native wants to share her love for interior design on a larger stage, bringing her high school experience to Arizona State. “High school taught me never to stop striving toward higher education,” she says.

Dotson can say the same about her upbringing. “My family has provided for me in every way possible,” she says.
Dotson appreciates how the PS Modcom has shared the history of architecture and design and looks forward to putting her stamp on the field. “I have always been in love with design,” she says.

Johana Duran Burgos, Desert Hot Springs High School
College attending: California State Polytechnic University
Planned field of study: Architecture

As the first in her family to attend college, Burgos knows she has an opportunity to show thanks for her desert upbringing. “I want to achieve as much as I can because I know I am going to bring success to my family and to myself,” Burgos says.
“I attribute my academic success to a combination of factors, including self- motivation, family motivation and support,” she adds. “These elements have played a crucial role in shaping my achievements and significantly impacted my educational journey. My family has always supported everything I did, from sports to academics. Their support helped me fight through the stress at school. When I didn’t have the motivation to push myself, I knew I always had my family.”
Burgos’ focus on architecture began in her freshman math class during a blueprint project. “This project made me research more about architecture, which made me more interested in this career path,” she says.
Her PS ModCom scholarship opens the door to engaging with others who share her passion for architecture. “I knew this was a chance to be exposed to new opportunities and people with the same interests as me,” she says.

Vanessa Lievanos Gutierrez, Desert Hot Springs High School
College attending: University of California Berkeley
Planned field of study: Civil Engineering

Vanessa Gutierrez couldn’t have asked for a better ambassador to grasp the importance of architecture to society than Sidney Williams.
Williams was former curator of the Palm Springs Art Museum and was integral in creating the Palm Springs Art Museum Architecture and Design Center. She was the center’s first curator, displaying the works of Palm Springs’ modern architects including her late father-in-law E. Stewart Williams, and other exhibitions showcasing the area’s midcentury roots.
Gutierrez met Williams through the Palm Springs Unified School District’s SMART (Student Mentoring and Resource Training) program, which aims to increase college access for all students. “Sydney allowed me to see and meet many individuals teaching about or interested in the structure and history of a well-known city like Palm Springs,” she says.
Her interest in the field was sparked by a high school fashion class where they were required to design and construct a small model of a home’s interior based on a theme. “I enjoyed creating some of the pieces with my peers,” she says.
Guiterrez adds that she couldn’t have grown that interest without the support of her family and become the first in her family to attend college.
“My parents have sacrificed so much for me and my education,” she says. “My brothers and the rest of my family have also encouraged me. As the eldest, I have to pave the way for my brothers, encouraging me to succeed.”

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