Tabitha Darko is fulfilling her dreams by design.

A senior in the architecture program at UT, Darko is one of three winners of the competitive Gensler 2013 Scholarship and Internship. According to the award's guidelines, the scholarship will be used to pay for her academic fees this year.

During the summer, she held a paid internship position at one of Gensler's regional offices in San Francisco.

Gensler, a global design firm, awards the scholarship annually to "African-American students enrolled in a U.S. not-for-profit educational institution who will begin their final year of a NAAB-accredited architecture program in the Fall of 2013."

Originally from Ghana, Darko noted that her background afforded her the opportunity to not only compete for the scholarship, but to fully appreciate her parents' assimilation to life in the United States.

"More importantly than being from Ghana is just being a foreigner all together," Darko said. "My father always tells the story about how he came to college in the United States with only a hundred dollars to his name and a track scholarship. Understanding my past and my parents' past will help me to never take such things for granted as I move on in my life and career."

Even before winning the award, Darko was simply thankful for being among the top 10 finalists in the spring.

"At that point, even if I didn't go on to win the scholarship, I felt a sense of accomplishment gaining recognition from a global architecture firm such as Gensler," Darko said. "When I got the news that I was one of the winners on Good Friday, I felt relieved, capable, affirmed and so many other emotions."

Among many people pleased to see Darko recognized, Laurie Roberson was especially proud. Currently director of the Clay N. Hixson Student Success Center at Tennessee Tech University, Roberson nominated Darko for the scholarship.

Roberson has long noticed Darko's keen talent.

"I thought Tabitha would be a good candidate because of her unique background, her academic performance at the university level and the quality of her design education at UT," Roberson said.

Roberson first met Darko while Darko was still in high school and said the young architect continues to impress her.

"I was extremely proud of Tabitha when I found out she won," Roberson said. "Congratulations again, Tabitha. Your competition video captured the very essence of who you are – an aspiring architect and a genuine, beautiful person."

Currently, Darko has two projects in mind: a net-zero beer garden in New Orleans, and a self-directed thesis project in which she will research "how architecture can reinforce or counteract existing social barriers."

Her graduation plans are equally ambitious. After a few years of working at a firm, Darko will consider earning a master's degree.

For fellow students following their dreams, Darko offered one piece of advice.

"My main suggestion for other students is to never short change yourself, which can occasionally be a difficult thing to do," she said. "Have faith in what inspires you and keeps you motivated within your field and discipline."