Giving Back and Building Community

GSD fellowship and financial aid recipients are making their unique, vibrant, and outstanding marks on the school and the world of design, thanks to the generosity of the larger GSD community.

GSD students and alumni have always made the most of every opportunity. Whether giving back to honor a loved one, helping to open doors for new students, or embracing the privilege of a top-tier design education, the GSD community truly lives the idea that education can change the world. Read on to learn about fellowships established this year and the students who are living their design ambitions thanks to this generosity.

Creating new legacies

Financial Aid and Fellowships are essential to creating a strong and diverse community at the GSD. We’re grateful to the alumni and friends who have given back and opened doors for aspiring designers from all over the world; you can view a full list of current fellowships and financial aid opportunities at the school. Below are highlights of new funds established in 2021.

The John E. Johnson, Ph.D., and Etta G. Johnson Fellowship Fund

Dean’s Leadership Council member Carrie Alice Johnson MArch ’93 chose to honor her parents with this generous gift, which will open access and expand opportunities for underrepresented members of the GSD community from the U.S. The fellowship aims to help the GSD continue to attract, enroll, and support the brightest and most talented scholars who will be the leaders in transforming the social and built environment. Link to full quote from Carrie.

I’m very thankful that I had the opportunity to do so and honor my parents through the John E. Johnson, Ph.D., and Etta G. Johnson Fellowship Fund. The help of others made it possible for me to have a rich, rigorous, and rewarding design education experience at the GSD, so this fund is how I recognize the significance and power of what those people did for me and others like me.

Carrie Alice Johnson MArch ’93

The Pen Fellowship Fund

The Pen Fellowship Fund, established through a gift from Tom Pen MArch ’00 and Yvonne Chau, provides financial aid to architecture students from Taiwan, Hong Kong, mainland China, and Singapore.

My time at the GSD was crucial to my career development, and I'm proud and grateful to be part of this community. I appreciate the school’s efforts to connect with other Harvard professional schools and encourage students to take on new design challenges. Hearing the stories of current students underscores the impact that we can all have on our larger world.

Tom Pen MArch ’00

The Eduard Sekler Fellowship Fund

Michael “Mick” F. Doyle MArch ’77 led the effort to create the Eduard Sekler Fellowship Fund, which included gifts from generous alumni seeking to honor their former teacher. Mick met Professor Sekler as a GSD student, and they maintained a life-long friendship and association through projects including the Kathmandu Valley Preservation Trust. Watch the video to hear alumni and students reflect on the impact the fellowship and Eduard Sekler has had on their lives.

Supporting our students

GSD fellows and scholarship recipients are making their unique, vibrant, and outstanding marks on the school and the world of design, thanks to the generosity of the larger GSD community.

Sheldon Alfred MArch ’22, John E. Johnson, Ph.D., and Etta G. Johnson Fellowship

“Musical designer.” That label is Sheldon’s aspiration as he lives at the intersection of music and architectural design. The recording artist, performer of Caribbean Bouyon music, and architectural student has taken a keen interest in sound and space. During his time at the GSD, Sheldon has explored how practitioners of architecture and music have approached their use of proportion, the challenge of urban noise pollution, and the opportunity for acoustic comfort to become a basic human right.

Sheldon is also a member of the African American Student Union, where he meets and connects with other members to discuss ways of strengthening their voice at the school and in the profession. In addition to GSD networking and cross-registering in an Architectural Acoustics course at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Sheldon considers the opportunity to perform his music at the Harvard International Poetry Night to be a highlight of his time at the school.

The support of this fellowship speaks volumes for the underrepresented population of the GSD community. To the best of my ability, I hope as the Johnson Fellow to continue to represent myself, my family, the diaspora, and the design profession.

Sheldon Alfred MArch ’22

Y-Nhi Tran MArch ’21, David Kenneth Specter Fellowship

Nhi, a first-generation Vietnamese-American born at an immigration camp in Hong Kong, focuses her research on issues of identity, memory, and the making of home within diasporic communities. Her design work reaches for a sense of belonging and the true meaning of place, especially amid the destabilizing forces of modern globalization.

One of Nhi’s standout GSD experiences is an option studio with 2019 John C. Portman Design Critics in Architecture Rossana Hu and Lyndon Neri, titled “Reflective Nostalgia: Alternative Futures for Shanghai’s Shikumen Heritage.” The studio investigates the reuse of Shanghai’s historic housing and how nostalgia can offer a way to engage issues of heritage, collective memory, displacement, and urban renewal.

View Nhi’s project in “Reflective Nostalgia” and her final thesis in “Hyphen American.”



As a young girl in Vietnam, my family dealt with financial hardships and there was a point where I was forced to drop out of primary school. Fast forward twenty years, it is hard to believe that I am the first in my family to graduate from a university with my master’s degree. For me, the chance at an education is a privilege and an invaluable experience. I am honored and grateful to be the David Kenneth Specter Fellow.

Y-Nhi Tran MArch ’21

The GSD Fund

Grants from the GSD Fund help defray the cost of a design education and create a more diverse, vibrant community. Read more about the students who are benefiting from the annual fund.

Headshots of GSD fund students

Left to right: Steven Gu MUP ’21 and Jenna Wu MLA ’22.

Philadelphia native Steven Gu MUP ’21 is focused on urban governance, land-use law, and international planning to support more holistic development practices abroad. He is currently a Graduate Student Associate at the Harvard Asia Center and co-founded the Asian Pacific Islander American in Design student group at the GSD. Steven recently received a grant from the Harvard Mellon Urban Initiative for his research on the intersection of protests, planning, and consumption in Bangkok, Hong Kong, and Philadelphia.

“As the first in my family to graduate from an undergraduate institution, I never thought graduate school would be a financially viable opportunity. Encouraged by undergraduate and work mentors, I hesitantly applied to the GSD’s urban planning program, knowing that I would not be able to attend if I did not receive enough financial support. With aid as the determining factor, I am incredibly thankful for your contribution for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Thanks to your help, I was able to spend two fulfilling years attending engaging lectures, conducting research with brilliant faculty, and making lifelong friendships at the GSD.”

The work of Jenna Wu MLA ’22 oscillates between research and form to explore people’s relationships with urban environments and create ecologically and socially resilient senses of place. A New York native, her research at the GSD expands upon her undergraduate work in organismal biology and ecology. She is an active member of several GSD student groups, including Womxn in Design and the MLA Diversity Committee.

“My parents, a violinist and a photographer, constantly tried to push me in the direction of science and engineering for fear I would struggle financially in design or the arts. Thanks to financial aid, I have not only been able to afford housing in Cambridge, but have been able to purchase materials needed to dive into physical model building both in the Fabrication Lab and at home. Both virtually and in person, financial aid has been crucial to my learning at the GSD, and I am incredibly grateful.”

Irving Innovation Fellows

During a year of remote teaching and learning, the Irving Innovation Fellows were instrumental in helping the GSD expand and enrich its potential through virtual design pedagogy. This year’s cohort supported the Innovation Task Force, a GSD research group committed to making specific, well-documented recommendations regarding pedagogy and technology used in teaching. The cohort was made possible thanks to John K. F. Irving AB ’83, MBA ’89 and Anne Irving Oxley, who established the John E. Irving Dean’s Innovation Fund in 2013 to honor the legacy of their father, John E. (Jack) Irving.

In the spring, the Irving Innovation Fellows and Innovation Task Force gathered virtually to share their work as part of a GSD community reflection on a year of remote teaching. Watch these videos to see how they embraced the many challenges and ambiguities of rapidly changing circumstances with patience and perseverance.

Ian Miley MArch ’20 reflects on a year of virtual learning and pedagogy, with asynchronous discourse, time zone visualization, guidebooks, and the delight of mail all playing a role.
Sarah Fayad MLAUD ’20 discusses new forms of communication and collaboration that have emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic, when people aren’t always able to gather in the same physical space.
Without the informal interactions that occur in Gund Hall’s beloved Trays, Gia Jung MArch ’20 explores how to augment the GSD social experience to complement the changes wrought by a virtual environment.

What we teach, how we teach, the questions we ask, and how we engage with varied material will shape future generations of designers and how they, in turn, shape the world. Together, we can take this moment to think carefully about what that future looks like.

Isabella Frontado MLA ’20, MDes ’20

Read the full quote from Isabella.