As the representative body of Harvard University Graduate School of Design alumni, the Alumni Council’s fundamental goal is to promote the engagement of the alumni community and the advancement of the GSD in the world. Specifically, the Council strives to reconnect alumni by devising and deploying techniques that will elevate the role of alumni and the School in the lives of the GSD alumni community; engage alumni by supporting students as Alumni-in-Training; and making the case for the power of the alumni design community and its impact on Harvard and the world. To further its mission, the Alumni Council regularly hosts events, mentors students, and represents the GSD alumni community within the University and beyond throughout the year. Council members are volunteer leaders and for many, offering their time and expertise in this way allows them to remain connected and make an impact on the School in a meaningful way. Michael Lehrer FAIA, MArch ’78, Alumni Council Chair says, “As an architect, I like to make transformative change and leave legacies in the form of the places I design. I realized there was an opportunity to do that here, for and with the GSD. The Alumni Council has the opportunity to assume leadership of our community, and demonstrate the profound value of the alumni community to the School and University.”

Spanning a wide array of fields in design, members of the Alumni Council tap into their experience as practitioners, researchers, and thought leaders, utilizing connections in their local communities to support the GSD in building a more engaged alumni community. In order to keep the group vibrant and plan for leadership succession, each member serves a renewable three-year term, beginning July 1. This year, the Council gave a heartfelt thank you to members rotating off or ending terms: Renee Cheng AB ’85, MArch ’89; Andrea Cochran MLA ’79; Reese Fayde LF ’79; Gordon Gill MArch ’93; Matthew Kiefer LF ’96; Scott Pobiner MDesS ’03, DDesS ’10; Patricia Sapinsley MArch ’80; and Scott Simpson MArch ’75, and welcomed seven new members to its roster: Gerdo Aquino MLA ’96, CEO and Principal at SWA; John di Domenico MAUD ’79, Partner-in Charge at di Domenico + Partners; Mary Gardill MDesS ’91, Project Manager at Large Scale Public Partnership; Harry Gaveras MAUD ’97, Architect/Owner at Propylaea; David Hashim MArch ’86, Principal at VERITAS Design Group; Shunsaku Miyagi MLA ’86, Partner at PLACEMEDIA; and Sebastian Schmaling MAUD ’02, Founding Partner of Johnsen Schmaling Architects. These new ambassadors and advocates join the GSD Alumni Council, which includes a total of 50 graduates of the School, representing all programs.

As the most visible and accessible group of alumni, developing and maintaining a relationship with the student body at the GSD is a critical component of the Alumni Council’s mission. Spearheading this important effort is the Student Alumni Xchange committee. Led by Council member John Shreve MAUD ’92, Senior Principal at Populous, the committee is charged with fostering and nurturing engagement with students, and aspires to help these future design leaders see themselves as Alumni-in-Training. Together, they work to connect students to alumni and assist them with their professional growth through mentorships, internships, networking and recruitment programs. Through these sponsored activities, the Student Alumni Xchange committee aims to make a lasting impact on their younger cohorts, and by offering opportunities for exchange with alumni, hopes to provoke dialogue both large and small, which will ultimately lead to a more cohesive and engaged GSD community.

The Alumni Council has the opportunity to assume leadership of our community, and demonstrate the profound value of the alumni community to the School and University.
– Michael Lehrer MArch 78, Alumni Council Chair

Leaders and citizens of the broader University community, members of the Alumni Council play an active role on the Harvard Alumni Association (HAA) Board of Directors. Allyson Mendenhall MLA ’99 (GSD Alumni Council Chair-elect) and Jennifer Luce MDesS ’94 began their terms as HAA Appointed Directors for the GSD on July 1, 2015. Together, they represent the School, raising its profile with the HAA, sharing its mission broadly to fellow alumni leaders across the University, and demonstrating the work of GSD alumni in the world and the impact of design at Harvard and beyond. Additionally, Ron Ostberg MArch ’68—former Alumni Council Chairman (2010-2013)—serves as a distinguished member of the HAA’s Executive Committee. Newly elected to this committee as one of two Members-at-Large, Ostberg joins his fellow volunteer leaders in providing oversight of the affairs of the HAA. As Ostberg further explains, “The HAA convenes representatives of the University’s various Schools and alumni organizations for the purpose of exchanging best practices and formulating initiatives with which to engage its 350,000 alumni. As such, it provides a collegial setting for sharing insights and developing programs. School Appointed Directors, in collaboration with staff of their Alumni Offices are critical participants in this process. Michael Lehrer and I, serving for many years as the GSD’s School Appointed Directors, believe the GSD alumni outreach has been greatly enhanced during Dean Mostafavi’s tenure, in part because of the ideas brought from the HAA. Now, Michael and I are extremely pleased to introduce our very able successors—Allyson and Jennifer. Newly selected as a Member-at-Large of the Executive Committee, I’ve been asked to help implement the next phase of HAA’s reorganization. The HAA goal is the creation of University Citizens and Alumni Communities. Going forward, several topics of common concern to all alumni entities will be investigated by groups with broad representation. Findings will be conveyed to the operational Committees for implementation. The purpose of the  reorganization is to take full advantage of the time and talent of HAA Board and Committee volunteers. As always, I look to this HAA opportunity to benefit the GSD’s alumni outreach program.”

For Lehrer, all the time spent behind-the-scenes brainstorming and planning over the last two years has been well worth the sweat. “I have seen an unprecedented level of gustas—delight—in alumni reengagement. From the launch of the Grounded Visionaries Campaign in Cambridge to Harvard Design: Miami, to the myriad receptions, symposia, conversations, salons, and chance encounters throughout the year, we are reconnecting with our multi-generational, lifelong alumni community and engaging with the School in wondrous ways.” With a new academic year right around the corner, Lehrer expects this momentum will continue and increase, and hopes that by demonstrating leadership and modelling behaviors of citizenship and engagement with the School, one another and the world, alumni will take notice and continue the “virtuous cycle of engagement.”

Learn more about the Alumni Council and check out the videos on our You Tube channel for stories of their most memorable GSD moment.  

This article is part of the GSD Leadership series, which also includes

GSD Appoints Anita Berrizbeitia to New Role

Faculty Focus: Diane Davis