Unsung hero winners celebrating on stage at the ceremony

The Harvard University Graduate School of Design’s (GSD) Alumni Council and the GSD’s Frances Loeb Library are pleased to honor four students with the 2023 Unsung Hero Book Prize. This year’s honorees are Alexandra Barnes MDes ’23, Tobi Fagbule MDes ’23, Cory Page MLA ’25, MUP ’25, and Ellie Sheild MUP ’23, MRE ’24.

“Each year, I am surprised and delighted to learn of the many ways that unsung heroes make life at the GSD memorable,” said Alumni Council member and award co-chair John di Domenico MAUD ’79. “Even more gratifying is the positive vibe in the room during the award ceremony. It is a celebration of the GSD as a diverse community, passionate about working together to make our world—near and far—a better place.”

Deserving students are nominated for the Unsung Hero Book Prize each spring by fellow GSD students, faculty, and staff, and winners are selected by the Alumni Council. Now in its 17th year, this award received 65 nominations for 38 different students.

Prize recipients are recognized with a book of their choice by the Alumni Council; a second book is donated to the Loeb Library with a bookplate.

“This year’s award winners have had both the bravery to speak up on behalf of their peers and their values, and the persistence to follow change through to fruition,” said Nicole Santiago, the Research, Teaching, and Writing Services Librarian at the Loeb Library. “It’s energizing to see how they bolster the greater common good of the student body and make the GSD a more diverse and sustainable place for their peers and for future students. Their range of unique identities and perspectives are reflected in the diversity of titles they’ve selected to be added to our library collections.”

The four 2023 Unsung Heroes received universal praise from their peers for their leadership, advocacy, service, mentorship, kindness, and generosity. Nominators noted that these students routinely went above and beyond to organize inclusive events, create welcoming environments, and support their classmates.

Two award co-chairs and GSD Assistant Dean on stage announcing the Unsung Heroes.

Celebrating the 2023 Unsung Heroes. Left to right: John di Domenico MAUD ’79, Alumni Council member and award co-chair; Ann Whiteside, Librarian/Assistant Dean for Information Services; and Beth Roloff MArch ’14, Alumni Council member and award co-chair.

“Nominations came in from both students and faculty and extended across all Graduate School of Design disciplines,” said Alumni Council member and award co-chair Beth Roloff MArch ’14. “There were consistent themes of selflessness, inclusion, having a passion for a cause, and making a notable impact on the GSD community.”

Alexandra Po Bae Pak Barnes has her roots in Seoul, Korea and Talala, Oklahoma. Her design work and research interests at the GSD have grown out of the needs of aging and vulnerable communities to create inclusive socio-spatial environments. These needs exist on multiple scales and encompass housing development and home ownership policies, community engagement and advocacy, the shifting societal and cultural roles of families and caregivers, and environmental migration.

Alexandra has been involved with student government since the beginning of her Master in Design Studies degree, first as a student representative for the Publics domain and later as Professional Development chair on the Student Forum, where she worked closely with Career Services, Alumni Relations, and the Office of Student Affairs. She holds a bachelor of architecture from Oklahoma State University and has worked at Pelli Clarke & Partners, where she designed mixed-use, large-scale commercial and residential projects, including the American Airlines Campus in Dallas, Texas, and the Gioia 22 office tower in Milan, Italy.

For her book, Alexandra selected Young-Old: Urban Utopias of an Aging Society by Deane Simpson. On receiving the award, Alexandra said, “It takes a village, and I am deeply honored to be recognized by my robust, eclectic community. These folks—my peers, professors, staff—have been instrumental during my time here at the GSD. They have been a village—inspiring, motivating, and supporting one another. I’m grateful for the lessons and memories cultivated here. As I transition into being an alum, it’s important to remember where you came from and how you got to where you are today, to take the time to extend a helping hand and cultivate an intergenerational community of care. On that note, I’d like to extend my thanks to my dear family and friends, who have been the root of how I also got to where I am today.”

Oluwatobiloba “Tobi” Fagbule is from Port Harcourt, Nigeria, and studied architecture at Iowa State University prior to arriving at the GSD. She has served in student government as the Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging chair on the Student Forum, and is also the Social/Events chair of Africa GSD and the African American Student Union. In addition, she is a Materials Lab curatorial intern at the Harvard Art Museum and a technical assistant in the Fabrication Lab. Her interests lie at the intersection of sustainability, culture, decolonization, and landscapes of extraction.

Tobi selected Architectural Guide: Sub-Saharan Africa, edited by Adil Dalbai and Philipp Meuser, as her book. Of receiving the award, Tobi said, “When I first got the email that I was a recipient of the award, I was surprised; it was such an honor. The community of friends I have created here is so supportive. This award was super heartfelt, and I felt loved miles away from home.”

Cory Page grew up in Telluride, Colorado, and obtained his bachelor’s degree in environmental policy and studio art from Colorado College. He began his career on Disney’s environmental sustainability team, where he garnered a global perspective on environmental issues. During his time at Disney, he identified a pressing need to combine environmental sustainability and design. He continued his career at the South Pole, working with companies to set science-based targets for mitigating climate change. Cory brings his background in climate change policies to the GSD’s Master in Landscape Architecture and Master in Urban Planning programs to create holistic sustainability solutions.

Cory selected Mississippi Floods: Designing a Shifting Landscape by Anuradha Mathur and Dilip da Cunha as his book. On receiving the award, Cory said, “Receiving the 2022-2023 Unsung Hero Award alongside my three other GSD colleagues was such an incredible honor. The GSD community is remarkable—I am consistently amazed by the work of the students, faculty, and staff in Gund Hall. This recognition reflects the exceptional work we can do and the changes we can make as a diverse collective of designers. I selected Mississippi Floods: Designing a Shifting Landscape for the Loeb Library because the book serves as a visual reminder of the implications of human disruption to natural systems.”

Elizabeth “Ellie” Sheild was born and raised in Charlotte, North Carolina, and has a professional background in city planning with a primary focus in zoning and land use. In addition to receiving a Master in Urban Planning degree this year, Ellie is a member of the first incoming class of the GSD’s Master in Real Estate degree (to be conferred in 2024). She finds sincere enjoyment as a teaching assistant and as a volunteer on the MUP Recruitment Committee and for the GSD Outdoors Club. In addition, Ellie works as a research assistant at Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, where she is currently the lead author on a forthcoming paper about accessory dwelling units. In her free time, she loves exploring the beauty of New England, hiking, biking, and kayaking with her friends and family.

Ellie selected The Night is Yours, which is written by Abdul-Razak Zachariah EDM ’21, MUP ’23 and illustrated by Keturah A. Bobo. On receiving the award, Ellie said, “The Unsung Hero Book prize holds special meaning to me because it is a peer-nominated award. It is my peers that have made my time at the GSD exciting, stimulating, and fun. In keeping with the spirit of honoring others, I have dedicated my book selection to my classmate, Abdul-Razak Zachariah. His published book, The Night is Yours, centers on a young girl playing an evening game of hide and seek in an apartment courtyard that allowed ‘for children of color to play without ridicule or restriction’ in an area of open seclusion ‘that makes the complex welcoming but also uniquely ours.’ The story shows the “kind of community that we at the GSD have the capacity to build when we center the wealth that comes from community care rather than individualism,” according to Abdul-Razak.

“In my opinion, MUPs do an amazing job of supporting and uplifting one another, so I am incredibly honored my classmates would consider me for this award. I am also grateful for the love and support from my partner, family, and friends, who all surprised me at the award ceremony. So, counter to the award’s name, I have always felt ‘sung’ in my contributions to the GSD community because of the wonderful people around me at the GSD.”