The Impact of the GSD Alumni Community: Key Findings from the 2018 Alumni Research Initiative

GSD alumni are using the knowledge and skills they developed at the School to make contributions to the built environment and society in impactful ways. Key findings from the Alumni Research Initiative, a comprehensive survey of its alumni, sheds light on alumni career paths and their social impact spanning a range of areas including transportation, sustainable cities, resilience, food systems, housing, and water, which are topics of inquiry and research that align with GSD priorities.

Huron 1This survey of the lifelong community of multigenerational diverse design professionals indicates that with the knowledge and skills attained at the GSD, graduates are leaders and innovators in their fields of practice. Overall, alumni are highly productive in design and planning fields, with 83% creating built projects and 70% generating plans such as master plans and city plans in their professional lives or volunteer work. The findings reinforce the GSD’s legacy of leadership, innovation, and social responsibility as well the School’s top rankings by DesignIntelligence. The GSD has topped DesignIntelligence’s 2017-2018 “America’s Best Architecture & Design Schools” rankings, substantiating the GSD’s exceptional ability to prepare graduates for professional practice. The architecture program has been ranked first for 16 of the past 17 years, and the landscape architecture program has led its field for the last 13 years, which solidifies the GSD’s reputation as a model for design innovation and leadership.

The GSD critically values our robust and engaged alumni community and is proud of its achievements. We are eager to embrace the findings and impacts of the Alumni Research Initiative, as we collectively explore how design can respond to pressing issues around the world.
~Mohsen Mostafavi, Dean and Alexander and Victoria Wiley Professor of Design

Beyond professional practice, alumni are driven to give back as active volunteers in their communities; many are invested in social impact, the seeds of which were often sown at the GSD. With a design research model and highly collaborative studio courses rooted in real-world inquiry such as: restructuring the ecosystem of Caribbean islands post-hurricanes, disrupting Injustice in St. Louis with 99 provocations, and a study of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between the two Koreas, students are graduating into the alumni community empowered to integrate multiple design disciplines with economic, social, and civic dimensions and to make transformative contributions through design. “My design and built work have made a great impact on the people who use it and interact with it on a daily basis; the most important part of how we as designers can make a difference, being conscious of the social impact, environmental, etc.,” commented one respondent. Master in Urban Planning, Urban Design, and Loeb Fellowship alumni are particularly active across a range of social impact investigated in this study.

The range of social contributions from alumni of all disciplines is remarkable. Since graduating from the School, 40% of alumni focus their volunteer work by serving on boards in the areas of community development; arts, culture, or humanities; education; environment; housing; and 70% of respondents have engaged in mentoring young professionals or youth development. Where in the past year, nearly half have served in various volunteer capacities, contributing an average of 11 hours per month to pro bono work. One alumna commented that she is [dedicated to] “Inspiring the next generation to be design professionals and to make a difference, particularly as a mentor to women.” Through mentorship at all career stages, alumni help foster aspiring design professionals, many of whom are fellow GSD graduates or students. Over two-thirds of alumni have made contributions in the capacities of environmental sustainability, creation of public gathering spaces and green spaces, and community engagement/capacity building. Architecture and Design Studies graduates contribute to a more focused range of social impacts, reporting strong positive contributions in environmental sustainability and (among architects) creation of public gathering spaces.

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I am thrilled that the GSD and Alumni Council are engaging with alumni through the collection and analysis of this important information. Through the findings of the Alumni Research Initiative, we can better understand and celebrate the wide-ranging impacts of the global community of nearly 13,000 alumni.
~ GSD Alumni Council Chair Allyson Mendenhall AB ’90, MLA ’99.

The alumni community is emblematic of the value of design education and its increasing relevance in a growing array of tangential and nontraditional professions. Connections made at the GSD can be fruitful throughout one’s lifetime: 44% of organizations established by GSD alumni have come to fruition as a result of ideas developed, research conducted, or personal connections made while at the GSD. The number of alumni who have authored or co-authored publications including books, chapters, journal articles, conference papers, and/or writing for the public such as op-eds since completing their GSD program is significant, with about half publishing.

“Thank you to the 3,000 alumni who shared valuable input with the GSD via the Alumni Research Initiative; we are taking the findings of this survey very seriously,” said K. Michael Hays, associate dean for academic affairs, chair of the Department of Architecture, and Eliot Noyes Professor of Architectural Theory. “With this valuable data, we are looking closely at how to strengthen our academic programs, grow student opportunities and collaboration, and find ways to enhance alumni experience.”

Over 3,000 alumni took the time to provide detailed responses on their professional trajectory and contributions of impact to the built environment and community development through both professional and volunteer experiences. This strong response for the 2018 survey, which was developed and administered in partnership with Huron Consulting Group, is an indicator of the high-level engagement of the GSD alumni community.

The GSD’s Office of Alumni Relations welcomes the opportunity to hear from you with news, achievements, and notable work. If you would like to submit an alumni update to share with your alumni community, please contact Anna Devine at adevine@gsd.harvard.edu. Recognizing the importance of mentoring opportunities and impacts, as well as 70% of respondents identifying this as a volunteer role they have participated in the past year, the GSD Alumni Council Student Alumni XChange committee has created information and ideas on how you may offer mentoring opportunities to fellow alumni or current students utilizing the Harvard Alumni Directory. They have also created this informational guide to developing and updating your directory profile so students and alumni from across Harvard may learn more about you and your professional experience.