When Allyson Mendenhall ’90, M.L.A. ’99, walked past the Harvard Graduate School of Design’s Gund Hall as an undergraduate at Harvard College, she never imagined that she would one day step inside as a GSD student — or that she would become the first alum of the GSD to serve as president of the Harvard Alumni Association.
As she prepares to represent alumni from across the University when her term begins on July 1, Mendenhall reflected on her own Harvard years. “I’m extremely proud and honored to be the first GSD alum in this role,” she says, adding she is also proud to be a representative of College alumni as well as the alumni community of the Southwest.
As a landscape architect in Denver, she develops sustainable strategies for design in the built environment — all aspects of human-made structures, such as parks, plazas, streets, bridges, homes, and buildings — that are focused on providing measurable environmental, social, and economic benefits. Inspired by this experience, Mendenhall’s theme for the year ahead as HAA president is “Community by Design.” In her work, which relies on iterative problem-solving, ideas are developed by experimenting and making adjustments through feedback — an approach she connects directly to her new role with the HAA.
Mendenhall’s focus is to build on the HAA’s ongoing efforts to engage the alumni community in a purposeful way — with the principles of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging as the lens to approach the work.
“We aim to inclusively engage the entire alumni community across disciplines, decades, Schools, and geographies,” she says. “It’s a collaborative endeavor with different contributors adding depth and diverse perspectives. As in the design process, we assemble a team of brilliant minds to engage stakeholders, listen to our communities, and work together to implement positive change.”
Harvard has remained a touchstone throughout Mendenhall’s life. After studying English literature as an undergraduate and forming lasting friendships at Dunster House, she decided to pursue her lifelong love of cities to design urban public open space — enrolling at the GSD and finding herself spending many days (and nights and weekends) inside Gund Hall.