Virginia Tech® home

Alumni Spotlights

Meet Our Alumni

Learn more about our unique alumni in the spotlights below.

Matt Karner, '01

Matt Karner headshot

I grew a lot during my time at Virginia Tech.  I grew as a designer, as a thinker, and as a human.  Tech prepared me with a strong foundation of knowledge that I consistently use on a daily.  It taught me the principles and importance of design thinking and how to leverage technology to implement.

The creative people I work with inspire me daily.  My work has connected me to many, many super smart and talented people - from renown architects and industrial designers to brilliant artists, interior designers, and makers.  Each one of these creative individuals loves to share their ideas, knowledge, experiences, and creative “secrets," and each of them works hard to continually improve.  That inspires me to do the same.

My career path has been a journey of exploration.  When I graduated, I began working for design firms in the Washington DC area where I focused primarily on interiors for workplace.  The work was demanding but rewarding; and took me all over the world.  After 12 years in practice, I began searching for another challenge, but one within the same industry.  It was then that the furniture manufacturer, Knoll, found me.  Making the transition to furniture was a great choice as it enabled me to continue being involved in the design process, just in a slightly different role.  It opened doors for me to many great design firms and introduced me to the brilliant minds behind Knoll’s collection.  Now I currently manage a team who consults on furniture for commercial clients across the country…and the journey is not close to being over!

I am continually amazed at how much of an impact interior design has on our daily lives.  From the design of our homes, workspace, or places we go outside of those - design matters. I love the roles that color, light, texture, rhythm, and harmony play. I love furniture and the role it plays.  I love the scale and the life span of interiors; I love the impermanence and the way it can change overtime as needs or styles change.

One of my fondest memories of my undergrad experience was working late in Studio with my friends.  That feeling of comradery, collective creativity, and drive to meet the deadline was unforgettable.  Working hard in that collaborative environment is a standout in my college experience.  It was a shared experience…a true bonding moment. 

Cherish these years at Virginia Tech. Rhey will be some of your fondest.  Embrace curiosity and explore your interests.  Stay connected to the university and always look for ways to serve: Ut Prosim: That I May Serve!

  • I miss all the friends I had on/around campus while I was a student. 
  • I miss the excitement of Hokie football games. 
  • I miss the pace of Blacksburg, its restaurants, and its lively downtown scene.  I always look for reasons to come back to visit!

Outside of work I enjoy traveling with my family, tackling renovation projects on my home, and designing sets for a local theatre company.  I also love speaking with students within the Virginia Tech Interior Design program both on campus or when they visit me here in DC!  

Group photo of students visiting Knoll
Matthew Pearson with his grandfather

Matthew Pearson, '00

Throughout his career Matthew Pearson has had the honor of designing public monuments close to his heart. Matthew grew up in a military family. His father served in the Navy, and his grandfather served in the Navy and later in the Army. In 2017, the National Navy Seal Museum asked Matthew to design the first public monument to honor Navy Seals. He also designed a monument at Fort Bragg that used steel from the Twin Towers in 2021. His third and most recent monument was unveiled last week.

Eighty years ago, Allied forces landed on the beaches of Normandy in France during World War II. His grandfather was one of many who landed at Utah Beach. Pearson designed a contemporary park-style monument 500 yards from the cemetery where the fallen are buried.

“These monuments, you have to take them very seriously,” said Pearson. “You’re using architecture to carefully and thoughtfully tell a story to your fellow Americans, and that includes lives sacrificed in the name of freedom. This has to pass muster for our servicemen and servicewomen as well as civilians.” Pearson credited his Virginia Tech education in the School of Architecture as a key to his ability to understand and use different art forms and materials and appreciate how people move through space.

Overhead shot of monument
Jessica Williamson headshot

Q&A with Jessica Williamson, '02

Day 1, I had no idea what interior design was all about.  Like many, I thought I was headed into a world of residential design.  By the end of the first year, I was so profoundly obsessed with the range of interior design and determined I was going to pursue commercial interiors.  That's exactly what I did for the first 10 years of my career and it helped shape who I am today.

My team and my clients inspire me daily.  Of course, there are many artists and designers who inspire me in my work but it's the daily drive to make the lives of our clients better and the ideas my team brings to the studio that encourage me to be my best.

After a grueling search for a job during a terrible economy I landed a job with Gensler in DC.  It was my dream job at the time and to be honest, I am eternally grateful.  I stayed there for 10 years learning all I could about design, construction, firm structure, marketing, and the like.  After the birth of my first child, I decided it was time to start my own studio focusing on residential design.  I grew it slowly during naptimes and evenings until my second child headed to kindergarten.  At that time and ever since, I have continued to grow my firm with more intention and currently, I direct a multi-disciplinary design studio in Richmond, VA, focusing mainly on luxury residential design that is made up of 7 incredible people.

Interior of home dseigned by Jessica Williamson

I love the service aspect of our business.  Perhaps the words Ut Prosim: That I May Serve connected with me over the 4 years at VT.  We are service providers first and artists second (with a VERY narrow margin between the two). 

  • Late nights in the Wallace Hall studio when we were so tired but so incredibly happy at the same time
  • Summer study abroad - specifically our night in Basel at the Birds Eye Jazz Club
  • Getting an A- on my final project during the first year and getting my project displayed in the infamous Wallace Hall display case
  • (too many to put to 1)
Jessica Williamson in college smiling at a table with a project in front of her

Experience as much as you can about the design world.  Whether it's a shadow opportunity, internship, travel experience, volunteer position, gallery visit - do it.  Interior design has many paths and each experience layers into your design perspective.  

My colleagues, the Blacksburg landscape, and Monday burger night at Rivermill.

My family (including our pup), church, and traveling are my favorite things to focus on when not working.

Joseph Powers headshot

Q&A with Joseph Powers, '11

Virginia Tech, in many ways, helped mold me into the person I am today. The diversity represented at VT opened my eyes to the world and expanded my own driving philosophies more than I could articulate at the time.

Six people including Joseph standing together with arms locked smiling at the camera.

I’m inspired daily by so many people and so many things. My wife inspires me daily with her work ethic and her focused industry expertise. My daughter inspires me constantly with her unfettered curiosity. My coworkers actually make me excited to go to work, believe it or not! The next generation of Industrial Designers as well as the current lineup of faculty in the Virginia Tech Industrial Design program are extremely inspiring. My most recent visit to Blacksburg for the 25-year Industrial Design (ID) reunion was unbelievably encouraging, from the research focus of the ID program to the experiences and talent of other alumni to the unapologetic, unwavering, social empathy that current students imbue into their projects; it really blew my mind. I’m also motivated by the talent and hard work of my bandmates and friends, and my brother in the greater NC music scene.

Joseph and his wife and child smile together outside with a mountain in the background.

2011 (although I started as a freshman in 2002). I took an extended hiatus from school to play music and tour with a band I was a part of.

Five people in a band (including Joseph) sitting together on stairs.

My wife and I moved to Charlotte in 2011 and I interned and contracted for the design agency BOLTGROUP. I had met one of their Project Managers, Mike Garten through his involvement in IDSA. For the next decade, my family moved around the southeast for different reasons. Over that time, I received my Master’s Degree in Information Technology and Graduate Certificate in Project Management. For several years, I managed complex projects in the Government IT / Infrastructure space. In 2022, I got an email from my old friends at BOLTGROUP, gauging my interest in managing design projects and it was an easy decision for my family to relocate to Charlotte again, 10 years later. The most recent 2 years at BOLTGROUP have been more than amazing and a real ‘full-circle’ moment. Bridging my skills as a PM with my background in product design is a perfect fit for my skillset and also brings me a Marie Kondo level of joy.

Industrial Design allows people to connect to the things they use everyday in the most fundamental ways. I love that ID is so big and so detailed at the same time. It calls for understanding the big picture while also focusing on nuance. My role managing projects as an industrial designer allows me to use both sides of my brain equally. Half of my day is spent focusing on project details and half of my day is being immersed deeply in the creative process. Also, working at an agency like BOLTGROUP brings us the best and most diverse clients–from one-person startups, to Fortune 500 corporate clients, and everyone in between. No two days as a design manager are the same; it is extremely dynamic and keeps me on my toes.

Joseph in front holding up the peace sign with his fingers with friends in chairs behind him smiling in the Art & Architecture library.

Late nights in studio talking design, talking music, and building life-long relationships. Spending so much time with classmates (and faculty) who have shared interests while also having diverse backgrounds really propagates growth. It’s hard to put into words the amount of emotional maturity that I gained through years in design studio, not to mention an increased sense of ambition that comes out of being with inspiring designers and academics day-in and day-out.

Be curious and be open to new opportunities and perspectives. Keep your ego in check, but also keep it in your back pocket, sometimes you’ll have to pull it out at a moment’s notice. Approach design with empathy and understanding for all users throughout the life of the product. Work hard but don’t forget to enjoy it.

I miss biking around campus for hours at a time.
I miss the great small-town music scene.
I miss downtown, mostly the Cellar and Crossroads (RIP).

Family is everything. Both my immediate family and my extended family are my reason for being. Spending time building a life with them is the number one focus outside of work. I also really enjoy being engaged with the professional Industrial Design community as a whole. I’ve recently been appointed as the Communications Manager for IDSA Charlotte, and I try to stay engaged with VTID through thesis mentorship, speaking opportunities, etc. Since returning to Charlotte, music is back in my life in a big way. I’ve been playing bass guitar with an instrumental post-rock band called “…Of Sinking Ships”. Also, bikes rule.

Joseph playing bass guitar on stage.
Joseph and two others posing together outside on boxes.
Mallory Anderson headshot

Q&A with Mallory Anderson, '14

I learned how to be a professional in my field. Professors, such as Jennifer Hand, Deb Sim, and Carol Burch-Brown, have made a profound impact on me. They were great mentors and advisors to my artistic practice and showed enormous generosity to me in helping me develop my artistic growth and have been very influential to me. In my own teaching, I often think of the way they were as instructors and try to model myself like them in the classroom. 

Going to museums, taking walks, and looking through books are some of my biggest inspirations. Mainly those experiences inspire me because I take on the role of a collector. I photograph objects and sights that fascinate me in museums, galleries, etc., collect objects on walks or snip images out of magazines, and find amazing artworks and artists in library books that I snap photos of and save for inspiration later. Some of my favorite artists are Wangechi Mutu, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, and Mark Dion. 

It has been a really fun ride so far. I took a few years off between undergrad at VT and grad school at JMU to work and create a new body of work. It was great having that time to develop my practice and go to different residencies. Graduate school was pivotal in allowing me a better understanding of what I was creating and conceptualizing my work. I am a stronger artist having gone back to school. Since then I have been working in my studio, participating in shows, and teaching part-time in the Art Foundations programs, first at JMU in Harrisonburg, and later at VCU in Richmond, VA.

I love the freedom to experiment with subjects, materials, images, etc., and the endless possibilities making art gives a person. It allows me to better understand the world and my experiences within that. It allows me to be the inventor, collector, maker, and story-teller, all in one.

I would say my proudest moments were all art-related. However, my fondest memories center around getting food with my friends in between lectures or studios and just enjoying meals with my fellow artists and talking about life, our projects, and whatever else was going on that day. 

Make friends and connections in your major. Those people are on the same ride as you, and it always helps to have a good support system in your field. 

Benny's, football games, and the unbeatable summers. 

I am an active volunteer in trash removal in my local streams. I began doing that around 6 years ago now, and still find it to be a really worthwhile practice. I find the most random things out there in the streams and buffer areas. I also love to go camping, and going down to the beach. I spend a lot of my free time in my studio or somewhere outdoors.   

Sam Cohen headshot

Q&A with Sam Cohen, '18

Virginia Tech influenced me to lean into my curiosities and to allow creativity to seep into every aspect of life, not just work.  Ultimately, it made me a romantic.

For “Who inspires me”, I am inspired by anyone that continually dedicates themselves to learning a new craft. To becoming a beginner again. They give me confidence to do the same. For “What inspires me”, I am a sucker for books. I cannot stop collecting them. Poetry, art, photography… the list goes on and on.

My career path has been a slow build. I spent most of my summers applying to internships at known firms and getting denied. I got my first break with an internship at a local design build firm and then spent a summer working for a professor of mine. In my final year at Virginia Tech, I was approached by the landscape firm MVVA and offered a week-long trial/interview. It went well and I’ve worked there for the last 6 years.

I love the boundlessness of landscape architectur; that a site of any size has the potential to evoke wonder, joy, and excitement. As a kid, I spent my time exploring the fringes of drainage culverts and dribbling creeks while my imagination brought me to fantastical make-believe worlds. Now, I have the privilege to shape dynamic and timeless public spaces that bring this same experience (and more) to the masses. I think that’s pretty cool.

Black and white ink drawing of a landscape.

It’s impossible to look back at my time in college and not think about my studio classmates and the friendships that we developed together. Whether it was late nights in studio or cramming for exams, we learned that go fast alone, but we go further together. And there’s no doubt we have all gone far.

Be fearless. Stay curious. Know and utilize your resources. Don’t take yourself and your work too seriously. The more playful you are the more creative you’ll be.

  1.  The buzzing energy of the studios
  2. The food
  3. The people

Outside of work, I’m an avid painter. I have a show coming up on Memorial Day weekend which I’m working towards now.  When I’m not painting, you can find me at community meetings advocating for the development of local skateparks. Two years ago, I received a grant that afforded me the opportunity to travel throughout Europe while studying and taking inventory of numerous skate parks/skate spots. That research is ongoing and a true passion of mine.

Indoors, three paintings hang spaced evenly on a wall and one person in sillouhette is looking at them.
Lauren Delbridge jumping on the metabolon landfill trampolines in Germany.

Q&A with Lauren Delbridge, '17

My experience at Virginia Tech was very focused on the motto Ut Prosim: That I May Serve. As a landscape architecture student, I felt a calling to find ways to serve others, the profession, communities in need, degraded landscapes, etc. So much of our profession is centered on service in one way or another, so hearing “that I may serve” throughout college was incredibly impactful to me as a human and a designer.

In school, I developed a huge interest in the remediation and reclamation of disturbed sites. As Landscape Architects, we have the ability to think about sites with the community, environment, and ecology in mind – which sets us up as thought leaders for the transformation of degraded lands. Starting in school as the National Olmsted scholar with the Landscape Architecture Foundation, I’ve spent a lot of my (extra) time researching strategies and case studies to inform how we transform coal ash ponds and landfills to benefit surrounding communities. As part of these studies, I traveled to Germany to explore how they’ve transformed waste sites of the Ruhr Region. I was able to continue this work as a Fellow for Innovation and Leadership with the Landscape Architecture Foundation. While still a side project, these bigger ideas are still a driving force in my work.

Duisburg Nord Waste Containment in Germany
Lauren at the spoiltip in Germany.

I knew in school that I wanted to begin my career at a mid-sized or larger firm so I could quickly learn the ins and outs of many different project types. During school, I was an intern for LandDesign in Charlotte, NC and have been working for them full time since I graduated. I’ve been able to explore a huge variety of project scales and types, which has helped me grow into a well-rounded designer and project leader.

What I love most about Landscape Architecture is the breadth of work it allows you to do. There are endless directions you can take your career, which is fitting considering we should be able to adapt to changing cultural and environmental needs. The ability to shift and change your career path in big ways without leaving the profession is incredibly important and something that isn’t spoken about enough.

I graduated with a small but mighty group of seven in our LAR studio. Some of my best college memories are studio trips, site visits, and late nights with that crew. Whether we were all squeezed into one hotel room for a Raleigh field trip or hanging out at El Rods post studio pin-up, we had an incredibly tight group that made school even more fun.

Stay curious and take risks! School is such a good time to push boundaries and explore topics that excite you. You have the rest of your career to be reigned in by client budgets, so spend these years of your life drawing weird things and exploring unusual topics.

  • I miss the scenery – having mountains and hiking right at your doorstep is something I took for granted
  • Being surrounded by big thinkings and change makers is something I also didn’t realize was so incredible about being on campus
  • I miss Cabo Fish Taco! (And yes, there’s one in Charlotte but it’s just not the same vibe)

Outside of work, I serve on the VT Landscape Architecture Advisory board and also on the Olmsted Scholar task force for the Landscape Architecture Foundation. I spend most of my free time with my anxious Golden Retriever trying to help her overcome her fears of trashcans and manholes.

Lauren with her dog outside.
Sheema Laguerre and 10 other graduating students wearing their caps and posing under a tree together.

Q&A with Sheema Laguerre, '16

Virginia Tech influenced me to be a leader who is focused on serving others rather than themselves. Throughout the programs, events, and leadership roles I was afforded I learned the valuable lesson of putting others first and everything else will fall into place.

Sheema presenting a project to a group of people.

I am inspired by my family and those who helped me get to where I am, why because without them and their continued support I would not be half of the person I am today.

My career path has been nothing like I imagined. I am still within the field of landscape architecture which is truly a shock to myself and probably my whole support system. I always knew I would make a career switch to either law or business, but alas I have not completely switched and here I am eight years later in Orlando, Florida, a place I vowed never to go to when I graduated. I believe I ended up in Orlando because that is ultimately where I needed to be, Orlando is where I would gain the most experience, where I would learn more about myself as a designer, a professional, and ultimately where I needed to go to fall in love with landscape architecture again.

I love that landscape architects are the makers and creators of the built fabric we all enjoy and are not always in the spotlight. Landscape Architecture is a field where we have to explain to the general public what it is we do on a reoccurring basis. However, I enjoy knowing that I designed a park space, or a large scale community development and can pick out all the nuisances to the projects and yet no one ever suspects that I was the designer.

Outdoor landscape in Virginia.

One of my fondest memories of college was participating and being an influential leader within New Student and Family programs as a Hokie Camp Exec. leader and Hokie Camp counselor. I was able to play an active role in students lives while they were transitioning from high school to college and credit the leadership I was given in providing me with the best resources to give to new students.

A group of students holding signs and standing together smiling outside.

Advice I have for current students would be don’t be afraid to be wrong or fail. Success will only come once you have attempted something and failed at. Also to be patient when you get into the workforce, don’t be so quick or anxious to have leadership, additionally responsibilities etc., learn what you can first and those things will come, the race is not for the swift but those who are patient and understand timing.

Sheema showing two students something on a computer.

Three favorite things about campus and Blacksburg were the drillfied, the food was always top tier, and I miss the fall weather and the overall feeling you get when you see the trees turn orange and maroon.

My interest outside of work are to spend time with my family, friends, travel, workout and keep my fitness both physical and mental in the best shape possible. I also am the avid sports enthusiast and try to go to all the sporting events in Central Florida whenever they are available.

Sheema posing in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
Matt Powers standing outside
Matt Powers, Director of the School of Design

Q&A with Matt Powers, '00

Virginia Tech changed my life in many ways. Specifically, VT helped me become much more reflective about my learning and growth. This allowed me to become a more active participant in my own learning. As a result, my relationship to the course content and my professors changed so that I became much more goal oriented, engaged, and thoughtful as a student and professional.

Matt Powers teaching inside with drawings behind him.
Matt Powers at commencement hooding ceremony.

I am inspired by the belief that we can do better; that there is a better way and a better day. I set out to find it every morning. I hope that my friends and colleagues are there with me when I do.

I am a two time alumnus, 2000 Master of Landscape Architecture and 2006 Environmental Design and Planning. My career path has been mostly straightforward. I was inspired to become a professor when I was an undergraduate. Each of my career decisions since then has been aimed at achieving that dream.  Fortunately, my career path included a stop at Virginia Tech as a graduate student. Even more fortunately, my path has brought me back to Blacksburg over 20 years later as a professor!

Matt Powers teaching and working with six other people around a table.
Matt Powers showing five students plants outside.

I love landscape architects! I like how we think, collaborate, and continually strive to balance the built and natural environments with the art and science of design.

Matt Powers and three other people looking at a drawing together around a table.

My favorite memory was the day Patrick Miller, the department chair of landscape architecture at the time, told me that I was assigned to teach a design studio. It was my first studio and I had come to Virginia Tech to become a professor. This was a huge opportunity for me personally. It also taught me the value of trusting students, enabling dreams, and empowering others.

Put yourself and your needs as learners and young adults first. Ask for help when you need it. Find something to believe in and learn to love it even when you’re bored, tired, or it doesn’t love you back.

I love many things about Blacksburg. I love the Appalachian culture, the New River, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and all the friendly people you can meet downtown.

I like gardening, fishing, kayaking, music, and hanging out with friends and family.

Matt Powers smiling with his wife and child outside.
Matt Powers as a a little league baseball coach outside.
Kat Ranieri standing in stairwell with arms crossed and numbers 2.5 behind them on the wall.
Kat Ranieri, 2023 AAD Outstanding Recent Alumnus

Q&A with Kat Ranieri, '23

When I was a student, hearing from people who were actively working in architecture was inspiring. It made it seem like it could be done, and was not this elusive unknowable future. When you're in school, it all feels theoretical. I feel lucky to have the means to come back to school regularly and give back the connection to the working world that was given to me.

Now that I work in closer connection to the field, every day I am inspired by the folks putting their bodies on the line to build these incredible residences. I think that respect for labor should be part of what is instilled in architecture students from day one. You literally cannot get a building completed without themand they are so knowledgeable.  From layout to verification to hanging level 5 drywall to operating a tower crane, these folks have specialized skills that we as architects do not need to have because of them.

I do not think it is unique to want to work on and see the direct effect of your efforts in your community. What is unique is working where those opportunities are supported. Because of that, that is a critical question to ask in interviews if community work is important to you. The next is to make sure that the community work given adequate respect. It's important that community work is not the last thing you do on a Friday afternoon. Additionally, there is no place for telling people what they need. Our community clients are the experts on what they need.

I say this every time I come back to school. Come into work humble, as questions, and push as hard as you can to get grunt work in CA. It's unlikely you're going to be asked to do the big fat marker sketch of a building right away, so start learning how to put the building together.

The other thing I always say to students is do what you're asked to do first. If you have a second proposal or interesting idea, it is always better to make sure you do what you're told to do.

Bollo's, Gillie's, and Burchard. Easy!