This time last year, I was settling into my first few months as a Harvard Loeb Fellow – meeting members of my cohort, selecting classes and exploring the campus. Now that the Harvard Loeb Fellowship just celebrated its 50th year, it’s caused me to reflect on my time during the fellowship and the most important key lessons I got from it. You just might find these helpful for you on your own journey:
1. There’s something to be said about goal setting.
First, there’s something to be said about goal setting. When I started my career fifteen years ago, one of my metrics of success was to become a Loeb Fellow at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design (GSD). What’s a Loeb Fellow, you say? The Loeb Fellowship means you are accomplished in your field, influential in shaping the built and natural environment and that the work you do advances positive social outcomes in the US and around the world. Practitioners are chosen at a pivotal moment in their careers to step away from hectic professional lives for one academic year, auditing classes at Harvard and MIT, engaging with faculty and students, participating in Fellowship events and collaborating with their peers. Ultimately, we become part of a powerful network of professionals who are all passionately committed to impacting the world.
While I’m in Rome, and unable to attend, the Loeb Fellowship has celebrated 50 years of leadership and innovation! Loeb 50!
2. This program generated half a century of positive world impact.
We’re the fifty-first class – or at least we should have been. Truth be told, we might be the fiftieth because they canceled the class during the pandemic. I’m told that my year was one of the most competitive ever – because the people shortlisted for 2020 were reapplying for the 2021 list, meaning there were two whole years of competition baked into one process. The Loeb Fellowship becomes this network of individuals who are impacting the built environment in unique and significant ways. Over half a century, you can only imagine the level of impact people who’ve gone through this fellowship have made in the world. To be a part of that is none short of amazing.
When I was in New York recently, three people reached out.
“Let’s have dinner!”
“I want to introduce you to this conservationist.”
“Come and see a few of my redevelopment projects.”
This is the scale at which Loeb Fellows are operating and I find that inspiring.
3. The people made this fellowship experience rich.
My fellow Class of 2021 members have done everything from redeveloping real estate in Detroit to working in philanthropy in New York and creating a network for African designers across Africa. This experience deepened the understanding of the work that I do, when I think about how interrelated these things are to each other. I can draw a straight line between my work and any member of my cohort quite easily – and that’s something I can say I would not have been able to do without this experience.
“The Class of 2022 exemplifies our commitment to some of the most urgent social issues of both the current moment and our collective history, among them racial justice, environmental and spatial equity, the societal impacts of technology, inclusive cultural preservation, and activism,” Loeb Fellowship Curator John Peterson.
4. Classes at Harvard and MIT opened up my eyes in unexpected ways.
The Loeb Fellowship afforded me the opportunity to take my first business class ever at one of the top business schools in the world. It was an incredible experience to be around folks who were thinking about space, time and business in a very different way. I audited Public Entrepreneurship and another on Professional Service Firms. At the Graduate School of Design, I audited a course in real estate finance and development. Finally, Introduction to Acting at MIT was such a fun class! I give a lot of talks publicly, but I have never taken a public speaking course. I learned to be more aware of my voice in space and how to pay attention to the nonverbal ways I’m communicating. How do I demonstrate leadership without saying anything? Even more exciting, I had the opportunity to have some fun with it and memorized a monologue by Al Pacino!
It’s been a circuitous journey and I found meaning and insight for the work that I do – even in an acting class – in addition to adding on some new leadership skills.
5. The gift of a lifetime: a real break to think about your WHY.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, Loeb Fellows step away from their careers – often at the height of them – in order to participate in this program for a full year. So I was able to unplug from my job, from the boards, from the commission, from consulting work I was doing. I was blessed with the opportunity to pull myself out of the matrix for a second – of putting out fires, of keeping a crazy schedule, of so many obligations and chasing success – all the things all of us are subjected to year in and year out. It’s been an extremely rewarding experience to now have a deeper perspective on my why and who I am beyond what I can produce. It’s given me an opportunity to redouble my commitment to the all-important work of placemaking and the role that preservation plays in public memory. Haven’t you ever wanted to step back and see what your life looks like at the thirty thousand foot level so you can reconnect (or rediscover) your purpose? To just check in and see if the mission you set out to accomplish is actually being accomplished? For me, the Loeb was the gift of a lifetime. That experience was essentially a sabbatical where I got to spend time at Harvard, be around brilliant people and have a solid chance to reflect. Words cannot describe how grateful I am for that.
For this reason, I strongly advocate that other fields similarly adopt this practice: to give professionals a break to think about their why.
Now that I’m in Rome…
When talking to longstanding members of the Loeb Fellowship family, I realize that there has not been anyone in the history of the fellowship that has gone from this program straight into a fellowship at the American Academy in Rome. My Loeb Year was a major growth year for me personally – moreso than professionally. I used to hear my inner voice – the one I got to reconnect with during this program – as a whisper. That whisper, however, was easily and often drowned out by spinning the plates of life and career, working for national organizations for a decade and having to be on message all the time, making sure I engaged with the right funders, talking to the right politicians – after awhile it all felt very mechanical. I didn’t get a chance to hear that important, inner voice as much – the one that beckoned me back to my true purpose. Now at the end of this fellowship, I’m hearing that voice loud and clear. I understand what it is, who it is and how it should be said. It truly laid the groundwork for me to fully step into my next steps in Rome: now that I hear this voice –what am I going to do with it?
The Rome Prize is a way for me to take action around that voice and really refine what that voice sounds like, how it shows up in writing, in media, what it looks like on radio, etc. In a public facing way – now I get to consider how I want to show up in this world. Harvard has been a space to think, engage and interact with a variety of unique, intelligent and world-changing people. What will happen in Rome? Join the journey to see.