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Doers’ Profiles

Deborah Pierce, J71

HOME: Belmont, Massachusetts

PROFESSION: Architect (partner in Pierce Lamb Architects)

LATEST FEATHER IN HER CAP: 2009 Honor Award for Accessible Design in the residential category, granted by the Boston Society of Architects and the Massachusetts Architectural Access Board

LOVES ABOUT HER WORK: “The kick of giving life to what I’ve envisioned and the sense of teamwork with a resourceful builder and a cooperative client. And the smells of fresh concrete, sealants, lumber, and paint, and the feel of smoothly finished millwork and new tile.”

WHY ACCESSIBLE DESIGN: “Knowing people with disabilities has shown me how unfair the built environment can be. Also, anyone can find themselves disabled. We added a lift to the moderator’s platform at Medford City Hall, and just as the project started, the City Council president, who had been skeptical about accessible design, had a skiing accident that consigned him to a wheelchair. He quickly became a believer.”

FAVORITE BUILDING MATERIAL: Stone. “It’s grounding, and it links us with the past, with other cultures and places. Think Machu Picchu in Peru and Salisbury Cathedral in Britain. Think Italy and Ireland, castles and lowly farmyards. When we bring stone into a building, we bring that energy.”

WHAT WOULD BE IN HER DREAM HOUSE: “A kitchen for cooking with friends, a room with east-facing windows for early-morning writing and yoga, a gathering area with a fireplace and high ceilings, and a variety of spaces mediating between indoors and out—maybe a deck for sleeping up in the treetops.”

ATHLETIC PURSUITS: “I kayaked the whole Charles River. And I’m on a dragon-boat rowing team called Wellness Warriors, where every member is a cancer survivor or caregiver.”

FAVORITE ARCHITECT: Renzo Piano. “His technologically groundbreaking, impeccably detailed buildings are artistry in form and light. The California Academy of Sciences houses—and is—a living museum. The Menil Collection in Houston and the High Museum expansion in Atlanta are beautiful sculptures that enhance the artwork displayed in them.”

HER EDUCATION: B.A., Tufts (sociology); B.Arch., Boston Architectural College

Photo: Veronika Lukasova

Juliana Blackwell, J88

HOME: Lovettsville, Virginia

PROFESSION: Geodesist (a scientist who studies the size and shape of the earth)

CURRENT POSITION: Director of the National Geodetic Survey, the agency that defines and manages the system of coordinates used in planning for transportation, communication, and other services nationwide.

HISTORICAL NOTE: The National Geodetic Survey, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is the country’s oldest federal science agency, established by Thomas Jefferson in 1807 as the Survey of the Coast. Blackwell is its first female director.

HER CAREER PATH: Parlayed her mathematics B.S. into a job as a commissioned NOAA officer serving on research and survey ships. During her first land assignment, her interests took a critical turn. “The use of GPS for geodetic surveying was quickly evolving. The combination of math, science, and technology drew me to the National Geodetic Survey.”

WHY GEODESY IS IMPORTANT: “The land on which we live is dynamic. In addition to extreme events such as earthquakes, there are less noticeable transformative processes, such as subsidence. Geodesy measures the changes from all these factors.” And that means? “Better strategies for the future”—whether in deciding where to build roads or how to protect against flooding and erosion.

RESEARCH ADVENTURE: “In 1996, Hurricane Fran tracked right over Wilmington, North Carolina, where a group of us were working aboard a ship. In the midst of our intense fear, the eye of the storm passed over. All was perfectly still, and the stars were shining. Then the back side of the storm hit, with more wind and water than I had ever seen in my life.”

DEFINING TRAITS: An affinity for science and math, a knack for getting along with people, and an appetite for difficult, exacting work.

ENDURING PASSION: “Anything involving horses. As a child I read every horse book I could find, collected model horses, and took riding lessons. I’m still crazy about horses and plan to have one of my own soon.”

GREATEST JOY: “My husband, John, and our three children. I love my job, but I love being at home with my family even more.”

HER EDUCATION: B.S., Tufts (mathematics); M.B.A., University of Maryland

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