My career defining moments occurred during my tenure at the Neighborhood Design Center (NDC), which happened to be my first “real” design job after receiving my Bachelor of Landscape Architecture from the University of Maryland.  NDC is one of the longest-standing social impact design non-profits in the United States. The organization was formed 51 years ago by a group of architects in Baltimore looking to help low and moderate income communities to rebuilt after the riots and white flight that swept the city in the wake of Martin Luther King’s assassination. They were inspired by a call to arms speech given on June 24th, 1968 by Whitney M. Young, Executive Director of the Urban League, that urged members of the design community to take responsibility for the unprecedented urban disintegration.  Whitney Young was a true visionary because he understood that in order to make sustainable change, a paradigm shift in thinking was needed. This historic movement initiated in the 1960’s, continues to motivate and inspire design professionals to seek justice for all.

These sentiments informed every aspect of how NDC approaches design. Through my work, I grew to understand the intersectionality of fields like Politics, Economics, Public Health, Ecology, Engineering, Architecture, Planning, and Landscape Architecture (to name few). Through this understanding I was able to work efficiently and effectively on behalf of communities that traditionally could not afford professional design services.  My experiences taught me how to be an honest broker, how to actively listen, how to advocate for exceptional design for all.

Working with the Neighborhood Design Center shaped me as a woman, a designer, a community member, a human being.  Although this may sound like a love letter to the Neighborhood Design Center, it is truly a love letter for the profession of Landscape Architecture.  I consider myself lucky to have personally experienced such a powerful approach to our profession, especially so early on in my career. I have a tremendous sense of optimism for the future – I have seen what radical acts of love can do for a community and an individual.

Kelley Oklesson photo
CREDIT: Matt Roth


Landscape Certifications


Amercian Society of Landscape Architects



Magdalena Aravena

Magdalena Aravena, ASLA, PLA is a Landscape Architect with almost eight years of experience in practice, and as many years as an engaged volunteer and leader in the ASLA. Driven by her experiences, she is passionate about exploring the role of designers in improving disadvantaged communities through education, advocacy, and collaborative design. She recently launched her own design firm, Studio Siembra, in pursuit of realizing this vision of a more just and inclusive practice of Landscape Architecture. Although specializing in design, Maggie aims to focus Studio Siembra on varied media - education, genuine community engagement, art, and beyond - to impact communities and the industry at large. She is also committing her time to teaching undergraduate courses for the Environmental Design program at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

Saba Hamidi


An experienced designer for over ten years in the creative industry - from landscape architecture to graphic design - Saba leverages her strong visual communication skills and a lifelong commitment to the creative arts to effectively share ideas. With a human-centered approach, her focus lies in driving an idea from conceptualization to implementation through storytelling, installations, exhibits, digital graphics, and print collateral. Saba is skilled in design strategy, conceptualization, and visual storytelling, with expertise in digital renderings, illustration, and medium to large scale mural installation.

As a ‘Visual Storyteller,’ Saba gravitates toward media & subject matter that can be used as tools to heal, unite, inspire and bridge divides. For her, the most important works are those that, through collaboration and listening, generate dialogue, enhance a sense of community, and tell stories that need to be heard (and seen).

See Saba’s work at and follow her on IG @madebysaba


Philip Havens


Philip Havens is a Maryland native and recent graduate of Montgomery College receiving a Landscape Technology degree. With 5 years of hands-on experience in the landscape industry, Philip found synergy between his field experience, creative background, and computer application skills, inspiring him to pursue a career as a designer. Philip’s sensitive approach and hands-on nature allows him to create well thought out, sustainable, and beautiful designs.

Renee LaGue

Renee LaGue

Renee LagGue has seven seasons of hands-on outdoor field work under her belt. She has managed crews building stone staircases, stepping stones, trails, and drainage structures in the White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire. Her knowledge of agriculture and urban gardening comes from her work growing vegetables and raising animals on production farms. And as a gardener for high-end residential clients in the Berkshires, she developed a hands-on familiarity with native and ornamental plants.

Renee received a M.A. in landscape design from the Conway School and a Master’s of Landscape Architecture from the University of Maryland. In addition to her residential design work, she has designed ecological landscapes in California and green stormwater facilities in Maryland. In her designs, Renee reimagines challenging and complex sites to solve multiple problems. Her design education has given her a special love of color in the landscape, unusual plants, and common materials reused in novel ways.

Maya Mule, Co-creator Groundsmith Collective


From a young age, I knew that I had a passion for creativity, art, and design. For my freshman year, I attended Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) to study architecture in beautiful Savannah, Georgia. SCAD was a great opportunity to experience the artistic perspective of architecture and become more aware of how the landscape interacts with the built environment. After studying for a year at SCAD, I decided to transfer into the architecture program at the University of Maryland (UMD), College Park to be closer to home and pursue the Bachelor of Science/Masters academic path to licensure. Working with Kelley truly sparked my interest in landscape architecture and I feel that it is important to understand and integrate the natural environment while designing a building and its surroundings. Some of my other interests include sustainability, environmental design, drawing, and painting. In my spare time I love to travel, hike, and practice yoga.

Maya provided the renderings for

Kelsey Moody

Kelsey Moody

Kelsey Moody is a second year Master of Landscape Architecture student at the University of Maryland. After working in the social work and healthcare fields for several years, Kelsey became interested in the way physical environments can influence human health and well-being.  She decided to change career paths and pursue landscape architecture to study the design aspect of healthcare environments. Her focus of study is health and therapeutic design and community engagement.

Yeny Villalta

Yeny Villalta Villatoro

Yeny Villalta Villatoro is a Communications and Marketing specialist with many years of experience and one of the hosts for the podcast, The District Channel. Yeny specializes in administrative and digital marketing and looks to leverage creative, effective, and engaging marketing strategies for businesses. Nonetheless, as an advocate for the community and serving people, Yeny became an interviewer to connect with others and share their powerful stories.

Where are they now?

Amanda Hayton

Amanda Hayton successfully received her Bachelor of Landscape Architecture from Virginia Tech amid the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic.  We wish her the best of luck as she embarks on her design career.

Joseph Mudd, Co-creator Groundsmith Collective

Joseph Mudd now works for one of our favorite woman-owned design build companies, Backyard Bounty. He will remain one of our beloved horticulturalist extraordinaries.  We wish him the best of luck on his professional journey.

Ian Kisakye

Ian Kisakye successfully received his Bachelor of Landscape Architecture from the University of Maryland amid the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic.  We wish him the best of luck as he embarks on his design career.