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


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

Joseph Mudd, Co-creator Groundsmith Collective


Joseph Mudd is a professional horticulturalist and maintenance specialist with 13 years of experience within the landscape industry.  He grew up in Prince George's County, MD and has always felt a kinship to nature.  Joe is also a Certified Fertilizer and Pesticide Applicator, a Chesapeake Bay Landscape Professional, He holds a certificate from the Oglebay Sustainability Institute and the National Recreation and Park Association 2 Year Maintenance Management School.  His experience maintaining public gardens, memorials and historic sites in Northern Prince George's County give him first hand knowledge of how to ensure the success and longevity of landscape projects.

Ian Kisakye


Ian Kisakye is a senior in the Landscape Architecture program at the University of Maryland, College Park. He is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Landscape Architecture and a minor in Sustainability Studies. Ian received his Associate of Art Degree (A.A.), General Studies from the Prince George’s Community College. His interests lie in discovering the physical nature of the built environment and its subsequent overlay and collision with the natural and cultural processes that shape it constantly. Ian’s interdisciplinary background creates strong links between the fine arts and landscape architecture. He actively participates in the Maryland Student Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architecture (ASLA) and the African Student Progressive Committee (ASPC). Ian continues to explore his career path to Landscape Architecture by taking on volunteer work at the Neighborhood Design Center (NDC) and working as a design intern with us at Groundsmith Collective.  He has even begun taking on some freelance projects in his free time.

Ian provided renderings for UDC Green Infrastructure Interpretive Signs



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.

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.

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.

Amanda Hayton

Amanda Hayton

After balancing many summer months working with the earth outdoors and researching indoors, I have become passionate about the power of observation and listening in design work. Listening to each other, listening to the environment, listening to the smallest rustle of leaves on tree branches.

I appreciate the way that the landscape can encourage interaction among individuals and groups – whether that landscape be designed, built, or untouched. Along with color and art in any form, I admire minimal approaches to design and believe they can hold much complexity.  I find inspiration in the “everyday” and I call Appalachia home.

Amanda will be graduating this spring with a BLA from Virginia Tech.