December 20, 2023
photo of Kathryn Wetherbee Wise, a young woman with long hair, wearing a striped shirt under a fleece vest

Over the past couple of years, graduates from the UMass Master of Architecture program have assumed leadership roles as presidents in three of the seven New England chapters of the American Institute of Architects (AIA). Dorrie Brooks ‘11 MArch leads AIA Massachusetts; Garth Schwellenbach ‘13 MArch is guiding AIA Western Massachusetts; and Kathryn Wetherbee Wise ‘13 MArch headed AIA Maine. This remarkable accomplishment is particularly noteworthy considering the relative newness of the Master of Architecture program and the substantial number of architecture schools in the Northeast. In a special edition of the UMass Department of Architecture newsletter, Professor and Chair of the Department of Architecture, Stephen Schreiber, FAIA engaged in interviews with all three accomplished alumni. Here is Schreiber’s interview with Kathryn (Katie) Wetherbee Wise. 


Schreiber: Before you pursued your MArch at UMass, you had a non-architecture undergrad. Tell us a little bit about your background, and why you pivoted to architecture. 

Wise: Before my graduate studies at UMass, I earned an undergraduate degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Maine. I loved engineering but actually found myself as an architecture intern after starting a summer engineering internship at an A/E firm. I still do use my engineering degree, especially when working with engineers, and I am so thankful for that background as I practice architecture now.  


Schreiber: And why UMass Amherst? 

Wise: This is a fun story. I was accepted into multiple programs for graduate school, and I was waitlisted at UMass. The minute I received my letter, I knew this was the program that I wanted.  The immediate disappointment I felt by being waitlisted at UMass made me realize that UMass was my top choice. So, I drove down to see the campus, and I met with Steve Schreiber (I do not think I had an appointment). I showed him my portfolio and kindly begged him to let me in! Ha! I am very thankful for the opportunity to go to UMass and equally as thank that Steve gave me a chance at that first meeting with him. I also look back on that time in my life as a powerful lesson in going for what you want and not letting the first answer you get be the final answer you get. And I like to think that Steve never regretted it! [Editor’s note: best decision ever!] 


Schreiber: What were some of your leadership positions at UMass, if any? 

Wise: During my time at UMass, I was the student liaison for the Western Mass chapter of AIA.  This was a position that allowed me to connect to the profession and see a glimpse of what architecture was like outside of school. I learned a lot about the AIA and definitely credit this experience with my involvement in AIA and NCARB after I graduated.  


Schreiber: What are you doing now? What was your path there since graduation? 

Wise: After I graduated from UMass, I moved back to my home state of Maine and began work at an A/E firm in Portland. While working, I took getting licensed very seriously, and I made it a priority.  I earned my hours, took my tests, and became licensed in 2015, two years after graduation. In 2017, I joined the iconic Maine brand and retailer L.L.Bean as their in-house architect. I am currently the Senior Manager of Design and Planning at L.L.Bean, leading the teams that work on projects such as our new headquarters and our retail stores. Life has been busy and wonderful because when I am not practicing architecture, I am spending time with my husband and two great kids, ages 5 and 18 months! 


Schreiber: How did you get involved in your local/state chapter of AIA? What were some of your accomplishments during your tenure as president? 

Wise: I became involved in Maine AIA right after my time at UMass by going to events, volunteering, and meeting other members. I was asked to join the board as the Emerging Professionals Chair after another member who had the role moved on. My time on the Western Mass AIA board really helped my transition to the Maine board. Since being on the board, I have volunteered on multiple national committees, for both AIA and NCARB, which I would encourage anyone to do! It is a great way to network nationally and learn about the strengths and opportunities of our profession. I served as President of AIA Maine from 2021-2022, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. My biggest accomplishment was navigating our chapter and membership through this time. We adapted and changed, and I am proud of changes we made, many of which helped us reach out to more people in our larger state.