MLA and Beyond

Claire (Ritchey) Kern’s career has evolved greatly over time, and while her current occupation may seem far from its origin, it is a meld of her different professional experience. Ms. Kern began her career as a landscape designer after graduating from Auburn University’s Master of Landscape Architecture program in 2013. Despite the positive atmosphere of working creatively through design, she eventually found herself wanting to experience the work from a different perspective. In 2015 Ms. Kern accepted an opportunity to become an Owner’s Representative in Boston, MA, a role that exposed her to all stages of a project—from conception, to completion and occupancy. Ms. Kern credits managing the full life cycle of a project, and understanding the owners’ perspective, as an invaluable experience which has introduced her career to its current trajectory.

In 2018 Kern returned to the southeast and made the careful decision to seek employment in the construction industry. Astra Group, an Atlanta general contracting firm that focuses on green infrastructure including parks, trails, public spaces, and streetscapes, is an organization that offered Ms. Kern an opportunity to fulfill a passion for connecting communities to their natural environment, while drawing from her extensive experience.

Currently Ms. Kern is Project Manager on the Atlanta Beltline Southside Trail West, which is the newest extension of the Atlanta Beltline. This $14.75 million project includes a 0.85-mile segment of the 14-foot-wide multimodal Atlanta Beltline Southside Trail. As a part of the construction of the trail, Astra Group will be performing environmental soil remediation of contaminated hotspots along the corridor, constructing a new bridge over Metropolitan Parkway, installing stormwater and utility infrastructure, building approximately 18,000 square feet of new retaining walls, mass grading to provide ground level access at Pittsburgh Yards, and installing pedestrian improvements such as ADA-accessible ramps, signals and crosswalks, pedestrian bridges, lights and security cameras.

Interestingly, Kern’s landscape architecture studio also focused on the exact section of the 22-mile long Beltline trail in 2011. The class project site has now become Pittsburgh Yards, an adaptive reuse development located along the Atlanta Beltline Southside Trail. Each day is a new experience as Pittsburgh Yards advances through construction—Kern often finds herself walking along the former railroad line that her studio walked as a class 9 years ago. “It’s always an amazing experience to see a project come to life. To me, the Southwest Beltline project is even more meaningful because of my experience at Auburn. To say the least, I never expected to be building my first-year studio project.”

Ms. Kern credits her experience at Auburn with learning how to be a critical thinker, and a leader with the ability to encourage others’ ideas and collaborate as a team. “No matter where you go, and no matter what you study, you aren’t going to learn everything you need to know in school for your chosen career path. You constantly learn as new situations emerge in your work. If you know how to think critically, and how to work together as a team, two skills Auburn taught me, you can solve almost any problem.” The School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture’s Master of Landscape Architecture program strives to include critical thinking and leadership within the education of its participants, and Claire Kern is a positive example of that success.