Sarah Kellerman ‘07 graduated from Washington University in St. Louis, Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts in 2011 with a degree in Architecture & Urban Design. She then earned a Master of Urban Planning and Policy in 2014 from the University of Illinois at Chicago, College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs. Sarah is AICP and LEED GA Certified and was named one of Building Design and Construction Magazine's 40 Under 40 in 2020. Currently, Sarah is the Chicago Studio Director for Interface Studio, an urban design and planning firm. Her work with Interface Studio has earned her the following awards: APA 2020 Sustainable Communities Division Awards for Excellence in Sustainability - Pittsburgh EcoInnovation District; APA 2018 Pennsylvania Chapter Daniel Burnham Award for a Plan - Pittsburgh EcoInnovation District; 2017 International Downtown Association Pinnacle Award, Grand Rapids Forward; South Elgin Bike-Pedestrian Plan, and many more. She is also an Adjunct Lecturer for the University of Illinois at Chicago’s (UIC) College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs, and a Program Associate for UIC’s Master of City Design Program. Her brother, Greg Kellerman, graduated from Whitfield in 2005. Sarah and her husband, Patrick, have two children, Keller (2.5 years) and Etta (6 months).
How did Whitfield prepare you for college and beyond?
The Whitfield teaching style has two main characteristics: group projects and Socratic-style discussion. As a high school student, I found both of these challenging. Once I started college, internships, and beyond, I came to value that Whitfield exposed me to opportunities to work on collaborative projects and build confidence in my communication skills. Gaining these experiences early on helped create a strong foundation for managing collaborative working teams, challenging clients, competing stakeholder priorities, and prepared me to advocate my viewpoint and ask questions - essential skills in my current work.
What opportunities did Whitfield provide you that you might not have had elsewhere?
I liked that Whitfield offered different ways to be involved in things. For example, you could try out to be in a play or do tech or even direct a One-Act. You could work on the yearbook or The Secret Voice, the school’s literary magazine. Students had access to a range of visual arts, student organizations, and sports. It was easy to be involved- in my case, extremely involved. I’m pretty sure most days I was at school from about 8:00 AM to 8:00 PM.
What are some of your favorite Whitfield memories/favorite classes?
My passion for art, design, and the built environment took root in classes with Art Department Chair Ann Kram and as part of the production, build crew, and tech behind the scenes for plays with theater teacher Ms. Allen and Mr. Cano. Anyone who knew me in high school knew I was involved in 1,000 things. But the best and most meaningful memories I have come from late nights in the art studio wrestling with personal projects and artistic interests and tech weeks full of long hours with like-minded friends bringing projects to life.
Describe your career.
I’m the Chicago Studio Director for Interface Studio, an urban design and planning firm, and I love what I do. Our firm’s mission is to help communities, large and small, think about where they are now, what they would like to become, and which steps are needed to get there. We work with cities and neighborhoods as they wrestle with a broad range of challenges facing the urban environment, growth, equity, and changes.
When I left Whitfield, I went to college with a “job” in mind: architect. It made sense; it was a neat blend of my academic and artistic interests. And people get pretty starry-eyed over the title “Architect”, and my young ego got pretty excited about that. There was a clear pathway for new professionals through school, internships, and accreditation. I worked my way through Washington University’s architecture program, got my degree, worked in a fantastic internship with a local firm, and was on a great path. Only it wasn’t the right fit.
I spent the next eight years expanding my skills and exploring different facets of physical design and development (transportation, campus development, graphic design, urban planning). After years wrestling with where I fit in the field, I finally found my current firm.
My advice: Don’t rush toward a specific job - doctor, lawyer, architect. Pursuing a defined goal with a clear pathway is comforting, but you could be missing out on the chance to refine and develop your interests first. And there are a lot of jobs out there you’ve never even heard of yet.