Building Dreams

At the local, national, and international level, Wentworth alumni are giving back to their communities every day, in many different ways. Inspiration for this work comes from a variety of sources, but a common thread among the three individuals profiled here is a desire to use the practical tools that are part of every Wentworth graduate’s repertoire and create something extraordinary—even life-changing.


Photo: Jarrod McCabe

Dennis Colwell, BSA ’06
, who completed 135 commercial and residential projects last year with his small architecture firm,Dennis Colwell Architects, Inc., is often reminded of his Wentworth days as he puts in 80-hour workweeks in his home office.

“It’s just like studio mode,” he says.

Despite this demanding schedule, Colwell makes time to volunteer his services to Habitat for Humanity and Norfolk Affordable Housing Trust. He has designed architectural plans and provided consulting for three Habitat homes in southeastern Massachusetts, as well as one project for the Norfolk group.

“I thought it was time to start to give back,” says Colwell, who worked on his first Habitat project in 2010. “As we became more successful as a firm, I thought we should start to hand things back to the community.”

Colwell, winner of the 2013 Wentworth Alumni Association Young Alumni Award, became interested in volunteering for Habitat after a conversation with a friend, the director of the organization’s Martha’s Vineyard chapter. He was intrigued by the group’s mission and reached out to his local Habitat affiliate, Attleboro-based Old Colony.

“I sent them an email, just offering to hammer nails,” Colwell recalls. “They said it would actually be a lot more valuable to volunteer my architectural skills rather than hanging a door or putting up sheetrock.”

His first project was the design for a 1,200-square-foot home for a family of five in Norton.

“We had to come up with something that was really compact, cheap, efficient, and worked for a modern family,” Colwell says. After completing the Norton project, he and his colleagues went on to design two additional area homes, the most recent of which broke ground in Seekonk last spring. Since going out on his own in 2010, Colwell has employed a number of Wentworth students and graduates, both as co-ops and full-time employees. Dan Santacroce, BSA ’13, is currently
on staff as a designer, and Emilio Cardarelli, BSA ’14, Mitchell Haughton, BSA ’13, and Chris Lomba, BSA ’13, have all served as co-ops.

“I’m a Wentworth guy, and I love having Wentworth people here,” Colwell says. “They’re all hard workers and dedicated members of the team.”

As his business grows, Colwell remains dedicated to community service and outreach. In addition to the home-building projects, he has established a scholarship for high school students, and recently visited a group of local middle school students to field questions about architecture. He also presented at Barnes & Noble’s first-ever Lego Architecture event at a Walpole store in July, where he demonstrated aspects of the design process using Lego bricks.

As Colwell and his firm forge ahead with 105 current projects on the docket, the young architect looks forward to the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Seekonk house, where he will meet the family that will live in the house he designed.

“I think the best part of my job,” he says, “is to be able to drive by and point and say, ‘We did that.’”

When Katie Davis, BSA ’08, MARC ’10, first traveled to Haiti in October 2010 in the wake of the country’s devastating earthquake earlier that year, she planned to stay for two weeks. She was there for two months.

“I felt a calling toward it,” says Davis, who volunteered with nonprofit design services firm Architecture for Humanity after participating in a Boston road race sponsored by the organization.


Photo: Kathleen Dooher

When Davis landed in Port-au-Prince almost 10 months after the earthquake, she found a country still very much in disarray. Her first task involved designing façade treatments for schools that were being rebuilt from the
ground up.

“My job was to incorporate a secure but artistic element using local materials,” she says. Her scheme for window and door openings reused scrap metal from streets, filtering sunlight, providing security, and showcasing the work of local metalwork artists.

After her initial two-month stay, Davis returned to Boston for 18 months before being offered an opportunity to return to Haiti through international relief and development charity Islamic Relief Worldwide, which provided funding
to construct five schools. Davis’s work over the following seven months included designing one of these schools, as well as researching sustainable sanitation, electrical, and hand-wash and drinking-water systems. She also researched local methods for building with seismic design, as well as designing according to climate and availability of resources. In addition to leading the architectural design of the school, she was responsible for coordinating outreach with students, teachers, and administration, as well as the local community, public agencies, and other local organizations.

“A big part of it was making these communities feel comfortable,” Davis says. “The whole idea was to explain, explain, explain, and keep everyone involved and contributing from day one.”

As work on her school progressed, the idea of acquiring Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification for the project began to percolate. “Since the beginning, we had been keeping sustainability in mind,” says Davis.

“It’s so perfect for that climate, and essential because of the cost of everything there. We knew we would have to use all local materials and collaborate with as many reputable local groups as possible.

“As we assessed the project design and began looking at the LEED requirements,” she continues, “we thought that through pursuing certification, the project could be recognized as a model for the community, Haiti and the international
building industry. We wanted to give the project a louder voice through LEED.”

International design and consulting firm Stantec Architecture, where Davis is currently employed as an architectural designer, submitted a proposal to do the LEED certification work and won the bid. The project, Lycée Jean Marie
Vincent, is now officially registered with the U.S. Green Building Council—one of the first buildings in Haiti to pursue LEED status and potentially the first school to become certified.

At the moment, Davis’s plate is full with local projects, including a series of quick fit-outs in old mill sites in the Merrimack Valley, as well as preliminary work on the master plan for Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. She plans
to return to Haiti in December to celebrate the opening of the school. For her, the country will always hold a certain intrigue.

“It’s hard to explain, but you just get hooked on it,” she says. “It’s the liveliness of the culture, the compassion of the people, and the beauty behind everything you see there.”

After seeing so many lives torn apart by the Boston Marathon bombings, Heather Rose (Gookin) Marshall, BSA ’06, wanted to do something to put them back together.

Marshall, an architect from Scituate, Mass., was in a meeting when she heard news of the deadly attack. She immediately sent a text message to Dawn Guarriello, a co-worker who had run the race in previous years and was watching along the route. Guarriello was safe, but like most in Boston that day, came away shocked and scarred.

“It really struck home to her,” Marshall says.

Heather Marshall

Photo: Jarrod McCabe

Later that week, Guarriello contacted Marshall with the idea of helping the victims, many of whom lost limbs and now faced the sad reality of returning to homes that were inaccessible to them. As architects familiar with Americans with Disabilities Act compliance work, was there anything they could do to assist with necessary renovations?

“These people were going to be coming home in a wheelchair,” says Marshall. “What if we donated our services to help renovate their homes and make them handicap-accessible?”

Marshall and Guarriello reached out to every professional contact they could find—fellow architects, contractors, suppliers—and used social media to get the word out among friends. The response was so overwhelming they started a Facebook page specifically for their endeavor, which they called Renovate for Recovery.

As word continued to spread, they had a meeting with the Boston Society of Architects and accessibility experts from the area. Eventually, Marshall was contacted by a fellow Wentworth alumna, Jillian (Forzese) Shedd, BSA ’10, who works with the New Hampshire Governor’s Commission on Disabilities. Shedd put Marshall in contact with colleagues in Massachusetts, and a connection was made with the Department of Public Services (DPS), which agreed to handle applications for the work and coordinate logistics.

“Victims fill out an application with DPS,” Marshall explains. “Then we’ll put together a team of specialists—architects, engineers, contractors, physical therapists—to meet with the victim at their home to assess what needs to be done.”

DPS has two families interested at press time, with more to come. The mother of double amputee Jeff Bauman, the subject of a recent New York Times profile, has met with a Renovate for Recovery architect with the hope of retrofitting her home for her son.

The goal is to have everything involved in the project donated, so that charities such as One Fund Boston are able to focus their efforts elsewhere.

When the work begins, Marshall hopes that Wentworth’s student body will pitch in.

“We’ve got licensed architects and engineers lined up already,” she says. “But we’ll be using a Habitat for Humanity model when it comes time for construction, so anyone can help.”

For more information on Renovate for Recovery, visit www.



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