Jessica Hester is a 2011 graduate of the Architecture program here at the University of Oklahoma (OU)! Today, she has owned three successful architecture firms. We talked to Jessica about her experiences at OU and her time after.

What year did you graduate from the Gibbs College of Architecture (GCA)?

2011

Which degree did you graduate with?

B. Arch

What was it like transitioning out of university and into work-life? What advice would you give current students as they advance into their careers?

I went to the University of Michigan (U. Mich)’s post-professional Design Research Master‘s program directly after graduation, so my transition came a year later: moving from Michigan to Georgia. After 25 years in the world of academia, I was ready for the world of practice. My first job post-grad was the opportunity to lead a young firm into fast growth. As it turns out, this is my passion. My advice to students would be to try things that make you uncomfortable because those moments usually lead you to self-awareness that can drive your passion in a new and unimaginable direction.

What role are you in now? How did you arrive at your current role?

I am the CEO and Principal Architect at Resource Design (Rede). Prior to that, I founded Verdant Studio which was absorbed into Rede as part of the acquisition on January 1st of this year. I spent about six months at the University of Arkansas Community Design Center as the architect on staff as I was transitioning out of Cevian Design Lab, the firm I co-founded in Georgia. My career has been built on a series of open doors and having the courage to walk through them.

What are you most proud of from your time at OU and beyond?

By the age of 32, I have owned 3 successful architecture firms, each one being either sold or transitioned into something larger at each phase. As a “solopreneur,” I have built a career out of leadership and vision that drives a growing practice in one of the country’s fasters growing areas. I am also really passionate about our commitment to diversity, both in a traditional workspace sense and more creatively. I helped co-found a women-focused design co-op that supports women to help encourage them to stay in the fields of architecture, design, and engineering. We apply this mythology in our firms as well as maintaining a large number of female practitioners. In a creative sense, we are a cross-disciplinary firm including team members with skills in art curation and large-scale installation, visual communications, photography, graphics and branding, planning, research, and interior design. We are focused on designing beautiful places that people love.

What kinds of opportunities did you receive while studying at the GCA?

Exposure to leadership opportunities as well as grant-funded research (undergraduate research opportunity grant) taught me the importance of self-driven destiny. If you consistently apply grit and determination to your work, it will take you places you never imagined.

How, in your opinion, do the programs here differ from programs at other schools?

Historically, the University of Oklahoma B. Arch curriculum has been more practice-driven than theory-driven. I experienced this first-hand as I transitioned from OU to U. Mich, which is known as a highly theoretical school. I think both curriculums are important which was a large driver in my decision to attend such polarized institutions.

What aspects of the curriculum do you believe help you most in your professional life?

Critical thinking skills paired with organization and time management. My ability to handle many different tasks simultaneously and triage them into critical path elements has been one of my most important skills. This same desire for efficiency translates into my work as we are considered a premiere firm for organizational efficiency in design.