Success in Unlikely Places

November 16, 2017

When Debbi LoCicero ’80 graduated from UWM’s School of Architecture & Urban Planning, the U.S. was in the middle of a recession, with unemployment at historically high levels. As a new graduate, she knew jobs would be hard to come by.

To make her more marketable, she decided to apply for a summer job with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Omaha, Nebraska. Even though the job was outside her comfort level and far from her family and friends, she believed it would provide her with experience for a few months before she went looking for a job in the fall.

“Little did I know that that summer job would be my entry into the best career choice I could have made,” Debbi recalls. That temporary job evolved into a full-time position and a rewarding 32-year career with the federal government. “The day I started working for the Department of Defense changed my life as a person and as an architect.”

Her early projects included hospital and clinic renovations as well as project reviews of health care facilities. “I knew my projects would make a difference in the lives of active-duty military, their families and retirees, and every day I went to work, I thought about these users in my buildings,” Debbi says. “I was fascinated by the complexity of these facilities, and I knew I would focus on this building type throughout my career.”

She went on to plan highly specialized biomedical research labs and eventually became a program executive, managing a portfolio of worldwide laboratory projects worth more than $2.5 billion in construction value.

Debbi says her career trajectory was all because of the education she received at the School of Architecture & Urban Planning. “My professors were there to coach, critique, reinforce the positive, and teach me to learn from mistakes. Studio projects challenged me to explore alternatives and think about outcomes before settling on a solution, to think strategically, to focus on important design goals as well as the small details, to work in teams, and to never underestimate what I was capable of achieving.”

Now Debbi wants to give those same opportunities to a new generation of architecture students. To do that, she has included the UWM Foundation in her estate plans in order to establish the Debbi D. LoCicero Scholarship. Her message to her future recipients is this: “My hope is that this scholarship gives you the building blocks of your architectural foundation. Take chances and try something different. Who knows where the path will take you?”