NDSU-educated architect makes a difference by developing design leaders
Published June 2016
One class changed Michelle Mongeon Allen’s life.
It was history of architecture, and her adviser recommended it because she couldn’t decide what kind of engineer to become.
Allen remembers the first day of class clearly. As NDSU faculty member Ron Ramsay started talking, she immediately knew architecture, rather than engineering, was the right career for her. She had been the girl who tore open the Sunday newspaper to check out “the floor plan of the week” and built Barbie houses instead of playing with Barbie dolls.
Today Allen, who graduated from NDSU’s architecture program in 1993, is the vivacious chief operating officer of JLG Architects, which has offices throughout the region. She is another example of NDSU graduates who are leaders in businesses and organizations that serve the area. She won many design awards in the early years of her career and gradually took on more operational responsibilities as the firm grew from 12 to more than 100 employees.
She has transferred her skills from designing buildings to designing the inner workings of a growing company. She recruits, trains and empowers employees to do their best. She is the mind behind the company’s intensive leadership development program for young architects. They spend their first years on the job at JLG’s Grand Forks office. The concept is informed by the close-knit studio culture of NDSU’s architecture program where students take classes, work long hours in the studio and excel professionally side-by-side.
Allen is also a believer in outreach. When JLG builds a school in a small town, for example, they strive to deliver more than a building. They strive to delight students, teachers and administrators with design choices, such as spaces flooded with light, that make their lives better. Then the design team takes students on tours and explains how and why they made decisions. The interaction has the potential to inspire kids who are future architects and leaders but haven’t realized it yet.
“Design elevates the quality of life in ways that don’t always hit us over the head,” she said, which is why it is important to educate the public on how effective design can help people perform better at work or school. The result is often greater personal and organizational success.
People at NDSU took the time to help Allen find her way, and now she is in a position to do the same for young people in the communities JLG serves and people who help make the company successful. She is making a difference by developing design leaders within her company and inspiring future architects.
“There couldn’t be a better job,” she said.