Gretchen Brown-Atkin, B. Arch. ’09
Graduate Historic Preservation, Class of 2012
Where are you from?
I’m from South Amboy, a one-mile-square town in central New Jersey.
Had you pursued higher education before attending Pratt?
Yes, my higher education has been a saga: first I studied fine arts at Ryder College in Lawrenceville, New Jersey; then, liberal arts at Union County College in Cranford, New Jersey; then, interior design at Parsons The New School for Design, where I earned an associate’s degree in six years, taking one course a semester, commuting 90 miles to Manhattan. When I graduated, my daughter was 6 years old, and my son was 11.
What decided you on coming to Pratt?
While attending Parsons, my favorite classes were those taught by Pratt architects, who were so knowledgeable and creative that I wanted to know what they knew: I wanted to be a Pratt architect myself. But I thought it was too late for such an endeavor. Eventually, I realized, “It’s never too late to be what you might have been,” as the English novelist George Eliot put it.
As a mature student, what’s it like to work and go to school on a college campus?
I didn’t realize that I was about to do something outrageous. I lived in the undergraduate dorm for the first two years, and everyone initially thought I was a teacher. My children gave me a baseball cap that said “student.”
Has Pratt’s work-study opportunity been helpful to you in pursuing your educational goals?
Yes, it has allowed me to earn income for expenses and introduced me to people throughout the campus. The program’s focus is on the schoolwork, however, so staff employers understand if you’ve got last-minute insanity over meeting deadlines.
How do you juggle a work-study program with the responsibilities of being a parent?
The American mythologist Joseph Campbell wrote, “…when you have children, your life is over.” In the first semester architectural studio, the instructor told me, “You have no life.” Many times, I had conflicts in my loyalties; I had to find my life and tend to my children, when necessary. Everything suffered somewhat, but I could not let go of my dream.
You seem to be in the midst of a mid-life career change also. How is it going?
It’s more like a mid-life rejuvenation. It took about two years for the sludge that was my brain to start functioning again. The journey to the bachelor of architecture degree was life-changing, and change is very difficult. But, it’s brought me closer to the career of my dreams.
To what effect will your graduate work in historic preservation complement your training in architecture?
Historic Preservation brings into architecture the history that is largely missing from the study of architecture, per se. At this point, I’m focused on and passionate about restoration and adaptive reuse, and would like to work for a firm that specializes in that area.
What would we be surprised to know about you?
My nickname is “Cookie,” and I love to sing.
Photo: Rene Perez