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Designing a career, sustainably

From an independent study on materials to LEED Platinum wins, alum Michele Shelor is reshaping the landscape of campus and the community

view of sun behind plants and trees
January 13, 2022

Editor's note: This story originally appeared in the winter 2022 issue of ASU Thrive magazine.

At first, you may not recognize the oasis at the heart of the Tempe campus. The tranquil garden spaces, learning labs and eco-resilient water features at the Orange Mall at the Student Pavilion are the award-winning work of ASU alum Michele Shelor, ‘95 BA in history, ’01 BS in landscape architecture. 

woman's portrait

ASU alum Michele Shelor.

Shelor remembers how the area was during her time at ASU: “During my first semester as a student at ASU, I walked every day from the Cholla dorms along Orange Mall to my classes in the central part of the campus. I can still remember it being very hot, with no shade, seating or vitality, even though it was one of the primary circulation paths to the central hub of the campus.”

When her firm, Colwell Shelor Landscape Architecture, was selected to redesign it, she used her history to inform the project.

The green infrastructure project is the first ASU project to be developed following the SITES criteria, which is used by landscape architects, designers, engineers, planners, ecologists, architects, developers, policymakers and others to align land development and management with innovative sustainable design. 

The project earned a SITES Silver honor as well as LEED Platinum certification. 

Plants around Student Pavilion building

The foliage in front of the Student Pavilion on the Tempe campus.

Now a successful landscape architect and business owner, Shelor started on a different path, earning a degree in history and political science. Through her father, an architect, she was always immersed in design as a child. But it wasn’t until graduate school that she realized her own passion for landscape architecture. Along the way, her professors emboldened her to explore sustainable design practices. That led to completing an award-winning independent study project on sustainable materials in her last semester.

Reflecting on her time at ASU, she shares what she would have done differently: “I really wish I’d taken some business classes!” 

“We put so much time into learning how to be good designers, but it is equally important to learn how to run a business effectively,” she says.

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