CAP Outstanding Graduates headshots. Top row (left to right) Emily Beeson and Erin Daly. Bottom row (left to right) Nicole Diaz, Willa Hendler, and Lucy O'Sullivan.

Spring 2024 Outstanding Graduates

May 30, 2024

The Spring 2024 Commencement Ceremony was held on Saturday, May 11 at the Denver Coliseum. Congratulations to Emily Beeson (Master of Landscape Architecture), Erin Daly (Master of Urban Design), Nicole Diaz (Bachelor of Science in Architecture), Willa Hendler (Master of Architecture), and Lucy O’Sullivan (Master of Urban and Regional Planning) for your recognition as the College of Architecture and Planning’s Outstanding Graduates. These students received top marks in their academic performance and made impactful contributions to the life of the college.

We asked our Outstanding Graduates about their experiences at CU Denver and their new opportunities on the horizon. We are so proud of the work they’ve done and are excited to see what they accomplish in their careers.

Meet CAP’s Spring 2024 Outstanding Graduates

Emily Beeson, Master of Landscape Architecture

Emily Beeson's headshot

What inspired you to study landscape architecture?

I went to England, Scotland, and Wales with my grandparents the summer before I started high school. Seeing the verdant gardens and striking landscapes really struck a chord. When I returned home, to rural southeastern Montana, the landscape was very different—dry, red scoria earth, pine trees, sagebrush—and I wanted to change it to fit what I’d seen as traditionally beautiful. ​I checked out library books and tried to make a water garden between two ponderosas. It was a huge failure in so many ways. Over the years, I developed a profound love for those Pine Hills and now understand what, I would learn, was their genius loci. It’s been 30 years exactly since that experience, and I’m so grateful that I finally secured an academic foundation to fruitfully guide my passion for place and what it can mean for people.

What are you excited about following the commencement ceremony?

I’m looking forward to spending time with my family and feeling present in those moments, gardening, exercising, engaging in self- and relational-care, continuing my research into trauma-informed landscapes, and starting work at Didier Design Studio!

What is a memorable experience from your time as a CAP student?

Our cohort traveled to New Orleans for the immersive studio this past autumn. Never having been to New Orleans, but understanding some of the region’s complex history—incredible food and music, resilient cultural traditions, historic systemic inequities, devastating natural disasters and restoration promises made but not realized, etc.—I was reticent on what students from CU Denver could, or even should, do to re-imagine four “unsafe” playspots in New Orleans.

Professor Lois Brink is a hard-charging, get-it-done individual who has worked for ages to provide play and nature equity. The partnerships she initiated with local nonprofits, city government departments, and federal funding agencies placed these projects squarely in the realm of possibility. Students dived deep into the research and then asked community members about their “big ideas” for their local playspots. We interpreted their ideas into design visions that aimed to support community, climate, and ecological resilience. These designs were then provided to support grant applications to secure funding so the official, local, and community engagement and design process could proceed.

The breadth and depth of what we learned in those three months, the relationships our cohort built with each other, and the production value we delivered in support of an evolving, real-world project are all testaments to the value of landscape architecture’s immersive studio experience. (Watch the Goins Playspot project video.)

Erin Daly, Master of Urban Design

Erin Daly's headshot

What inspired you to study urban design?

When I started my landscape architecture degree, I did so with the intent to focus on ecological restoration, parks, and trail systems. While I will always hold a passion for those aspects of design, I quickly realized that it is in cities where the built environment has had the greatest impacts on environmental and public health. I shifted my focus towards wanting ecological restoration to not just happen in natural environments but in cities, too. That is what led me to pursue a dual degree in urban design and landscape architecture.

What are you excited about following the commencement ceremony?

Following commencement, I will be attending a four-week studio in Mexico City to finish my urban design degree. I am excited to spend time learning in a new city that poses such complex challenges in the built and natural environment.

What is a memorable experience from your time as a CAP student?

After spending four years as a CAP student, I have so many memorable experiences. During the fall of my final year as a landscape architecture student, I had the opportunity to spend 10 days traveling through the Great Basin with my cohort. It was such a unique experience to be able to travel with people just as excited about the landscape as you. From long days doing site inventories to quiet evenings sketching, cooking, and reflecting together, I can say it was one of the most special experiences of my time here.

Nicole Diaz, Bachelor of Science in Architecture

Nicole Diaz holding her cap on the steps outside of the Tivoli Building on the Auraria campus.

What inspired you to study architecture?

Architecture was just something I never really knew about—it was something that was unknown to me. I’d always wondered what architects do and what architecture is. Once I found out architecture couldn’t be fully defined, it motivated me to continue learning, and I still have so much to discover about the field. I love that I was able to learn so many different sets of skills while in school, and I know they will be helpful for whatever path I decide to take in the future.

What are you excited about following the commencement ceremony?

I’m excited to start gaining experience out in the field, but first I’ll be taking a few trips both within the states and out of the states for the summer. I’ll definitely start a sketching notebook to document all the architecture I’ll come across!

What is a memorable experience from your time as a CAP student?

All of my studio experiences were memorable, but the one in which I learned the most would be Studio 5. In this studio, we researched vacant buildings around the Denver metro area, mine being an old fire station from 1968. The building had originally been built with two large garage openings. These openings were defined by fins protruding out of the building. The garage doors were closed off once the building started to be used as a medical office in the 1990s before it was put on the market, leaving it vacant at the time I stumbled upon it.

For my proposal, this building was turned into a community center because of its historic purpose of helping the surrounding community. The center of this project was the garage due to its openness, which allows activities such as performances, educational workshops, artist displays, and any other events to take place for the community. I opened the garage back up and kept the original trusses for the structure, adding masses to enhance the idea of stepping in order to attract people to this building. The model-making of this studio was intense since we had to build the structural aspects of the building along with the cladding, resulting in a 2’x 2′ model that can be completely disassembled, but it was well worth it in the end.

Willa Hendler, Master of Architecture

Willa Hendler headshot

What inspired you to study architecture?

What inspired me to study architecture was the desire to make an impact. For undergrad, I studied art history where I learned about the greats of architecture (Gropius, Breuer, Aalto, etc.). I admired the work they did and loved learning about them, but I found myself getting envious of their achievements and the impact they have had on society through their craft.

Much like the architects I studied, I wanted to be the one who created experiences and shaped environments through active participation in the advancement of society. I wanted to create structures that had the possibility of impacting the lives of those who interacted with them in the hopes of leaving a legacy of my life and work that will last far into the future.

What are you excited about following the commencement ceremony?

What I am excited about following the commencement ceremony is moving back to my hometown of New York City. I only know what it is like to live there as a child, so I am looking forward to experiencing the city as an adult. There, I will be starting an amazing job opportunity as an architectural designer, working for a large architecture and engineering firm. I am eager to start my career, begin the path to licensure, and develop my craft. Although it will be stressful and bittersweet to pack up the life I have had living in Colorado for the past eight years and say goodbye to some of the best friends I have ever had, I look forward to all the possibilities that will come from this transition.

What is a memorable experience from your time as a CAP student?

I would have to say that one of the most memorable experiences I have had as a CAP student was the opportunity to participate in the Colorado Building Workshop where we designed and constructed a research facility for scientists in Antarctica. Not only was it incredibly impactful in my education because of the real-world experience of developing a design and physically building it, but it was also an incredibly unique opportunity. Not many architects, no matter how far in their career they may be, can say they have a building in Antarctica.

Being a part of the Design Build program gave me the skills to work with a team and create a project that can exist in the harshest of climates. The whole process was made substantially better through the amazing guidance of my professors Rick Sommerfeld and Will Koning, the expertise of Shaggy Neahusan, and the teamwork provided by my classmates, especially my fellow Windows and Doors team members (Nick Berg, Logan Ebert, and Myah Gifford).

Lucy O’Sullivan, Master of Urban and Regional Planning

Lucy O'Sullivan's headshot

What inspired you to study urban planning?

I was inspired to study urban planning because of my previous work in climate and conservation. I wanted to help our cities become more resilient to climate change and advance equity in climate planning. In my time at CAP, I quickly became passionate about transportation planning, particularly multimodal planning. I found a synergy between my passions for climate and equity in transportation planning. Transportation accounts for the largest share of carbon emissions in cities, and it touches everyone’s daily lives. Planning safe, connected, and accessible bicycle, pedestrian, and transit infrastructure is a huge opportunity to decrease emissions, provide diverse transportation options for members of our communities, and increase equity.

What are you excited about following the commencement ceremony?

I’m heading to Puerto Rico for some sun, relaxation, and nerding-out over their public transportation system. After that, I’m excited to begin my job as a transportation planner with the City of Boulder, where I’ll be focusing on multimodal planning, design, and engagement.

What is a memorable experience from your time as a CAP student?

Being a part of the WTS (Women’s Transportation Seminar) Student Board was one of my favorite experiences as a CAP student. I got to work alongside some incredible classmates and friends to put on networking and professional development events for students across the state, and met and learned from countless transportation professionals. A few of us traveled to New Orleans this spring for the WTS International Conference, which was a great way to wrap up our time serving on the student board.

CAP Awards

The College of Architecture and Planning held an awards ceremony on May 10 in the Second Floor Gallery of the CU Denver Building. Students, faculty, and staff were recognized for their hard work and contributions to the college throughout the 2023-24 academic year.

View the complete list of awards.