Former architect Catherine Witt wants to use her MPP skills to supplement and support her design knowledge with data.
Catherine Witt, Headshot
Catherine Witt

Originally from Chicago, former architect Catherine Witt’s inspiration to pursue public policy draws on many sources.

“My sense of being a global citizen started at a young age,” Witt says. “My father was a teacher, and I went along on two of his Fulbright teaching exchanges to Ireland and England when I was very young. Those formative experiences helped me to see America in the context of being one of many nations in the world.”

In addition, her father’s work as a carpenter nurtured Witt’s passion for arts and design. She subsequently pursued her degree in architecture at Cornell University, a path she pursued through the ROTC program with the United States Air Force. “I continue to benefit from the leadership and teamwork I learned through ROTC, and still draw inspiration from the Air Force motto: ‘Integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all we do.’”

After graduating from Cornell, Witt returned to Chicago and worked on designing the Lurie Children’s Hospital. The architectural firm she worked for closed due to an economic downturn, so she moved to DC. “There, I worked at the Smithsonian American Museum of Art and joined several organizations for emerging architects, which helped guide me back into the public sector. DC is not only a hub for politics, but also advocacy.”

While in DC, Witt received a call from a former classmate: the United Nations Human Settlements Programme had an opening for a project manager to work on sustainable urbanization in Kakuma, Kenya. Witt secured the position and moved to remote northwest Kenya.

“As a project manager, I pushed for the integration of refugee settlements with the local population. My work throughout Kenya opened my eyes to the need for advocacy. It made me think about how we can build growth in these locations and how supply chains operate in a global world. It also made me consider the ways in which sustainable systems can be implemented from the ground up as countries develop and industrialize. I now want to learn lessons from industrialized countries.”

These interests are what led Witt to Harris.

“I always knew I wanted to apply my architecture background to a wider area. A design project can be very subjective, and it’s important to know how a building integrates with the local infrastructure. I feel confident in my choices when I can back them up with rigorous information.”

As an MPP student, Witt hopes to explore issues related to transportation, energy, and environment. “I’m looking forward to the analytical components of the Core curriculum: I want to supplement and support my design knowledge with data.” She’s also looking forward to continuing her passion for art by connecting with professors engaging the public with culture relating to policy.

After Harris, Witt aims to work in public-private partnerships in the US as a legislative advocate, building awareness of global citizenship. “We are all citizens of the world. We have a responsibility to demand transparency about the systems we’re buying into as part of our democracy and industry.