Commencement Student News

Bachelor of Architecture graduate Latoya Dennis to speak at Dunwoody’s 2024 Commencement

Latoya Dennis says she attended an open house at Dunwoody College of Technology on a whim. At the time she had recently moved to Minnesota from the DMV area and was volunteering at Theater in the Round doing set design and trying to figure out what was next.  

“I knew when I moved here that I would be transitioning careers, I just wasn’t sure what that looked like exactly,” she said. “Thanks to the help of my partner, I was able to take a moment and really think about what I wanted my next journey to be.  

At the Open House, Dennis ended up in the Architecture classrooms. She saw the student projects and spoke with faculty member Paul Strother about opportunities in the architecture field and came away from the Open House thinking, “These are my people. This is where I’m supposed to be. The level of creativity, design, and technical drawings I saw just blew me away. I was highly impressed.” 

At first the plan was to do the two-year degree in Architectural Drafting & Design, but when those two years passed, Dennis decided to keep going into the Bachelor of Architecture degree, and eventually switched over to the first cohort of the online version of the program in her fourth year due to becoming a mom.  

What began as a whim has become a five-year journey and a whole new chapter in life.  

James Wheeler, Senior Instructor of Architecture, said Dennis exemplifies Dunwoody’s Born To Do mindset and has been “a thoughtful and outstanding student through her associates and bachelor’s degrees.”   

Dennis, who is graduating magna cum laude and is a member of Phi Theta Kappa, will represent her graduating class as the student speaker at Dunwoody College’s 2024 Commencement, which takes place May 21, at the Minneapolis Convention Center.  

While her graduation marks a new phase in Dennis’s career, it’s not her first one. After graduating with a B.F.A. in drawing and design from Old Dominion University, she worked as a graphic designer for a while before transitioning into elementary education, at first as a resident artist at different schools, and then later as an educator in Fairfax County Public Schools, including working with the students on stage productions and music videos. She loved being a resource for families and helping her students grow, which she held for more than a decade. 

“I was able to create my own curriculum and focus on projects the kids wanted to participate in,” she said. “To see a shy kid get on stage and perform in front of everyone or to watch a kid with autism use music to communicate is a joy to see and be a part of.” 

What drew Dennis to architecture was that it brought together many things she was interested in. 

“Art, science, set design, transporting people through spaces — I am passionate about all those things, but I was searching for a way to combine them in a way that made sense. Architecture, then, was a natural evolution of Dennis’s interests, talents, and work experience. Entering the field as a BIPOC Queen woman, she also began noticing the importance of representation and the impact it can have.   

She cited one of her instructors —  Anjali Ganapathy —  as being a help and inspiration for how to navigate the industry, which remains predominantly white.    

“From the moment I started the B.ARCH program, she invested time and energy in making sure that the BIPOC students were connected to the industry,” Dennis said. “She not only believed in my abilities to design, but she also believed in me as a person and saw the value I could bring to the profession. Having that kind of support and encouragement, gave me the fuel I needed to push through such a rigorous program. 

One of the highlights of Dennis’s time at Dunwoody was being able to bring her background and her studies more fully together. She had the opportunity to work alongside employees of the design firm HGA on a two-day NOMAS (National Organization of Minority Architect Students) community-action workshop with the Minnesota African American Heritage Museum and Gallery.  

“This was a fun project,” she said. “We were tasked with redesigning the museum and incorporating some new and interesting ways to display their artifacts. This was my first time working on a ‘real’ project with clients in real time. We had two days to present a redesign that they could possibly use to gain funding.” 

Dennis has continued to participate in the HGA community workshop the past two years and also served as vice president of Dunwoody’s NOMAS chapter last year. She currently has an internship at HGA, working in the Public | Corporate sector and plans to continue that through the summer and then see what her options are. Her long-term goal is to become a licensed architect. 

“I am looking forward to gaining more experience, finding new opportunities to learn and grow, and becoming a change agent in this industry. Art will always be my foundation and I am excited to begin my architectural journey of helping marginalized communities find their voices,” she said. 

As she does so, she’ll continue doing what she loves: being a mom, creating memories with her family and friends, spending time outdoors playing flag football, and riding ATVs and her ebike. And when the weather’s not great: listening to music and working on puzzles.  

And, of course, continuing to explore bringing art and people together: it’s where she started, and it’s where she’s going.