Alumni Spotlight

Building a Personal and Professional Future

Todd ’97 and Valerie ’98 Harshman chose to attend Philadelphia University for different reasons. In her eighth grade identity book, she wrote that she wanted to become an interior designer. Valerie Harshman was looking for a school that offered an accredited interior design program, was in close proximity to family, yet far enough to allow her to have some independence. Her father was an architect and she grew up playing with his drawing templates and drafting tools. The trees at PhilaU were the main selling point for Todd Harshman. He was also attracted to the few historical buildings such as the Ravenhill Chapel and Mansion. Todd Harshman grew up with an appreciation for nature. He loved dirt and grew up in a small neighborhood in front of a large emerging residential development. He and his friends were able to scavenge building materials and construct their own architecture creating buildings he would classify as experimental structures. “I had no idea at the time, but those playful adventures are most likely what ultimately led to my career path in architecture,” said Todd Harshman.

The Harshman’s met while attending an Admissions Program Orientation; she was a sophomore, he in his fourth year of the five year architecture program. During group introductions, she was intrigued by his winter job at the Whitetail Ski Resort, his upperclassman status and being an architecture major, “plus he wasn’t so bad to look at.” They became casual acquaintances over the course of that first year working together. That fall they were joking around about hay rides and fall festivities when Todd Harshman casually said they should do something together. Valerie Harshman thought he was being polite but later that evening he called and the rest is history. They dated for four years and were married in 2000. Todd Harshman jokingly tells another story saying she always brought him food and assumed she was hitting on him. “I’ve never really been able to shake her off my trail,” teased Todd Harshman.

Kathy Kissane, Senior Associate Director of Admissions has had the pleasure of supervising hundreds of students who have worked in her office, including the Harshman’s. She loves hearing the wonderful stories of successful careers and personal accomplishment of their alumni. “The best stories would have to be of the students who met while working in the office and found more than just great skills to put on their resumes, but also their partner for life,” explained Kissane.

Upon graduating, Valerie Harshman took a job at an architectural firm that focused on healthcare and Todd Harshman worked at a small firm where he found mentors in the principal partners who hired him. She became LEED and AAHID certified early in her career and specialized in acute care design. At the time, she was only the sixth designer in Pennsylvania to be AAHID certified. He is a LEED, NCARB certified architect with multi-state registrations. Both have part of local, state, regional and nationally awarded and published projects.

Not only did the Harhman’s work together while they were students at PhilaU, but also worked at the same firm (Noelker & Hull Associates) for over 10 years, always being at least a floor or two apart. Although they worked at the same firm, they focused on different projects. She helped expand the healthcare portfolio while he mainly focused on the transformation of higher education campuses. Over time, they began to collaborate and towards her tenure at the firm, it became more frequent. They found a path where their expertise collided and they started to collaborate on design from initial concept through occupancy and ribbon cutting. “Clients enjoyed our banter and pitting us against one another to end up with the best design,” said Valerie Harshman. She considers him to be the ultimate partner and strongly believes they made the team stronger.

Today, the Harshman’s are working on the biggest challenge and most rewarding part of their careers – starting their own business. Todd Harshman admitted that the first 17 years of his career were easy; it is the next 17 that will prove to be more challenging. He will need to find clients, convince them of the superior opportunity his company can offer over competitors and prove to himself that he can accomplish all these things and more. He is confident he can overcome these challenges by building a team, engaging partners, sharing common goals and striving for a better product with true teamwork and respect. The goal is to explain to their clients why they are different and how their collaborative team would be the best and brightest business partners imaginable. “What we want in our own firm is to provide the vision, the partnership, and the resource that today’s sophisticated clients demand, without excuses, without exception,” noted Todd Harshman. Valerie Harshman is excited for this next step in her career, especially since she and her husband will have the ability to do the work they want to do with clients who value their expertise. They strive to be an extension to their clients’ mission and are excited to share their announcements in the coming weeks.

When asked about current trends in architecture, Todd Harshman said they come and go, some becoming idolized while others forgotten. He is aware of the technology trend within architecture that started with CAD and now Revit, stating that the one thing that technology is unable to replace is architects. “Focusing on strengthening your skills, with acknowledgement of the trends, and never letting a trend dictate your path in the field is pertinent,” stressed Todd Harshman. “A satisfied client supersedes adherence to a trend – buildings are still designed by people, built by people, and occupied with people – serve those trends and you’ll have work for a lifetime.”

When the Harshman’s are not fully immersed in starting their business, which is rare, they are spending time with their kids. Valerie Harshman took time off to raise their children which allowed her to look at her career from a different perspective. During this time she also explored her passion for photography which began as a child and flourished while at PhilaU and through continued study. After having her children, she found a desire to capture children and families through the lens of her camera. She claimed that the theme to her life and career is capturing the light. Todd Harshman confessed that it is hard to separate work and life these days because he is always working. Since leaving corporate architecture, the balance comes easier. He is spending more time with his kids, not just on weekends.

Valerie Harshman said nothing comes easy and encourages others to not give up on their dreams. “Continue to look for the light in your life, figure out what you’re passionate about and work hard to make it happen.” Todd Harshman strongly encourages others to build their skills, extend their network and find enjoyment beyond professional accolades. He suggested that one should laugh, cry, scream and yell. “Be true to yourself, be matterful and take action based on your beliefs, without regret.”