May Combines Two Passions Into Satisfying Career

June 10, 2010


Danielle May knew that playing sports could help her in the long run. Athletics provide benefits such as fostering teamwork, building communication skills and promoting hard work. But what she did not anticipate was that her background in sports would service her in a career as an architect.

May, who went by Dani while playing softball at Kansas from 2001-04, is beginning her fourth year with the design firm Populous in Kansas City, Mo.

“I have been lucky enough to land a job that combines two of my passions- sports and architecture,” said May. “I have worked on university projects, multi-purpose facilites and convention center expansions. I love using my experience as a student-athlete in the planning and design of collegiate facilities.”

May believes her experience as an athlete helps her understand her clients’ needs and aids in her overall designs because she is familiar with sporting venues and events.

“My favorite part is working with clients,” May said. “We get to work on all these different projects but the best part is going to a meeting, sitting down with a client, understanding their needs and what they want in a facility. Then I get to design something successful and I’m able to be creative with it.”

May’s passion for architecture began in high school. A local product, she attended Lawrence High School where she took a few architecture classes and ultimately decided to make a career out of it at the University of Kansas. She also earned a spot on the Jayhawk softball team as a catcher.

Playing softball with an already demanding curriculum meant little free time for May. It also meant a slightly different career path.

“What I did was get a four-year undergraduate degree in architectural studies, which meant I didn’t have to do studio work, which is a big part of architecture,” said May. “Then I got a master’s right after my undergrad, and that is when I did all my studio work. That allowed me to become a professional.”

During her time at Kansas, May worked with the design and construction management department on campus part-time to gain some real-world experience. After seven years of school, May graduated with her master’s in architecture from KU in 2007 and immediately landed a job with Populous, formerly known as HOK Sports.

Although she earned a full-time paying job after school, May was still beginning what is known as her internship. Architects generally have two to three years of an internship after school where they are required to gather a specific number of hours of experience, document the work and turn it in. Once an architectural internship is completed, an architect has to pass seven more tests before becoming a licensed professional. The tests must be completed within five years of taking the first one. The tests cover a wide range of topics from concept design to structures to site planning.

May completed her internship during her first couple of years at Populous and has already passed two of the required tests.

There are several different specialty groups within Populous: NFL, MLB, Arena sports, minor league baseball, convention centers and collegiate to name a few. When May arrived at Populous three years ago, she was fortunate enough to be placed in the collegiate division of the company and has since been a part of dozens of projects at colleges and universities all over the country.

“The first project I got to work on was the football stadium at Rutgers,” remembers May. “We did a renovation and expansion to their stadium. We designed a new club and a whole new end zone where they have new concessions and restrooms.”

“I have also done a master plan, which I really enjoyed, for the University of Delaware. It was an athletic and recreation master plan. I had to go and talk to different user groups like coaches, strength coaches, and student-athletes to understand their plans for the future and what they wanted. It was interesting project in that I got to talk to different user groups to hear their needs and provide them with a solution.”

Some of May’s other projects have included a football stadium renovation at the University of Washington and a multi-purpose facility in the city of Birmingham, Ala.

Currently, May is working on an expansion for a convention center in Chicago.

“We specialize in bringing people and communities together,” said May. “That’s what we’re trying to accomplish in Chicago.”

May works with a team ranging anywhere from three to 10 people during projects. The team can consist of Principle in Charge (PIC), Project Manager (PM), Project Architect (PA), Project Designer (PD) and Design/Architect Technicians (Techs). May’s current role in Chicago is Senior Architect Tech, which means she works directly with the PA and PD to develop and document the design.

While working on design projects, many skills come into play but one of the most beneficial talents is being able to think outside the box to solve problems.

“Being an architect you have to be able to take a problem and solve it in a creative way to give client what they need,” explained May. “Being aware of surroundings, knowing how people function and what they need in order to be successful, that all helps me do my job.”

Even though May works for a different kind of team now, the skills she acquired through Jayhawk softball have ultimately helped secure her a bright future in the world of architecture.