“Mind Behind the Design” featuring Deborah Smith

It’s time to discover another great mind behind the design and today we are excited to feature team architect, Deborah Smith. Deborah is no stranger to setting BIG goals for herself and is a tremendous support to others in her role as an architect and as a servant leader in the community.

Originally raised on a sheep farm in Rockingham County, she naturally gravitated towards hobbies involving drawing, combing through house plans, watching HGTV, and solving puzzles. She has a remarkable green thumb from helping in the garden during her childhood and originally thought this would lend well to a career in landscape architecture. It wasn’t until she visited Virginia Tech and wandered through the hallways of the architectural school that her dream of pursuing architecture was realized. Seeing the architecture studios through its pyramid skylights and feeling the creativity exuding from the desks covered in drawings and 3D models set her on a path that would become her very successful career. Looking back at this inspirational visit, she didn’t know at the time just how much work would be involved to achieve her goals, but this memory stands out as a big influence in her journey.

After a rigorous 5 years of studying at the Virginia Tech School of Architecture and Design, Deborah graduated and joined the Gaines Group in 2012. She dove into working at the firm headfirst and was the single employee working with Charles in the Harrisonburg office for the first few years. After one year of working at the firm, Deborah knew this was the path for her and set the goal to eventually tackle the architecture licensing examination process to become a registered architect. Because she likes an added challenge and she was curious about the innerworkings of running a small business, Deborah started an MBA program at Eastern Mennonite University while working full time at the firm. Years of hard work paid off when she received her MBA in 2016 and passed her final architectural licensing exam in 2018 to finally be able to call herself Deborah Smith, Registered Architect.

Deborah’s years of experience and education provide a great depth and level of detail to each project she works on. There are parts of each project she enjoys, but she especially appreciates working on adaptive reuse projects in which older buildings are brought back to life for new purposes. These types of projects require a lot of problem-solving during the design and construction process to either make an existing building fit the new use or to expand an existing building to serve a growing organization. Addition and renovation projects are also some of her most memorable projects, especially if it is a historical building! Our office building (the Depot), Eastern Mennonite Elementary School, Deering Hall, and the Blue Ridge Area Foodbank are just a few of her favorite projects to date.

Outside of her life as an architect, Deborah has a dedication to serving the greater community. While studying at Virginia Tech, she served on the Virginia Tech Rescue Squad which is the oldest collegiate student-run, student-led, all-volunteer rescue agency in the country. Currently, she continues to make a big impact in the community by serving as the president of Harrisonburg Women’s Service League; which is committed to supporting women and children in the community through volunteering time and fundraising for local nonprofits. She also recently graduated from the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Chamber of Commerce Leadership Program in which she worked with colleagues to open a pop-up shop providing business and interview clothing to anyone in need, free of charge.

When Deborah isn’t working hard in the studio or volunteering in the community, she loves spending her time reading, gardening, painting, drawing, traveling, and attending the many wonderful community events that happen throughout the year (Red Wing Music Festival being a favorite!) She has a special love for animals and welcomes many rescue animals into her home through fostering and adoption.

Whether it’s setting big goals, serving the community, harnessing her creativity, or having a soft spot for animals in need, Deborah is a team player who makes an impact wherever she lands.

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