Employee Spotlight: Jennifer Plocher Wilkins

Mackey Mitchell By: Mackey Mitchell

Each month of our 50th anniversary we’ll feature two Mackey Mitchell employees to show how they embody our four key values – curiosity, innovation, drive, and discovery.



What does discovery mean to you and your work?

Discovery makes me think of peeling back the layers of an onion. Sometimes the design problem is presented to us as a very surface-level thing, just because it can be hard to articulate even for clients that are used to the process of designing a new building. The process of discovery that we go through with our clients helps us really understand the factors behind the problem at hand. Getting to the bottom of all those “whys” helps us develop a better design that addresses the true needs.

What makes higher education projects especially interesting to you?

Higher ed projects are so interesting because they have such a potential to have real and lasting impact on the end users. In higher ed facilities, college students are learning how to tackle the most pressing problems of our modern world. Those students might be relatively unencumbered by the “real world” or might be working full-time jobs on top of their studies. How can design support the full spectrum of student needs in academic, social, and living spaces? Plus, I love being around college campuses – on top of being inspiring places, they make me feel so young and yet so old, at the same time!

How do you balance historic preservation with the changing needs of clients and their spaces?

There is such a spectrum of what is appropriate depending on the building, the context, and the need. Some buildings need to have a more holistic preservation approach because of their significance. In other cases, there is more freedom for adaptive reuse. On college campuses especially, there is such a great opportunity to preserve historic buildings for the irreplaceable character and sense of place they provide, while updating interiors for innovative methods of teaching and learning.

How does drive contribute to Mackey Mitchell’s success?

Drive is like the high gear that kicks in when you are really passionate about something.  At Mackey Mitchell, we are so fortunate to have a staff that has such a diverse array of passions – sustainability, city development, early childhood, making art, urban farming, connecting with young professionals, the list goes on and on.  This diversity of thought and expertise gives us an exceptionally well-rounded base from which to collaborate and generate ideas as we are working on projects.

Describe a favorite recent project and how your appreciation for historic structures came into play.

It’s always hard to pick a favorite!  We worked on an adaptive reuse project to change a historic elementary school into an autism center associated with a University. This old school was the epitome of “good bones”, with high ceilings and great daylight, and it was really interesting to study how these features might help (or hinder) spaces for kids with special needs. We are also currently working on a new housing study for a prestigious University, and the site is directly adjacent to a Federal-style house from 1801 (complete with brick privy!) that is operated by the University as a museum. How the new buildings will respond to this historic context is a design problem we are still studying.