Emily Ostertag, 2017 Early Career Alumni Award Winner

Emily Ostertag
In 2012, interior design grad and student athlete Emily Ostertag (’06 BS, ’08 MS) landed her dream job at a world-class architecture and interior design firm in Kansas City. That same firm was recently granted the $84 million project to rebuild UW-Madison’s SERF recreation center and swimming pool. While some may see Ostertag’s connection back to Madison as sweet serendipity, the truth is that the project is the result of years of hard work, dedication, passion, and leadership—the same qualities that have earned her SoHE’s 2017 Early Alumni Award.

Adapted from the nomination by SoHE Professor Wei Dong.

While Emily Ostertag was an Interior Architecture undergraduate at UW-Madison,
she was also a scholarship athlete on UW swim team. Despite five hours of training daily, her department professors report that she never once missed a class. Not only did her work go above and beyond expectations, but quite often her projects became examples for the class. While accumulating honor roll and high honor roll GPAs along with design awards, she was simultaneously achieving swimming honors including NCAA All-American, Big Ten Academic All-Conference, Academic All-American, Big Ten Swimmer of the Week, and UW Sportsmanship Award winner. When Ostertag decided to pursue a master of science in design, SoHE’s Design Studies department awarded her with a rare full scholarship into the graduate program. During her graduate studies, she cultivated her consciousness for design, social justice, and sustainability by focusing on creating optimal environments for spectators and athletes in natatorium design.

With extraordinary accomplishments in both her undergraduate and graduate studies, Ostertag began her interior design career eventually working for the international design firm HOK in Kansas City. With a specialization in sports architecture, HOK was a great fit for Ostertag. Within four years she was promoted to associate and serves as the lead interior designer for the collegiate recreation + wellness studio on nationwide projects totaling over 1.2 million square feet and $310 million in project costs. She also continues to receive national awards for projects within a highly competitive field.

“It takes a lot of hard work to achieve the level of success and respect from peers that Emily has earned in a relatively short time as a professional,” explains HOK Vice President Douglas A. Barraza. “While she understands the personal commitment it takes to be successful in a very competitive design profession like architecture, Emily always works hard to maintain a high level of integrity through everything that she does including her mentorship of other young designers.”

SERF’s Up at UW

When Ostertag learned that UW-Madison was planning to rebuild the SERF, the recreation center and swimming pool she trained at during her college years, she was extremely motivated be a part of this special project. She was on the interview team for HOK and her portion of the interview captured her dedication to UW-Madison as well as her passion and personal perspective as both a designer and former student athlete. The university and state committee awarded the multi-million dollar project to HOK and Ostertag is now the lead interior designer on the project. The SERF project is not the only reason Ostertag finds herself back in Madison. Last year, she was one of the designers who helped the Design 501 Portfolio Preparations class develop their portfolios, coaching SoHE students from a professional standpoint and providing suggestions and comments on resumes, portfolios, and future professional advice. Last year, Emily was featured in the SoHE alumni newsletter, giving great feedback to design alumni and students as she reflected on how her education has influenced her success in the design world.


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