#CTASpotlight | Meghan McMahon:
Landscape Architect and Adventure Mom

By: Jordan Miller
13 June 2018

It is difficult to imagine a life more full and exciting than Meghan McMahon’s merely five years ago. She was married, working for the United States government out of a bustling urban center of Japan, and traveling internationally at every opportunity. Perhaps this is what makes Meghan’s current life as a Montana resident, a landscape architect, and a mother — a very full and exciting life in its own right — so wonderful.

Valedictorian of her upstate New York high school, Meghan was initially interested in studying architecture at Cornell University. After further research and her mom’s encouragement, Meghan went into landscape architecture through one of Cornell’s land-grant colleges. The program gives considerable scholarships to students who study life sciences directly related to the betterment of the land and society, landscape architecture included. In the end, it proved to be the right choice. While she is still intrigued by the idea of traditional architectural design, she’s especially inspired by dealing directly with the living environment and having sculptural control over the very land we walk, sit, and live on.

After finishing school, Meghan put her education to good use at a landscape architecture firm in North Carolina, where she met her now-husband Ross. When Ross joined the Marines, Meghan decided to move with him, first working for the National Park Service in Virginia, and then eventually at the US Department of Defense in Okinawa, Japan, as an analyst for the Navy. The pair’s life was rife with adventure. Meghan had studied abroad in Australia during college and contracted a grave case of travel fever, so throwing herself into the completely foreign environment of Japan was an absolute thrill. Weekdays were spent eagerly exploring the nooks and crannies of the island, and weekends were full of international travel. And when that became dull, they had their son, Sam, who spent his first years of life feeding elephants and exploring gusuku.

After three years of this life abroad, though, Meghan and Ross decided to look back toward the States to rejoin the private sector and establish a more tranquil life for their new family. She was eager to return to the world of landscape design, and among her options was a fully-integrated architecture and engineering firm spread throughout the west, with an opening in Missoula. Though she’d never lived in Montana, the idea of open land and the lifestyle of the west sounded like an epic adventure of its own. Not long after, Meghan sat down for her first day at CTA.

It didn’t take long to realize that life at CTA, especially with a toddler, is hardly tranquil. Her days are hugely diverse: at any given time, she might be working on plans for a college, pitching big ideas in a charrette, or designing for a high-end tiny house. Like most designers, she’s excited about the conceptual planning of a project, where she can dream before harsh budgets and deadlines bring her back to reality. Like any good architect, though, she usually finds a way to incorporate a few of the best fantasies into the final project. She enjoys the pace and atmosphere of the firm so much that she invited her younger brother, Max, to stay with her and the family in Missoula while he began his engineering career with CTA’s refrigeration group.

After her day at CTA, the pace remains steady as she chauffeurs her now 5-year-old son from soccer to gymnastics to tee-ball. Of course, Meghan saves some of the outside time for herself: she’s breaking into the world of 5Ks — she goes her own pace and finishes when she finishes, a true to form “mommy runner” — and finds time to paint amidst the day-to-day hustle.  The family hasn’t stopped traveling, either. Recently, Meghan and her family spent a week camping in Yellowstone, and will soon be visiting family in Philadelphia and New York. When asked about her next international trip, Meghan said there aren’t any set plans yet, but Europe and South America are high on the list.

According to Meghan, her son Sam keeps her laughing, largely because he’s as stubborn as his mom. He regularly explains concepts to anyone who’s willing to listen — he recently told his parents the basics of plumbing and described how a vacuum eats up everything on the floor. Like his mom, he’s an avid sketcher and even has a fondness for design. Meghan has piles and piles of Sam’s plans for the awesome fort he plans to build one day deep in the mountains.

Ross and Sam REI Trial Build

It’s not a longshot to say that he inherited his mother’s sense of adventure and discovery, and if the mountain fort is any clue, he may just be destined to follow in her professional footsteps, too. Anyone know if CTA is hiring interns?

The #CTASpotlight series features the unique stories of team members from the many CTA offices and disciplines. Find more stories like this one here.

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