Ian Ellis

Ian Ellis didn’t go to college to get the traditional “college experience” that includes going out and partying- he went to work hard, immerse himself in his studies and absorb as much as possible from the people around him. He has received many awards for his work including: Best of ATX 2018 (Alive + Well), Texas Society of Architects 2017 Studio Award and AIA Brooklyn + Queens 2017 Design Award of Excellence and Best in the Bronx.

This is his story: 

I’ve been told it’s uncommon, but I knew what I realistically wanted to do very early on – my dream was to make places and things and solve problems through creativity, so architecture was a passion before I was even a teenager.

I was born and raised in the city of Sao Paulo in Brazil, which is densely filled with high rises, gardens, courtyards, beautiful architecture and thriving with activity – that environment, no doubt, influenced my love for design, cities, buildings and people. There were also some earlier conversations with a designer/builder, friend of the family, that in retrospect was highly influential on my life in terms of design, engineering, experiential quality and building.

Lakeshore Dock by Ian Ellis, member of MF Architecture design team

I attended a specific high school that had an incredible architecture and design program for all four years taught by an influential and wonderful person, Marge Dunlap. This step was critical in knowing if design and architecture was truly a passion I wanted to pursue forever.

After high school, I tested that theory and took a break from architecture and put my time and energy into concept art and 3D environments, with a goal to work in the film industry instead. Two years later, I found myself contemplating architecture again and set my goal to move to Austin, TX and attend the University of Texas at Austin’s School of Architecture.

I knew I was all-in when I started, and I wasn’t going to university to party, have a great time, and actively look to make friends – I saw it as an opportunity I’ll only have once, so I immersed myself in the work, and the work was rewarding and motivating in itself.

Look+See Vision Care by Ian Ellis, member of MF Architecture design team 

Architecture is a competitive industry, and that competition is made clear the first day of university schooling, if not sooner. The hardest obstacle, in my personal experience, was being resilient. Architecture school is extremely demanding, challenging, rigorous and at times requires an obsessive and sacrificial approach to the work in order to make the most of it.

This is a topic that is wildly debated lately due to the mental, physical, emotion, temporal and financial demands related to architecture school. Such a difficult program is refreshing at times, though, the workload doesn’t care how you’re feeling, the classes aren’t concerned about your background, your homework isn’t going to console you over a loss, and so on – school can be the best thing happening in your life and an outlet for creativity and safety from obstacles beyond your control.

In addition to this, architecture is an intuitive and creative art just as much as it is about technical precision and specificity – as a result, a lot of pressure is put on having ‘talent.’

I had classmates who were certainly more talented than myself and others, and this produced stress as an obstacle to overcome. It become apparent quickly that no matter how talented a person was, another student willing to out-work them could do so. Talent only goes so far, and not all obstacles can be overcome simply with talent. That realization, the notion of rigorous work being supplemental to or greater than talent, was powerful.

Alive + Well by Ian Ellis, member of MF Architecture design team

Whenever I had doubts, I always reminded myself that I don’t have all the answers, but I know how to create a process to develop and consider the answers, and so continuing on with work was fine. It helps to have a great team to work with, a team with differing perspectives and skills so that together anything can be accomplished or resolved.

While we don’t have 100 percent control over the things that happen to us, we do have 100 percent control over how we choose to react to those things. It doesn’t matter how hard an obstacle is if the only acceptable outcome is resolution and success – you’ll succeed simply because you must.

While I was a sophomore in university, I had the opportunity to work on-site with a commercial building contractor on the Pearl Brewery and Riverwalk adaptive reuse project in San Antonio, specifically for the Italian restaurant Il Sogno, designed by renowned architects Lake Flato. Construction experience is key, and reinforced my beliefs in what kind of architecture I wanted to study and practice. Learning construction methods, detailing, and problem solving on-site was a great experience that improved my understanding of design in terms of making things that are buildable, tactile, pragmatic and still delightful.

Throughout school, I made an active effort to spend time with other types of thinkers. I met incredible people who have become endlessly important to me, and through their music, films, production, poetry, art, comedy, hard work, entrepreneurship, dancing, photography, graphic design, writing and other natural abilities, I have learned so much about the world that directly impacts architecture.

Academically, there were some individuals that undoubtedly changed my life simply by existing and sharing their understanding of design and world with me (namely Mark Blizard, Craig Blount, Matt Fajkus, John Blood, Hope Hasbrouck, Nelly Fuentes, Frances Peterson, David Heymann, Larry Speck and Marge Dunlap). Finally, the ever-evolving team at MF architecture impacts me in this way every single day.

Photo of Ian Ellis
Juice Society by Ian Ellis, member of MF Architecture design team

My first professional experience after graduating was with the firm I’m still a part of, MF Architecture (Matt Fajkus Architecture). Matt was a professor of mine at UT and we got along immediately. Our design sensibilities shared similar fundamentals and we worked well together. When he began building his own firm with some other UTSOA graduates, I began working with them while in my last year of school. I joined in full capacity right after finishing school and it’s been a great and varied experience from the very start. I was particularly intrigued by the opportunities related to a small office or start-up mentality. One of the best ways to describe it comes from another MF Architecture architect, who claimed “it’s a place with enough rope to roam and pull you out of trouble so long as you don’t hang yourself with it.”

Developing an office, a culture, a team, a business, and still making design and seeing projects through from vision to reality was an invaluable experience, and one a well-established or international firm would never consider giving to a recent graduate. The firm has improved and increased in every way since those early years, and the high risk / high reward context of the experience has been positive.

If anything, school and professional work was a savior for me in many respects due to wild and negative life experiences that were beyond my control. I’ve also known without a doubt that I adore design and architecture, and it gives me so much that I can’t get from other parts of life.

Westlake Dermatology (Cedar Park) by Ian Ellis, member of MF Architecture design team 

Success to me means being responsible, by having a duty to choose to be better, do better, and improve the quality of life for people beyond yourself. By doing so, you’ll live a free life, one of self-awareness and the power to choose. Being simultaneously content with your life while intentionally making improvements, by working on something you love with people you care about for good reasons, by sleeping well at night knowing you’ve done the right thing, by not succumbing to compromise or mediocrity and by doing whatever you want your way.




Don’t settle for less than what you want to be doing, don’t slow down, and don’t lose sight of what’s important to you. Let the dreams of others supplement yours, and build your dreams concurrently. Surround yourself with the best people you can, and remove negativity or toxic relationships or habits that will inhibit your productivity, clarity, or energy. Take the initiative to make yourself, don’t wait to find yourself. Disregard those that don’t believe in you, and listen intently to those who do. Most importantly, make sure your dream makes you happy.

Deianna Hamilton

Deienna Hamilton, of Acworth Georgia, is currently a marketing and communications coordinator at Atlanta Ronald McDonald House Charities as well as a wedding planner (on the side, of course). Hamilton grew up thinking she was going to follow in her mother’s footsteps and join her in the marketing world, which she did with her mother’s help, guidance and support along the way.

This is her story:

Honestly growing up, I wanted to be a fashion designer. I actually have the notebook of these terrible designs that I try to draw and sketch and I really thought I was going to be a fashion designer, which actually transitioned into me not wanting to design, but wanting to open my own clothing store for difficult body types. I didn’t like that there were a lot of clothing lines that just fit one type of body.

So I knew I loved fashion, but I also knew I was not the best at designing, so I thought about opening a business That’s actually when I decided to major in business marketing, because I spoke with my mom and dad and they also thought that the best thing would be to learn about the ins and out of business while also promoting it.

After my first year and a half, I was like, yeah, this is not for me. I knew I needed to figure something else out, because my parents were very big into telling me “whatever you do, you don’t want it to feel like a job, so you won’t dread getting up in the morning.” So that was what I originally wanted to do, but it’s not what I ended up doing.

After I decided business marketing wasn’t for me, I realized there were certain aspects of marketing that I really enjoyed and that’s when I transitioned into being a mass communication major.

My mom was in marketing all of her life and I want to work with her so much. So marketing was, kind of, the only thing I really knew. I saw aspects of her job that I really enjoyed, which were more on the human interaction and branding side. That’s when she told me more about the marketing field.

After I met with my first ever mass communication professor, he was also my broadcast journalism teacher, he told me that I have a gift for displaying messages effectively. He was probably the first person that made me realize my love for the art of communication. His name is Dr. Schiffman. He probably doesn’t even know, but he’s the reason I’m in the field I’m in now.

So I thought after I didn’t want to open my own fashion business, I wanted to become the next Oprah. In all my classes, that’s what I said. In my mind I was like, watch out like I’m going to have my own network and everything.

I actually pursued that path very strongly and I decided to be the anchor for our news station and I wanted to produce it, so I could have a super-heavy resume to submit to all the new stations around. I just had this easy formula and I thought it was going to work out, but once I was actually in it, I found out that it was not what I wanted to do at all.

I was even speaking to people at CNN or Channel 2 Action News, which is a very big station in Atlanta and I still didn’t have that passion and I felt like there was a roadblock.

I didn’t know what it was but I knew something was missing. My mom told me “why don’t you just take a break and do some self-reflection on what you think it is you’re good at and what part of the communication field you really can see yourself.”

And once I focused more on PR [public relations], social media and basically everything except for being in front of the camera, that’s when I was like, okay, I think I can really do this.

I looked online and saw an internship at the Ronald McDonald House in Atlanta, and I had so many personal things going on at that time. It was like family stuff, like relationships ending, all of that kind of, you know, that stuff.

I was very discouraged because of personal things plus thinking my education was not going to work out for me, but as soon as I walked through those doors at the Ronald McDonald House, everything that I was like super worried about literally evaporated.

It was just so big for me and so important. It showed me that my problems don’t matter. It’s funny that God just showed me the Ronald McDonald House at the right time. Ever since I walked through those doors, I knew I wanted to work there. I thought from the beginning, I don’t know how I’m going to make it happen, but I’m going to get this internship and I’m going to work here. So it was a long road, but I got there.

ARMHCJust knowing that you have a job that’s impacting families in serious need, you can’t even really be in a bad mood. It shows you that your problems really aren’t problems. You’re not battling for your life at the moment. You’re just upset because you got broke up with. You know, it puts your problems in a different light. So as soon as I was able to see that firsthand, I just knew and it clicked like nothing else before.

Basically, during those hard times, my mom became my therapist. I always tell people I’m like a mini version of my mom, but she’s way better than I am. My mom’s my best friend. I always tell people the best thing you can do is take care of you. So a lot of that means having alone time, reading, working out, finding a new hobby. Whatever self-care it is, it’s going to help get you through those hard times.

So my thing was volunteering. Helping other people helps me internally. Volunteering was a self-care thing that I did, and I think that also showed me my passion for volunteerism and nonprofits, which trickled into a career for me. So it’s funny how when you take care of yourself, all these answers come up.

For me, success is having peace within everything you do and going towards something that has a bigger meaning each day. I think I’ve reached that. I’m at the point now where I’m just trying to have fun while living my life. I actually ended up taking on a second job being a wedding coordinator. I love weddings and I always wanted to know the ins and outs.

I feel like I’m at that point in my life where I’m not trying to obtain this huge goal of trying impress other people, I’m just trying to live my life for me and these things, like becoming a wedding coordinator, just end up coming to me. But like I said, I’m doing what I love.


Enjoy the ride and you don’t have to have it all figured out. I think so many people think as soon as they graduate college, they have to have this super good job at a Fortune 500 company making six figures living in this amazing apartment with a Range Rover, and that’s just so not true.

Enjoy the process, soak up everything you learn and while you’re doing that- learn more about yourself, so you can get to that high place that you want and it’ll just happen naturally.

Want to learn more about Atlanta Ronald McDonald House Charities, current internship opportunities or have any questions about trying to figure out if marketing (or your current major) is right for you? Let us know your thoughts, and we can shoot over some information!