A selfie of Cathy in the lobby of her office.

Cathy Otis, AIA, NCARB

Cathy Otis, AIA, NCARB


Cathy Otis, AIA, NCARB


“Knowing your ‘why’ helps you push to be the best version of yourself and keeps you motivated. Dream big!”

A self-described firecracker with a family connection to the building industry, architect Cathy Otis, AIA, is a collaborative leader and a creative solution seeker for federal program clients. Her passion for architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industry-government engagement shines as a dedicated Society of American Military Engineers (SAME) volunteer, and she’s always looking forward to the next family vacation or road trip.

We asked Cathy a few questions to get to know her better.

When did you know you wanted to work in the AEC industry?

My grandfather owned a small construction company, and I grew up visiting his clients’ job sites. While I often spent those early years running on the dirt piles with my brother, I spent time looking at the business’s work on everything from community facilities to residential homes and extravagant lake houses. After my grandfather retired and passed the company on to my uncles, we would drive him around to all the active sites to monitor the progress and quality of craftsmanship every Sunday after church.

Why did you become an architect?

During those Sunday drives, I imagined I was the architect of those homes and facilities and eventually left southwest Virginia to chase that dream. Thanks to my family, I’ve always felt comfortable on construction sites and immensely enjoyed seeing designs come alive. I wanted to influence the world by implementing new ideas and doing as much good as possible for people and communities.

This profession constantly evolves and transforms the environments where we live, work, and play, from infrastructure projects to services for government agencies and within the private sectors.

What brought you to Gannett Fleming, and what about the firm makes you want to stay?

I chose Gannett Fleming because of the possibilities. Gannett Fleming has remained a top AEC firm for more than a century, and our architects are creative solutions seekers. Excellence doesn’t happen by chance; it’s only achieved through hard work and dedication to our clients and industry.

Our team is continually striving to create a better future. That’s a legacy worth helping to continue.

How have mentors shaped your professional journey?

I would not be where I am without the help of mentors. They have cheered for me and encouraged me to take risks where I would have held back without their encouragement. Sometimes, they were just there to listen to me think out loud, and other times, they provided me with a different perspective.

Thanks to my mentors, I’ve been included in projects, discussions, and important events that I would not have had access to. Mentors have also helped me to become the architect, mom, and wife I am today through much refining and growth.

You’re heavily involved in SAME. Tell us about your role in SAME.

As the SAME Architectural Practice Community of Interest (APCOI) chair, my areas of focus are industry-government engagement, mentorship, SAME’s design awards program, and growing recognition of APCOI. The mission of APCOI is to unite architects worldwide who work within the federal market and provide a supportive and knowledge-rich community.

Our work is unique and specialized—there is no other organization for architects specifically working with federal, mission-driven clients focused on national security. Within SAME, there is so much value in networking and mentoring, understanding other’s experiences, and collaborating to enrich our professional careers.

We join forces to help provide impact for our industry, our clients, and the next generation and to leave behind a continuous commitment to serve the organization. I get so much satisfaction from working with my peers and federal agency decision-makers at great SAME events, such as the annual small business conference (SBC).

Recently, I was elected second vice president for the SAME Northern Virginia Post. I’m looking forward to supporting the post in this expanded role!

What types of projects do you find most rewarding?

Working in the federal buildings market, projects involving heavy collaboration and teamwork stand out to me because of the experience and relationships gained throughout the project lifecycle. My federal government projects have been unique, first-of-their-kind work with international impacts, making collaboration and teamwork critical for success.

Challenges are inevitable due to the nature of our work, but I remain determined to overcome obstacles as they present themselves, creating a positive path forward through teamwork. This means meetings with many stakeholders, including clients, third-party inspectors, and manufacturers, to brainstorm solutions, examine lessons learned from similar cases, and consider the risks. The overall experiences are rewarding because stakeholders become true partners and we can identify strong solutions together.

What’s the best advice you ever received?

Know your “why.” Your “why” is a declaration of purpose that defines why you live the life and do the work you do. It is your mission statement. It is your conviction. It is your life’s calling.

Knowing your “why” helps you push to be the best version of yourself and keeps you motivated. Dream big!

What’s something you wish you said “yes” to?

I have said yes to all the things I should have said yes to. I probably should have said no to some of those yeses, but that’s another article.

Let’s talk family!

I have been married to my husband, Nathanel, for 13 years, and we have two boys who keep us quite busy! We also have a sweet Bernadoodle named Candy.

What’s your favorite way to unwind after a busy day?

After a busy day, I like to do an at-home workout in our basement gym. It rejuvenates me mentally and gives me enough energy to finish the day with my family responsibilities and to be more present with them.

What are you looking forward to?

Weekly, I look forward to date night. Whether it’s a date night with my husband or fun with the whole family, it motivates me to work hard during the week to enjoy that time. I also look forward to a family road trip or a weekend trip somewhere to get away and to mentally refresh and reset several times a year. Our next big family trip is a cruise to the Bahamas.

Professionally, I am really looking forward to the upcoming SAME SBC!


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