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Welcome to Melissa Neher –
Our New Executive Director!

Melissa K. Neher comes to AIA Seattle + Seattle Design Festival most recently from her role as Executive Director of Architects Without Borders Seattle, an organization formed by a dedicated group of volunteers who came together under the umbrella of AIA to provide access to design to underserved communities.

Melissa is from upstate NY, and from a small town start has lived all over the world, including London, Japan, Chicago, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Sydney. Melissa and her family made Seattle home in 2009, embracing the natural beauty, outdoor lifestyle and community values of a thriving region.

Melissa has decades of experience in nonprofit leadership as a problem solver. She began her career as a social worker for adults with physical disabilities, realizing early on that systemic inequity was the underlying cause of most of the challenges her clients faced. Melissa sought systemic solutions through advocacy by attending law school. As a social justice lawyer, Melissa advocated for underserved and marginalized communities, including asylum seekers and migrant workers.

Melissa witnessed firsthand the transformative power of the built environment when a legal clinic she co-founded received a donation of space for their work with asylum seekers. More than just a safe place for vulnerable people, the space became a place to make connections and build community. Before her time at Architects Without Borders Seattle, Melissa secured support for Refugee Women’s Alliance’s (ReWA’s) expanded flagship facility in Rainier Valley for immigrant and refugee populations at a time when such communities were disproportionately impacted by regressive federal policies.

Melissa enjoys working side by side with architects as problem solvers and community builders, and is dedicated to and excited to lead the combined vision of AIA Seattle and Seattle Design Festival’s culture of design that fosters equitable, resilient, thriving communities. She views climate change as an urgent social justice issue, and AIA Seattle as a leader for advocacy and responsible action in the sphere of the built environment.

Please join us in welcoming Melissa to the organization! We are excited to be working alongside Melissa, as we navigate a “new normal” in our region and profession. She will have a running start implementing our new five year strategic plan, supporting the board of directors and managing a dedicated and resilient staff. Together we will continue to bring members the programs, resources, and connections they need to thrive, and continue our collective work on our strategic imperatives: Climate, Housing, and Justice, Equity, Diversity & Inclusion.


Marisa Zylkowski
Past-President, Seattle Design Festival ’20-21


Myer Harrell AIA
AIA President ’21-22
Weber Thompson

Brendan Connolly AIA
AIA Past-President ’20-21

Melissa K. Neher’s pronouns are she/her. She begins her time with AIA Seattle + Seattle Design Festival today, September 13. She received her BA in Public Relations with a minor in Art History from James Madison University, and her Juris Doctorate from University of San Diego School of Law where she was a lead articles editor for San Diego Law Review and received the Outstanding Public Interest Advocate award. Melissa can be contacted via email here.