Class of 2024: Mother and Daughter Match Wits and Creativity at UNCG

Posted on May 02, 2024

Two women in caps and gowns walk down the sidewalk in front of Moran Commons towards the camera.

In Asha Kutty’s fourth-year Interior Architecture (IARc) class, a group of fifteen students have been working on their final projects before graduation. The assignment is to design the birthing center for a women’s hospital set to occupy a historic medical facility in Wilson, North Carolina. 

Most of the class had never been to a birthing center when they attended the first site visit, but for two in the class, a birthing center in Grand Rapids, Michigan was where they first met. And so began the story of how a mother and daughter found themselves graduating together in the Class of 2024 at UNC Greensboro. 

Life Interrupted 

In 1995, Dena and Mark Blossey were a young married couple living in Wake Forest, North Carolina. Mark was getting his start as an engineer and Dena had just begun to take classes in hopes of becoming an architect, a dream she’d had since she was a little girl. 

“When I was young, my dad took drafting classes so he could design our family home,” Dena remembers. “Plans were always laying around the house. I helped him a lot with house and car repair projects, so I was comfortable with tools and interested in how things were made.” 

Just as Dena was settling into her first college courses, she became pregnant just as the Blossey’s application to adopt a baby was accepted. Life was about to take a turn for the young family and Dena put her education on hold. They welcomed two boys into the family and then a baby girl, Rylee, arrived in 1999 when they were living in Michigan. 

“I promised myself that once everyone was out of the house, I would go back to school,” she says. “My love of architecture was the one thing I always held on to. We moved a lot when the kids were small and renovated several houses. We were always reworking our homes to fit our needs. The kids helped. Rylee seemed to have the same creative sense that I had from a young age. It was in our blood.” 

Artistic Pursuits 

Dena encouraged the creativity she saw in her daughter, whether it was with decorating or music, but it was most evident in her love of dance. Rylee began dance classes when she was 2 years old, and by the time she was in high school, she was spending her summers dancing with Boston Ballet. When most of her friends were applying for college, she was at a ballet company in Huntsville, Alabama pursuing her dream of being a professional dancer.  

In 2017, Rylee experienced an injury that changed her trajectory. “My body was quickly breaking down at a young age,” she says. “I was forced to quit the thing that I thought I was going to do forever.”  

Since Rylee had never attended a traditional high school, applying to colleges was overwhelming. “I had never taken college prep courses or a standardized test. I needed time to catch up and consider new goals for myself,” she says. Leaning into her creative instincts, she began an online design program and planned to transfer her credits after two years. 

New Beginnings 

By the time Rylee’s dancing career ended, her mother’s career plans were just beginning. “My boys went into the military, Rylee had moved away to dance, and my husband and I had just moved to Hickory, North Carolina,” Dena recalls. “There had been this huge transition in the family, and I realized it was my time to start over.” 

She heard about the interior architecture program at UNCG and knew it was the perfect program to explore her interests in interior design and finally study architecture. Beginning the program during the COVID-19 pandemic with classmates almost twenty years younger was a challenge. Adjusting to technology was frustrating and there were many days when she wondered if the work was worth the years she would have as an architect before retiring.  

“Then I turned my whole reasoning around,” Dena says. “I told myself ‘You know what? I’ll get 20 years of a career I’ve always wanted to do!’ And once I stepped into the Gatewood Studio Arts Center, I knew I was where I was supposed to be.” 

Dena and Rylee loved comparing notes from their design classes. They often talked about career goals and Rylee’s initial interest in design soon drifted towards architecture like her mother. They began talking about opening an architecture firm together after college and when it came time to transfer to an architecture program, Rylee applied to UNCG and was accepted. 

Two women pose affectionately in an art studio.
Dena and Rylee Blossey in Gatewood Studio Arts Center.

Gilmore Girls in Greensboro 

By the fall of 2022, both Blosseys were living in Raleigh and commuting to Greensboro for classes. Dena rented an apartment across the street from the Gatewood Studio Arts Building, where all her classes were. She would stay in Greensboro four days out of the week and go back home for weekends with her husband.  

“When Rylee came last year, she just moved in with me,” Dena says.  

“We were the Gilmore Girls of Greensboro,” Rylee says affectionately. They shared all their classes and were already working on projects together, which gave a glimpse of how they would work as partners in an architecture firm one day.  

“I have more of a free spirit mentality and she’s much more technical and logical so we’re a great combination,” Rylee says. “I encourage her to be more daring with her ideas and she reigns me in when my ideas get too big.” 

Lucinda Havenhand, IARc professor and department head, served as the Blosseys’ advisor. “I love Dena and Rylee’s story,” she says. “In so many ways it exemplifies the best parts of the interior architecture program at UNCG – its diversity, rigor, community, and openness to students from all walks of life and backgrounds. I am thrilled that these two hard-working, intelligent women found their way to us and that we could help them become everything they aspire to be.” 

Right Time, Right Place 

Two women dressed in caps and gowns hug in front of the Alumni House

Both mother and daughter appreciate the unique advantages of UNCG’s IARc major. 

“We are so fortunate to have found this dual program which mixes interior design and architecture, making us more well-rounded.” Dena explains. “There’s an excitement at Gatewood that is hard to describe. The professors have such a range of experience, and their critiques prepare us for a tough business.” 

Rylee echoes Dena’s praise for the program. “The community in the program has been so important to me. In one-on-one meetings, professors always focus on our individual goals, and our own creativity and interests. We can be our own people and find our way as designers.” 

Although Dena and Rylee Blossey never expected to cross a commencement stage together, they are grateful for the challenges that brought them to UNCG.  

“I think my training for ballet prepared me for this field,” Rylee says. “Ballet and architecture are both structured and technical and all about lines, but there’s so much room for creativity.” 

For Dena, her work and life experience give her the confidence to boldly step into this second act and she appreciates the opportunity to share a career with her daughter. “In the moment you don’t always feel like it, but everything always works out like it’s supposed to.” 

Story by Becky Deakins, University Communications.
Photos and Videography by Sean Norona, Grant Gilliard and David Rowe, University Communications.

*Photos noted with an asterisk were submitted by Dena Blossey.


Graduates and their families are encouraged to share their accomplishments on social media by tagging the University accounts and using the hashtags #UNCGGrad and #UNCGWay. Visit UNCG’s digital swag page for graduation-themed graphics, filters, and templates.

Mention @UNCG in celebratory posts on Instagram and X and @uncgreensboro on TikTok.  

Three masters graduates pose for a selfie in cap and gown.


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