The first time doing anything NEW can be exciting, heart-pounding, a bit nerve-wracking, maybe even downright stressful. And at the end of this new experience, you could either feel like doing it right over again (sign me up!) or running away quickly never to look back. I’m happy to share that as a first-time attendee at EDSymposium18 in Salt Lake City, I am no longer a newbie and am already looking forward to next year’s conference to get more SDA!
The Seattle Chapter, my home base, was fortunate to be well represented at EDS18 and it was reassuring to see those familiar faces throughout the conference. I was also very happy to finally be putting faces and personalities to the names I have read from National emails as well as getting to know other members from across North America. Socializing opportunities were abundant throughout the conference from the welcome reception to the dine around town options, as well as just bumping into other members who were hanging out around the hotel (Lobby? Bar? Perhaps!)
When it was time to focus and learn, there were a wide range of sessions offered, some with a broad appeal such as “Delivering the Best Speech of Your Life”, to more specific topics from “Design Team Dollars” to “Navigating Mergers” to “Construction Mega-Trends”. There was something for everyone to be able to relate to and could bring back to their respective firms to share.
I personally was very interested in the “Guiding the Merger of the Mentor and the Millennial” topic and would like to expand on it for this article. The idea of mentorship is one that I have always been fortunate to be involved in. I have the perspective of being on the flip side of the coin from most SDA members – my education is in architecture and I was a designer and project manager for several years before joining the administration side of the field. Jennifer Young, the presenter, explained how the mentorship program was beneficial to the design professionals at her firm, which I could relate and attest to. In addition to the benefits towards the design professionals, however, I also believe that a mentorship program could benefit administrative professionals, which is why I feel the topic is relevant to each and every one of us in the SDA.
Jennifer explained the evolution of how the mentorship program began and evolved at her firm, PhiloWilke Partnership, with the AIA Handbook of Professional Practice being a starting point. As a senior undergraduate architecture student, I asked for and received a mentor through the AIAS organization. My mentor was an architect who was an open book whenever we would meet. Any question I had was a fair one and he would be the first person to explain how things really worked in the real world, outside of academia. The first firm I was hired at out of college had just created a formal mentorship program, but with very loose guidelines. As Jennifer pointed out, open communication and overall flexibility are keys to making the program work and I fully agree. My mentor became not only my guide to the profession but also specifically to how our firm operated. With this knowledge growth, I could see how the mentorship program could produce the four benefits Jennifer explained are a result from mentorship programs: staff development, productivity, retention, and promotion.
When starting graduate school, I still believed in the power of mentorship and become a Teacher’s Assistant for a course that specifically paired students with practicing architects for the semester. I became as Jennifer termed, the “herder of chickens” – making sure that students were being paired at places and with people that would be the best fit and constantly checking in on everyone throughout the semester. The importance of having one person championing the program as well as doing the leg work to make things happen was never clearer to me than at this time!
After working as a project manager at an architecture firm following graduate school, I finally “saw the light” and decided that the administration side of the design field was more my calling. I was fortunate to end up at a firm that had a formal mentorship program in place that also included the administrative staff. Through meetings with my mentor, I was able to further define how I was to move forward with my administrative career development and have made much progress down this path thus far.
There were a couple of points that Jennifer brought up that I felt were very insightful based on what she learned from the evolution of her firm’s mentorship program – the “PhiloWilke Way”. First, moving from a one-on-one mentoring model to a small group or “tribe” model resulted in broader shared perspectives and experiences that allowed for greater learning and success. Second, Jennifer touched on the fact that as people grow and become more experienced, they can evolve from being a “mentee” to a “mentween” to eventually becoming a “mentor”. She emphasized that everyone not only has things they can learn, but also things they can share and teach, no matter the age or experience level.
Finally, Jennifer listed five tips for developing a mentorship program that would be beneficial to recap here: (1) Have a cheerleader – someone to lead with passion and motivation to inspire everyone; (2) Define your own mission, vision, and values for common goals and group purpose; (3) Promote the entire team to be leaders with no age or merit limit on who are leaders; (4) Don’t be afraid to evolve and grow; and (5) Realize you will be herding chickens – and don’t forget to look for those golden eggs.
No matter what your responsibilities at your firm, we all have goals, aspirations, and dreams. With a mentor, that person could be a simple sounding board for ideas, they could challenge your status quo to take you to the next level, or they could be the confidante that gives you the courage to do something NEW (see first paragraph of this article). Jennifer summed it up by saying “mentoring is a journey of collective discovery”. Hopefully we all will be able to experience this wonderful journey at our own firms and in our own lives.
This session with Jennifer was one highlight of my whole EDS18 experience. Next year I am looking forward to attending EDS19 in my home state of Washington in the city of Spokane, a short flight from Seattle. I won’t have the “PPC Grant Winner” or the “First Time Attendee” ribbons on my name tag, so come find me, say hi, and see what new ribbons will be filling those spots!
What was the highlight of your EDS18 experience? Share it in the comment box below.
Kurt Wong, CDFA, is the Project Controller for Studio Meng Strazzara in Seattle, WA.