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Five Road Markers on the Superhighway of Advancing Your Career Path using the FSDA Application

Posted By Administration, 6 hours ago
Updated: 6 hours ago


The application period for SDA Fellows is now open and ends October 31. Earlier in the month we shared the results of interviews with our fellows and the four surprising benefits of earning the FSDA.

But the surprises didn’t stop there. Again and again, Fellows identified the FSDA application as a road map not only to Fellowship, but to career advancement and personal satisfaction. And, most notably, you don’t need to be ready to apply to become a Fellow to reap the benefits immediately. It’s an easy path to follow for career growth and professional development today.



Road Marker #1 - Fill in the Gaps to Advance at Work

It could be that you don’t meet all of the Fellows criteria right now, but have a personal goal of one day achieving Fellow status. Sarah Wallace says “consider using the application to augment your annual review and ask for assistance from firm leaders to help achieve any of the missing areas.”  It could be something like getting involved in your local SDA, AIA or other AEC industry professional organizations or making a presentation at one of their monthly programs. “Doing this will not only benefit your growth and achievement, but will also help your firm through increased marketing and networking exposure,” says Wallace.  In addition, these activities will help you stand out in your firm.

Road Marker #2 -  Self Motivation

Accomplishing the goal of becoming a Fellow requires self motivation. “The mere act of identifying a goal and mastering your motivation, meaning you identify the outcomes you want, break them down into realistic accomplishments for today and tomorrow, and the next day, and see your plan through is a skill that every person should strive to acquire”, states Deborah Gill. Setting and achieving goals can be applied to many parts of your life, especially your career path. “Right now, for example, everyone is in a virtual world with so many more distractions vying for their time and energy that they can feel overwhelmed,” Gill notes. “If you can develop the path to Fellow for yourself – motivation, goals, tasks – this skillset can be applied to any aspect of your career.”

Road Marker #3 - Visibility in the Office and in the A/E/C Profession

SDA members are knowledgeable in many subject areas. Now is the time to become known as the subject matter expert in your firm.  “Visibility is key, so speaking and writing allows you to gain visibility and credibility, and thus, grow in your career,” said Gill.

It could be that you had to do a lot of research for some effort in your firm. Take the next step and write an article or white paper with an executive summary and submit it to SDA for publication. Or, make a presentation on the topic to your executive team and consider doing the same for your chapter or during a national roundtable discussion. These are great next steps that increase your personal knowledge, advance your firm, and keep you moving toward the ultimate goal of becoming a Fellow. As a result, you will see your value rise in your firm.

Becoming a Fellow is a great way to recognize knowledgeable and veteran members “for their continued and sustained involvement in SDA and contribution to the industry” said Betsy Nickless.  “Once we’ve been through the full cycle of chapter leadership and national leadership, it’s an opportunity to continue to further the organization.” 

The visibility earned with FSDA extends beyond SDA and your firm. Said Debra Ellis “I think that the word Fellow seems to hold a higher “prestige” in the A/E world and that could help to elevate your career.”  

Road Marker #4 - Roads Less Traveled are Terrific Career Paths

Too often we hear from SDA members claiming to be “just” an administrator or “just” (insert your personal “just” statement here). Truth is, now more than ever, administrators are primed to rule the A/E/C world. Need proof? “Just” listen to Simon Goodhead’s EDConnect20 presentation “Why Administrators Just Might Rule the World”. 

But where to begin? Start with the FSDA application. The Fellowship criteria can be an impactful first step on a path that you might not have considered taking, but one that will lead you to a brighter, more satisfying, secure and higher paid future.  Judy Beebe shared “I think the Fellow criteria alone can set you on a career path that you might not have taken to begin with. I think if you’re just starting out in the A/E/C industry, you can use the criteria as additional goals to meet, while you’re learning and gaining more experience on the job.”

Road Marker #5 - A Sense of Accomplishment

When you reach a big goal that you have set out to accomplish, there is a tremendous, earned sense of pride. “I think SDA members will find the Fellowship application process to be the next natural progression on their personal and professional development journey,” said Beebe. “The initial step of becoming a CDFA shows you know and understand the industry’s practices; becoming a Fellow shows you’ve put yourself out there to also share your knowledge and skills with others outside of your firm and outside of your SDA chapter.” Beebe continued, “for me, becoming a Fellow was another accomplishment in my career – one that felt right.”

On the path of life or the career path “it’s never too late to be who you might have been.” (George Eliot) The Fellows of SDA invite you to come along in what could be the road trip of your career life. Just follow the signs. Here’s your first stop. Learn more here.



Tags:  Career Path  SDA Fellow  SDA National 

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Four Surprising Ways Becoming an SDA Fellow Benefits Member Careers

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, October 7, 2020
Updated: Thursday, October 8, 2020

The application period for SDA Fellows is now open and ends October 31.  We recently interviewed our Fellows about the process and the designation. In Part 1, our Fellows identified four different ways the FSDA designation advanced their careers and life path.  

Fellowship provides a path forward. With many SDA members comprising the entirety of the firm's back office, or part of a small team, it can often feel like a dead end.   SDA Fellow Deborah Gill, noted that for those members, Fellowship provides a path forward. “Firms are small; they’ve reached the highest position attainable; it’s easy to just stay in the same position,” says Gill. “Following the path to Fellow gives senior members motivation and inspiration to take on a new challenge.” Plus, there’s the added mystique, “personally, even though I’m at the end of my career, I believe it adds a ‘je ne sais quoi’ to my signature as a consultant.”

Fellow gives credibility and recognition. Operating in support roles, SDA members often struggle to be seen as the critical team members they are. As Fellow Liz Harris notes, “the concept of “Fellow” or fellowship status is well known and well regarded in the A/E/C industry. Industry insiders immediately “get” that being a Fellow signifies a special recognition of ability, achievement, and leadership. It’s a designation that opens doors and reduces barriers”

Debra Ellis agrees, “One member in my firm that did not recognize all my prior accomplishments (National President, CDFA, being on the State Licensing Board) but when I became a Fellow, he was very impressed and began to see me in a new light.”

Sabrina Heard noted that while FSDA is a professional milestone in SDA, “it is a bigger status symbol in our community. It tells everyone that we know what we are talking about.” 

Fellow allows you to reflect upon your professional growth. It’s no secret that SDA members are busier than ever, responding to new and never before known business challenges. With all that time rowing the boat, there’s often little left for navigating and taking in the view. “While completing the application, I was able to see my professional accomplishments,” said Debra Ellis. “It gives you the view to see you still have room for growth in your career.”  

Harris added “You get a rare chance to see a snapshot of your life, work, and volunteer journey. That photo may bring you satisfaction and joy, helping you see and articulate just how far you’ve come. It may even reflect a small detail upon which you’d like to improve. Either way, the exercise will help you understand your progress, articulate your value, and focus on opportunities for improvement.

Fellow offers a way to stay involved and give back. Giving back and staying engaged as you mature along your work-life journey, is shown to be beneficial to you and the larger community.  “I think it’s important to share your wealth of knowledge with members and the industry. It’s fulfilling to play a role to advance the next generation of leaders in our firms and organization,” said Stephanie Kirschner.

Stay tuned! In Part 2, we’ll share how to supercharge your career path with the power of the FSDA application. And, you don’t need to be ready to apply to reap the benefits.

Ready or not, download the application today and see what is needed to advance your career.  Learn more here.


Special thanks to Judy Beebe, FSDA, for conducting the survey and to all of our Fellows for their responses to make this two-part series possible. 

Tags:  Career Path  SDA Fellow  SDA National 

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Managing Remote Teams During a Pandemic

Posted By Administration, Thursday, September 24, 2020
Updated: Thursday, September 24, 2020

Prior to COVID-19, my firm was already using Zoom as a communication tool for our phone system and for videoconference calls across our six locations. We had administrative staff in every location, so we were used to seeing each other on a screen when we came together as a large group for our monthly team meetings. As our firm’s administration team manager, I was flying to our various locations to meet with our administrative staff face-to-face when possible. However, managing a team during a pandemic, where everything changed for everyone, created new challenges. In an instant, I needed to change how I managed the team including how we communicated with each other, how we partnered together to best serve our firm, and how I needed to advocate for them in new ways.


It quickly became evident that our administration team was going to be at the core of how our firm quickly moved to a work-from-home model effectively and efficiently. Our leadership was meeting daily, and I was in those meetings to take minutes, so I had access to pieces of information that could be shared with our administration team. I started by sending daily emails to the team about “what’s new for the day” as leadership was trying to figure out all the nuances of working from home. I wanted to make sure our team had as much information as possible because I knew their offices and teams were going to go first to them looking for answers. To help lift morale through all the multiple changes, I made sure to thank them for their hard work and perseverance through it all, as well including a funny meme or video at the end of each email.


We also knew that because decisions were being made daily, and that there was a lot of information to take in, we needed a single place to put all of it and communicate about it in one place. We began using Microsoft Teams immediately, sharing posts to the whole group (eliminating back and forth emails), posting files for all to see and edit in one place, and developed a Wiki of resources, instructions, and information for quick reference. We continue to use our Teams site today, adding new content and sharing best practices with each other outside of our meetings.

Now that we were even more physically distanced from each other it became even more critical to meet more often. We went from meeting as a large group on a monthly basis to meeting weekly. During these meetings we focus on what we have going on that week, who needs assistance, news from leadership, changes in policy, and any new software tips. We also started meeting weekly as small groups by office location. Our small group meetings are more informal where we focus on getting to know each other better and learning how we can support each other not only with work tasks and responsibilities, but also through the emotions of working in a pandemic.


I have found that by meeting more often, our team feels more connected and stronger. The challenges have not gone away and are often the same challenges we would still face if we were back in our offices, but we have had an opportunity to connect on a more personal level which has helped increase the level of trust we share, and our collective positive spirit works to lift each other up even when things in our world appear so negative at times.


By connecting and meeting more, I have learned more about our individual team members – what they like, don’t like, what is hard for them, what they are great at, what do they value, where do they want to go in their career, and much more. While I knew some of these things prior to COVID-19, gathering this information has been more critical as we are working to move away from a location-based support model to a strengths-based model. I want to be able to assign our team members to tasks and projects based on their knowledge, skills and passions. While this isn’t always possible due to availability and workloads, this enables our team to be more flexible and offer the best service possible for the task or project at hand.

Working from home and knowing our team members abilities also opens doors for our team members to work with other staff in other locations, including other leaders that they don’t regularly support. It provides them with opportunities to develop new skills, work on different project types, and most importantly, shine bright.


We recently needed to update a spreadsheet that contained over 2,000 line items by reviewing the corresponding changes on several floor plans. Over the course of a week, we had about seven team members working on it to finish it up. Not only were we able to finish the task much faster than if one person had been assigned to complete it, but we were able to share our tips and even bond over the mutual frustration with a difficult task. It proved to us and other staff that we are a strong team that is willing to work hard together to get the job done well, all while doing it virtually from six different offices at the same time.


I have also noticed the increased need in my abilities to advocate for our team and individual team members. I am asking myself the following questions on a regular basis now:

  • Are they being asked to do something they shouldn’t be doing?
  • Are they burned out?
  • Are they struggling with a task or assignment?


As their manager, I have needed to learn how to read the signs of an employee struggling or in distress, and then follow up with them to see how I can be a resource, advocate or sounding board to support them. Sometimes, employees are fearful to speak up about concerns and need someone to simply ask them how they are doing or express concern in a sincere way. Our teams are tired, stressed and overwhelmed more than ever now. While we cannot solve all problems, we can make sure our team members know we can be trusted to listen to them, care about them as a person, and if needed speak on their behalf and in their best interest to make it better wherever possible.


Managing a remote team is no easy task, but implementing some key practices for communication, partnering with other team members, and advocacy will enable your team to work well and positively even in a pandemic. What are some of the successful ways you are managing your remote team during this time? Share them in the comment box below.



Danika Larson, CDFA is the Administration Team Manager at Cuningham Architecture Group in Minneapolis, MN.

She currently serves as the National Education Services Committee Chair for the 2020-2021 term.

Tags:  Managing Remote Teams  Managing Teams  SDA  SDA National  Work from Home 

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3 Steps to Creating an Interactive Excel Dashboard

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, August 26, 2020
Updated: Wednesday, September 16, 2020


Could you benefit from learning the differences between flat, dynamic and interactive reporting? We're all used to a flat Excel spreadsheet, but what if you would like your data to be more interactive?

Our new guide provides the the step-by-step process to create an interactive dashboard using Excel. Using this process, you can apply these steps to datasets created in Excel including accounting, inventory or human resources databases.


Click here to download the Guide to Creating an Interactive Excel Dashboard.


How could you use this dashboard to lighten your reporting efforts? Share your ideas in the comment box below.




Judy Beebe, FSDA presented this topic as a webinar for SDA and now shares the steps in this guide.

She currently serves as the SDA Seattle Chapter President



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Taking Time

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, August 11, 2020
Updated: Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Well it’s Monday morning. I’m back in the office after having taken last week off. I have had this vacation planned for over a year – well before COVID-19 hit for sure! There have been many articles and advertisements lately about resources available during these challenging times. Keeping yourself mentally “ok” is not just a good thing to do – it’s critical! One way to keep yourself mentally ok is to take some time off. I know many of us are second guessing taking vacation time – “Will my job be ok if I am gone for a week, or even a few days?” Of course, there is the “FOMO” (Fear of Missing out) syndrome from being out of touch with everything going on in the office. I am here to tell you that things survived just fine while I was away! Indeed, my email inbox is much fuller than it was before I left, but I am doing ok getting caught up! The best thing about getting back is that I feel refreshed, re-invigorated, and ready to tackle whatever comes next. This uncertainty we are living with looks like it will be with us for a while, so gearing up for the next few months will be important.

Have you taken a break from work during this crazy pandemic? If you are at all able to, I would highly encourage you to take a few days for a mental health break. Even if you are not able to physically go somewhere, there are so many ways you can get away while you are still at home. (You know, the old “stay-cation”.) Sleep in a few extra hours on those days; have an extra cup of coffee or tea those mornings; read a book you’ve always been meaning to get to; take some extra time in the garden; use some of your delicious vegetables from your garden on a great recipe you’ve been meaning to try – salsa? Soup? Pie? Zucchini Bread?

The most important bit of advice I can leave you with is…cut yourself off from work as much as you possibly can during your time away!! It is so worth it to come back with a refreshed attitude towards your work life! You will end up being productive in ways you never imagined you could!! And…you will be able to get caught up soon enough! For many, the end of Summer and Early Fall are favorite times of the year. Maybe it’s your favorite too!

What are some tips you might have for getting away to refresh yourself? I’d love to know them! Share them in the comment box below.

Meanwhile, here are a few pics from my vacation with my family last week in Crosslake, Minnesota on Trout Lake.





 Marie Tomala, CDFA is an Associate with Cuningham Group Architecture in Minneapolis, MN.

She serves as the SDA National President-Elect for the 2020-2021 term.

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