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It's Summertime--Take a Vacation!

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, July 18, 2018
Updated: Wednesday, July 18, 2018

It is summertime and songs about this season have gotten in my head.  There are a number of songs with the title “Summertime.”  Some of the more famous versions are sung by Ella Fitzgerald (Summertime when the living is easy).  Then there is DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince (Summer summer, summertime).  Or maybe you prefer Kenny Chesney’s version (Summertime is finally here; that old ballpark, man, is back in gear).  These songs evoke memories of past summers. 

When listening to Ella’s version, I remember sitting on the porch, looking over the fields, while sipping a glass of cold lemonade or iced tea.   Will Smith’s version evokes memories of times spent in the park picnicking or barbecuing with the family, playing badminton and other games, and “cruising” later in the evening with my friends.  While Kenny Chesney’s version takes me back to the baseball games we played and time spent at the swimming hole.  They remind me that summer is a time for fun; a time to relax; a time to rejuvenate; a time to recharge my batteries; and a time to enjoy vacation with family and friends.

But like so many Americans I don’t often take an extended vacation during the summer. Bankrate* (a consumer financial services company) issued a press release on May 23, 2018 that indicated 49% of Americans do not plan on taking a vacation this summer.  The question comes to mind - Why don’t American workers take vacation? 

Reasons Workers May Not Take Vacation

  1. They don’t have a paid vacation benefit. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, almost all employers offer some sort of paid vacation plan. However for many small businesses vacation is not a benefit they can afford to provide their employees.
  2. Workers have concerns about returning to a mountain of work. Or they have a “martyr” complex where they believe no one else can do their job. 22% of workers believe they can’t take time off per the Bankrate report.
  3. There are many underemployed or gig workers in today’s workplace. For this reason, many workers may have to juggle several part time jobs.  This could result in scheduling conflicts that make it difficult to take a vacation.
  4. Employees may have family obligations that prevent them from taking a vacation.  According to the Bankrate press release, 25% of those who do not plan to take a vacation cite family duty as a reason they can’t get away.
  5. Affordability may also be an issue. Perhaps they have no money for an extended vacation. Bankrate reports 50% of workers who are not going on vacation say they can’t afford a summer getaway.

In spite all of the reasons listed above for not going on vacation, it is important we plan to spend some time away from the office for our own well-being. 

Reasons to Take A Vacation

  1. You need to take a break. Why run the risk of being burned out and not having enough energy to fully experience life. Taking a break from work will make you more productive when you return.
  2. You can day dream. When you take the time to just let your mind wander, you can think of more creative ways to solve problems.
  3. A vacation is relaxing. It allows you to recharge your batteries. Taking a vacation makes you feel more energized and less stressed.
  4. Vacations can help us maintain focus. We’re better able to concentrate on what needs to be done and not be easily distracted.
  5. Vacations can improve our sleep. When I’m on vacation, I tend to sleep longer. That extra hour or two of quality sleep really makes a difference in my stress levels.
  6. Vacations strengthen our relationships. You forge stronger bonds when you take the time to give your family as much attention as you give your work.  Remember your family will be with you long after your work life is over.

As you can see taking a vacation has many benefits so let’s plan to take some time away from work.  Even if you are unable to take that long extended vacation to some exotic locale, you may be able to squeeze in a mini-vacation.  Carve out a long weekend for yourself and, if affordability or family obligations or difficulty getting time away from work is an issue, take a “staycation.”  

That’s what I plan to do.  I live in the DC Metropolitan Area.  Because I can “see them at any time,”   I don’t always take advantage of the opportunity to visit the museums, art galleries, or take advantage of other activities in the region. For my staycation, I’m going to “act like a tourist”. I will visit the museums, the art galleries, and go to the National Mall. Maybe I’ll attend a Nationals baseball game or go see the Mystics (the WNBA team) play. 

And for my next mini-vacation I’m going to do little or nothing – just relax, sleep in, read a good book, have fun, and reset before returning to work.  

It’s summertime. A time for rest, relaxation, and rejuvenation. A time to recharge your batteries. So let your hair down and let loose. Do something spontaneous. Be creative in how you spend your summer vacation – be it long or short.  It’s summertime.  Enjoy.  

What are your summer vacation plans? Share them in the comment box below. 




Marsha Witherspoon, CDFA is the Business Manager for Cole & Denny Architects in Alexandria, VA.

She also serves as the 2018-2019 SDA National Treasurer.



Tags:  SDA  Society for Design Administration  summer  take a vacation 

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SDA National President's Message - July 2018

Posted By Administration, Monday, July 2, 2018
Updated: Monday, July 2, 2018


It's a new term and our 2018-2019 SDA National President, Susan Lankey, CDFA shares her thoughts in her monthly President's Message. Be sure to watch for her special guest.

Be sure to share your comments in the box below.

Tags:  SDA  Society for Design Administratrion 

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Welcome Our Newest SDA Members

Posted By Administration, Thursday, June 28, 2018
Updated: Saturday, June 30, 2018

Please join us in welcoming our newest SDA members who joined in the month of June:

First Name

Last Name




San Diego








Be sure to connect with our newest members on SocialLink and encourage them to join in our many discussions!

Tags:  New Members  SDA  Society for Design Administration 

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2018 PPC Grant Winner Kurt Wong Highlights EDSymposium18 Experience

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, June 26, 2018
Updated: Tuesday, July 3, 2018

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.

Tags:  EDS18  SDA  Society for Design Administration 

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2018 PPC Grant Winner Cassandra Nolan Highlights EDSymposium18 Experience

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, June 26, 2018
Updated: Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Recently I had the honor of being a recipient of the Past President’s Council grant to attend the annual conference, EDSymposium, for the Society for Design Administrators. With this honor comes great privilege; the ability to tell others what the SDA is all about.

In the A/E/C industry, people often think about the very talented Architects, Engineers and Contractors that, together, shape and define the structural landscape of our society. Some might envision an iconic image of a man leaning over a drafting table, blueprints spread about, in deep concentration as he puzzles through his design. Others might picture an engineer surveying a project site, lining everything up in their view as they jot down copious measurements and notes. Or there’s the image that comes to mind of a contractor, dressed in hard hat and florescent yellow vest, overlooking his job site to ensure that safety measures and project schedule are both intact.

The SDA’s annual EDSymposium conference offers a glimpse into a different side of the A/E/C industry: The Managers and Administrators that bring the Architects, Engineers, and Contractor’s innovations and ideas to life, guiding them to a tangible product that can become a reality. SDA supports every facet of those ‘behind the scenes” roles and at EDSymposium we have the opportunity to converge with our peers, view the latest tools and products from our sponsors and partners, and learn new skills to help us keep moving our firms forward.

There is a unique dynamic that occurs when a diverse network of professionals is brought together through the common challenges and successes we experience within our specific industry. SDA cultivates this network of industry experts by leveraging their incredible knowledge base and providing top rate webinars and educational resources year-round, not just at EDSymposium.

Sure, these days you can google the answers to anything. But what about to the questions you don’t know to ask? The HR team that has created a very successful mentorship program leveraging the assets of today’s diverse multi-generational workforce. The Contract Administrators who have developed better, less risk contracts through their own errors and even some trials. Marketing and Business Development specialists who’ve been practicing the art of connecting with our client’s needs. At this year’s conference I heard from speakers, colleagues and my industry peers on each of these vital topics and so much more.

I often find myself thinking, ‘what would that structural landscape of our society look like without those behind the scenes people who bring the designer’s visions to life?’

Our firms have Marketing Coordinators and Business Developers who match that amazing design talent to the needs of our clients and prospective clients. At EDSymposium I heard from Dean Hyers, co-author of Winning AEC Interviews, as he talked about identifying the core values of our clients, so we can connect to them in a way that brings heightened meaning to the solutions we can provide them. As we all know, when we can connect on a deeper level we create a level of trust that not only win’s jobs, but also turns that client into a repeat customer.

This session was perfectly paired by Katherine Eitel Belt’s presentation titled: “Break out of the Pack: Craft & Deliver the Best Speech of Your Life.” A truly dynamic speaker herself, I was impressed when she was still able to relate to her audience with an understanding of the inhibitions that often come with public speaking. Katherine recounted an experience she had presenting under some spectacularly challenging conditions and highlighted different tips and processes we can all use to overcome those situations so that we can still get our message across. The point she made that resonated the most with me was her explanation of the evolution from a speech to a performance to a story, and how it’s at the point when you elevate your content to the level of story-telling that you are able to make that connection to your audience and really succeed in conveying your message.

Every A/E/C firm also has Human Resource Managers, Office Administrators and Contract Specialists who transform a team of architects and engineers from a group of individuals into fully collaborative, legally compliant design firms. I found David Ericksen’s session on “Dollar$ in the Design Team” invaluable. His detailed review of real life examples where design firms, clients, and contractors wound up in contentious litigation over contractual language, scope creep, and missed deadlines was absolutely fundamental to how we, as firms, need to constantly be improving our practice and evaluating our risks. He not only highlighted the common pitfalls, but most importantly, he supplied solutions to help us succeed where others had failed.

Yet another timely topic covered at EDSymposium was “Guiding the Merger of the Mentor and the Millennial,” presented by Jennifer Young, AIA and Associate at her firm PhiloWilke Partnership. Jennifer took us through the evolution of the mentorship program she helped pioneer within her firm. She specifically highlighted the values and assets each generation contributes within today’s workforce and provided video testimonials of staff within her firm that were currently involved in their mentorship program. During her presentation she touched on a compelling fact, that in just a few short years the balance will tip as the Baby Boomer generation, which currently makes up almost 30% of our workforce, retire and Generation Z graduates and enters into the mix at a rapid rate that will quickly add up to almost 40%. With this shift on the horizon, it’s imperative that we all make the most of mentorship opportunities both from the older generations to the newer and vice versa.

Complimenting Jennifer’s message on mentorship, we closed out the speaker sessions with Jeff Simcik’s presentation on “Measuring Individual Effectiveness”. Jeff, as a Principal at VAI Architects, utilizes a system of metrics and evaluation tools to objectively determine the strengths of his teams to make sure that each team member is effectively contributing to the success of the firm. The tools he demonstrated were particularly excellent because they could be applied to many different aspects of our business; evaluating win/loss ratios within the Marketing and BD departments, individual project performance, schedule adherence, budget maintenance and profitability, and even the strengths and skills of the different roles (and generations) within our firms.

As I stated in the beginning, winning the PPC Grant to attend EDSymposium this year was both an honor and a privilege.  I’ve been very fortunate to attend this conference almost every year since the start of my career in the A/E/C industry in 2009. Without fail, I come back energized, inspired, and bursting with ideas and best practices I can’t wait to share with my colleagues. Each A/E/C firm is made of so much more than the talented Architects, Engineers and Contractors that are the face of our industry. It’s the integral roles of Administrators and Managers that create successful A/E/C firms, and it’s the SDA that supports the fantastic individuals in these roles so that we can continue to move our firms forward toward success.

What were your most inspiring experiences at EDS18?  Share them in the comment box below.



Cassandra Nolan, CDFA, CDT, is the Project Coordinator for Burns & McDonnell in Roanoke, VA

Tags:  EDS18  SDA  Society for Design Administration 

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