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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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Susan Lankey Shares Her Vision as the New 2018-2019 SDA National President

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, June 6, 2018
Updated: Thursday, June 7, 2018

During the 2018 SDA Annual Meeting, Susan Lankey, CDFA from the Hampton Roads Chapter, was elected as the 2018-2019 SDA National President. During the Saturday evening awards banquet, Susan shared her perspective for the coming term and we have shared it here for those who could not be in attendance.

Hi Everyone!  First I just want to say thanks for being here in Salt Lake City at EDSymposium18.  I really hope everyone has had a great time the last couple of days and learned a lot.  And if you didn’t learn anything (which I doubt) I hope that y’all made some new friends, and were able to connect with some old ones. 


I’m sure over the course of EDS, everyone who has been around me, knows that this guy is my pride and joy!  While I know he’s not a two legged baby, he’s definitely my favorite four legged one.  I hate to admit this, but do y’all know I’m 40?  Quick sidebar here – I recently read Stacy Rowland’s idea for big birthdays for Ellie in NY & she was saying that you should do something totally memorable for those.  Like travel to places you’ve never been.  I really love that idea & am probably going to steal it Stacy. – Ok, I’m telling y’all how old I am for a reason – not just for the compliments on how I don’t look anywhere near my age later once I get down from this stage!  Anyways, I’ve been around horses and have been riding pretty much all my life.  I’ve had good days, bad days & great days with all my babies – not just Oakie (although, I mean isn’t he adorable???).   I still ride with an instructor.  30 years later, I still have a coach when I’m working my horse.  I come from a large family, and I gotta say, when they’re always asking me “As long as you’ve been riding, you still don’t know how??” gets pretty old.  Thankfully, I just roll my eyes at them, and say – Don’t Olympians still have coaches????  For like every aspect of it???  And why wouldn’t I want to learn new styles and different ways of communicating with Oakie.  We’re always trying to be better and have better rhythm together.

But it always makes me think about things, especially those I spend my money on.  Pretty much all my money!  Horses aren’t hobby for me, they’re my life.  It’s my go to when I’ve had a rough day at the office, or even a great day at the office.  It’s my me time (I hope all of you get some me time!!), and it’s what relaxes me and as my husband says, it’s what keeps me pleasant to be around.  I mean, personally I like to think I’m pleasant all the time, but…..he probably knows better.

Y’all are probably wondering where I’m going with this.  My point is – I’m pretty passionate about the things I love to do.  I love my riding, and so I do whatever I can to make it happen, and I try to do whatever I can to make it happen well.  Of course, that doesn’t happen every time, but I just remind myself that next time will be better.  It’s the same for work.  I love my job – no way I could still be there almost 22 years later if I didn’t.  Have good days, and have bad days.   Really hope that people don’t know when I’m having a bad day at the office, but if they do, they’re usually understanding about it.  It’s the same for SDA.  I love being in SDA.  I love serving SDA.  I hope I’m as passionate as I feel about it.  I know that every time I’ve left EDS, I’ve felt renewed, and ready to tackle the world!!  The A/E world anyways.  That’s because of y’all.  Y’all are the reason I love SDA and the reason why I want to continue to serve.  You all are the passion behind SDA.  As Monica said, SDA allows us to Create Our Path.  Broaden our horizons.  Learn new things.  Sabrina reminded us that We’re the Experts.  Yes.  Yes we are!  And if you’re not an expert in an area, I bet you’ve met someone here this week that is, or at least someone who knows of another expert.  Just like with my instructors, I’m always striving to get better, be quicker, make smarter decisions in every movement.  Excellence.  It’s what we work towards – in everything.  Me with my riding, Carrie, Betsy and Nancy with their knitting, Judy with her jewelry making, and Anne with her writing.   

We’re always working to be better.  If we weren’t, we wouldn’t be here tonight.  Be passionate in everything you do!  Look around this room – what do you see?  I see people who want to make a difference in their lives, their firms that they work for, and their friends in this room.  Y’all.  This is a safe space – let’s take this outside our comfort zones!  Let’s make a difference to everyone we meet – let them see how passionate we are about SDA.  Let’s really grow this organization!  Because we can! Let them know that this is what WE strive for – Excellence – Let’s have some Passion for Excellence.  As in the movie “Field of Dreams” with a slight twist, if we show them SDA’s excellence, they will come! 


Susan Lankey, CDFA
2018-2019 SDA National President

Tags:  EDS18  Leadership; SDA  Society for Design Administration 

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