I have been promising to contribute to this blog for quite some time now. Ever since I learned about this extended community of academic professionals whose careers have evolved outside of the traditional ivory tower setting, I have wanted to share my own reflections on a similar experience. My career has evolved along a path that I never could have imagined when I began my graduate studies many years ago. That said, my open-mindedness to people from different perspectives has rewarded me with some fascinating professional experiences that have enriched me in many ways.
Currently, I work as senior design strategist for the New York office of HLW – an architecture firm that works with a range of clients in the planning and design of workplace environments, learning environments, and media production and broadcast studios. I wear a number of different hats on a day-to-day basis. On any given day of the week I am working as a consultant to clients, researching trends that are relevant to our clients, managing the operations of my team, learning new Excel formulas to structure increasingly intricate space planning tools, and engaging in long-term business development.
The design of any new building or space within it is often a complex multi-year process. Before a designer sits down to begin sketching concepts for a client, a significant amount of planning and engagement happens in order to ensure that the space supports user needs and client objectives. This is the role that I play. My team is called Strategy & Discovery. I lead a number of engagements in the pre-design phase to help understand a client’s broader organizational objectives and – through working with them – determine how the spatial environment can be used as a tool to help achieve these objectives. My team consists of a number of design strategists who work with me on these projects.
The work that I do is intellectually enriching because it involves working with clients to help solve problems and address challenges. But even more interesting to me is the path I took to arrive at this role. Despite working in architecture and design, I have no formal training in this area. I earned a PhD in Education from the University of Michigan where I focused on higher education and organizational behavior – writing a dissertation about academic entrepreneurship and the way that knowledge flows through distributed networks of virtual collaborators. As a doctoral student, I had the opportunity to work with several people at UM’s Ross School of Business in building an innovation institute that was conceived to connect the dots around Michigan’s vast interdisciplinary but often-times-disconnected campus. One of the major office furniture manufacturers partnered in developing this institute. I got to work with this company’s design and ideation team on developing concepts for linking the design of space with learning styles and organizational culture.
It was this experience that introduced and connected me to the architecture and design profession, which ultimately led me to New York and the firm where I work today. People learn and work in different ways, and the built environment is indispensable in supporting how people do both. Imagine everything that is wrong with trying to learn in a giant anonymous lecture hall or trying to work in a stuffy cube farm. For me, the opportunity to apply my knowledge of education and organizational behavior in working with designers to create better spaces for working and learning is very fulfilling.
Over the next week, I will share some examples of what I do in a “typical” week – recognizing that no single week is ever the same. However, it’s this variation that makes my work most interesting.