PRACTICE BEYOND THE OFFICE

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The 2016 class of Philly Girls Do Good! is here! We continue our tradition of hosting conversations between small groups of the new PGDG members on specific topics throughout the year. For our first PGDG! conversation of 2016, we sat down with Sara Pevaroff Schuh, founding principal of SALT Design Studio, Soha St. Juste, a Design Principal at Jacobs, and Fon Wang, Director of Historic Preservation at Ballinger. These job titles reflect just one of many different hats they wear as design professionals making a difference in Philly. The focus of our discussion was the work they do outside of their day jobs, including extra personal and professional activities like volunteering, teaching, and serving on various committees or boards. We discussed the motivation behind getting involved and how they selected opportunities in which to get involved. We learned not only how their professional skills translated into their volunteer work, but also how those leadership roles positively impacted their design work in return.

All three women agreed that the main goals of their extra-curricular work are related to community. Sara recognized a need in her own neighborhood and founded the Bala Cynwyd Farmer’s Market in order to connect her community with local agriculture. As a landscape architect, Sara values a connection to place and wants to help others strengthen that bond by highlighting the link between the landscape and the local food and energy economies. Having a degree in Historic Preservation and feeling committed to calling Philly her home, Fon serves as a board member of the Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia and is the liaison to their Young Friends group (YFPA).  She recently taught a historic preservation studio course at Penn that was focused on Sharswood, an architecturally rich north Philadelphia neighborhood where a large-scale public redevelopment plan has been proposed by the Philadelphia Housing Authority. In addition, Fon helped start a Mandarin playgroup while working towards establishing a Mandarin immersion program at a neighborhood school. Soha also graduated locally from Drexel University’s architecture program, and has stayed involved by previously teaching at Drexel’s summer program for high school students and evening program for architecture. She enjoys staying connected to the Philly design community by serving on the AIA Board of Directors and as Chair of the Host Committee for the AIA National Convention which will be held in Philadelphia, May 19-21.

When asked how they decided whether an opportunity was the right one to add to their plate, they discussed several factors they used to evaluate potential roles, including how strongly they felt about the work and whether it was a long vs. short-term commitment. As Fon explained, “some opportunities are important enough that you can stretch to do it.” Sara makes a conscious decision to only serve on two boards at a time and to consider what the tangible results will be after committing her time to a project. Soha pointed out that different phases of one’s career can call for different types of extracurricular activities. All of the women agreed that in addition to community, education is a major goal of their work outside of the office. However, educating peers, mentors, or community members may come in different forms than just teaching in a classroom.

The group also agreed that their work universally improved when they were involved in a variety of projects both in and outside of the office. Soha always makes it a point to be involved in an extra-curricular activity while working and continues to perform at her highest level when she fills multiple roles simultaneously. For the upcoming AIA Convention, there are many moving parts and teams that require communication and quick decision-making skills which she has honed over the years. Sara and Fon both agreed that adding extra work about which you are passionate makes you more focused and apt to use your time wisely.

Another advantage of taking on new and different tasks, Fon explained, is that one can try out new skill sets before applying them in a professional day job. For example, serving on a volunteer committee can make a person become more familiar with a leadership position and comfortable stepping into a new role elsewhere. Sara mentioned that outside activities feed her design work and result in new ideas that may not have otherwise arisen. She finds that she is more thoughtful after pursuing other creative explorations and returning to the work with a new perspective.

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We appreciate Sara, Soha, and Fon for sharing their experiences with us and inspiring us to invest in our own communities outside of the office. We look forward to keeping up with what they do next! Stay tuned for more updates and conversations with the Philly Girls Do Good! Class of 2015-16 as they continue their exciting work around our city.

—Kate Rutledge