What drew you to the design profession, and what’s keeping you here?
Since graduating from UC Davis, I’ve spent the entirety of my finance and accounting career in the AEC industry. The first half of my career was in construction accounting, followed by a brief time in an Internet startup (where I wrote my own lay off check) and an engineering firm, before making my way into architecture and design the past 15 years.
I got into design by accident – I was living on the coast outside San Francisco and working across the Bay. It was a tough commute with young children at the time, so when an opportunity arose to be financial controller with an international design firm in San Francisco and work closer to home, I took it, using the skills learned from my years on the construction side.
My time there helped me develop a love for the both the operation of design firms and for the designs themselves. I had already seen the buildings under construction from my time on that side of the house; now I had the opportunity to see the genesis of the designs of the buildings. The 11+ years I spent at that firm cemented my desire to remain in the design profession, so when the opportunity arose to join Perkins and Will’s San Francisco Studio, I jumped at the chance.
This has been an opportunity to grow my leadership and management abilities, drawing upon the years I had at the previous firm. The culture of our firm has allowed me to have a greater voice in my studio’s operation as I work closely with our local management team, providing necessary financial analysis. Ultimately, it’s the people here and the strong bonds we’ve formed that keeps me here – during this time of remote work and shelter in place, I find joy in working with the talented folks on this team.
Describe a design project you’re working on right now, whether professional or personal, that you’re especially proud of—and why.
While I am the Director of Finance for our San Francisco studio, I am also an elected member of the school board for Jefferson Union High School District in Daly City, immediately to the south of San Francisco. We serve approximately 4,300 students in 5 high schools and an adult education program, but we have struggled to recruit and retain teachers and staff through the years. Our students deserve to have the same staff teach them over the course of a high school career.
So we explored the idea of providing housing for our teachers and staff. This began as a dream when I first joined the Board in 2015 after attending a presentation on faculty housing built by our local community college district. I wondered, could our small district provide affordable housing for the heroes of our community, our teachers and staff?
As it turns out, we had plenty of land, and we hired a firm to conduct a feasibility study, discovering that over 60% of those surveyed (261 respondents) were either interested in or would consider renting District-owned housing. They shared stories of long commutes, expensive rent, and second jobs driving for ride share services or delivering food, confirming the need for our affordable housing idea.
We then hired a development firm to help us manage the process and work with our Housing Subcommittee which included me and another board member, key District administrative staff, and a couple of teachers. Our team hired a design firm to take the project from concept to bridging documents. We put the project on the June 2018 ballot, and became the first K-12 District in California to pass a bond specifically for educator housing. In the meantime, we had issued an RFP for a design-build team to take the design from CDs through CA.
In February of this year we broke ground on our Faculty and Staff Housing project. We will offer 122 units, with 59 one-bedroom units, 57 two-bedroom units, and 6 three-bedroom units. It will house 25% of our staff. Rent is projected to be 50% below market rate. Our interest list currently stands at 100 teachers and staff and we will be welcoming them home in Spring 2022.
I have had several staff tell me that they are staying with our District because of the promise of housing, and new hires have joined us for the same reason. I am humbled to be part of this team that had the vision to create a project that will have lasting impact on our students and provide housing stability for our staff.
As a leader in the design industry, what steps do you take to expand professional design opportunities to members of the Asian and Pacific Islander communities?
The school district I serve has a high percentage of API students and many take courses in digital art and design as part of the Career Technical Education (CTE) curriculum. Once the crisis with COVID-19 passes, I would like Perkins and Will to partner with our schools to show high school students how their coursework could translate into a future career in the architecture and design industry.