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Melinda Pogwizd-Nerad, Kahler Slater

IB’s Professional of the Week is the premier way to meet Dane County’s professionals. This week features Melinda Pogwizd-Nerad, architect, Kahler Slater.

What are the most challenging and rewarding aspects of your job and why?

I fell in love with placemaking and artistic expression at a very young age. Most of my father’s side builds, designs, or crafts and creativity flourishes in our family. The most rewarding aspect of my job is the amalgamation of STEAM [science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics] it requires to design a building, particularly a hospital. The most challenging aspect of my job is balancing my love of design and the simplicity of creating beautiful spaces with the political, economic, social, and cultural circumstances and pressures that our clients are navigating. My job as an architect reaches way beyond placemaking and has evolved into creative design thinking.

Who do you look up to or admire in business and why?

I know very few successful female architects. I know even fewer with children. I had the pleasure of meeting and getting to know a woman who pursued her license, had several children, traveled the world for work, and has a healthy and happy marriage. She surprised me and gave me assurance that despite the statistics, that all I hope to achieve in my life is completely attainable. Architecture, much like art, is a reflection of contemporary society, culture, and most importantly, people. It is of utmost importance that those of us that craft the built world represent the diverse makeup of those who will experience the spaces architects design.

What has been the high point of your career so far?

At the NCARB Licensing Advisor Summit in 2016, I presented a personal journey to a room of 300 people from around the country about women in architecture and how our paths to licensure often have disruptors that end our career. It is called the missing 30 percent — 30 percent of women drop out of the profession between school, internship, and licensure. All I did was tell my story, unfiltered. When I finished, I received a standing ovation. Many people came up, shared their gratitude for my honesty, and spent time sharing their journeys and stories of triumph. The summit happened to fall on Aug. 5, 2016 and it seemed like fate to present my disruptions and why I had continued toward the path of becoming a licensed architect. This was my due date with my second pregnancy, which I miscarried in December 2015. I was elated to be pregnant again five months after the loss. Personal grief taught me to hug my child a little tighter, push harder in my career, and be grateful I had the support to continue my pursuit of becoming an architect. I had a healthy baby boy in January and achieved my license October 2018.

Thinking back on your career, what advice would you give your 21-year-old self?

My career is fulfilling and invigorating but I’m constantly in pursuit of the next challenge. I would advise my 21-year-old self to consider a secondary bachelor’s degree in business while attending school for architecture. The reality and practicality of that is almost laughable because going to school for architecture is one of the most time-consuming and challenging paths to travel. We would cover the clocks in studio because under bright fluorescent lighting, you could convince yourself out of the fact that it was 3 a.m. while you glued together miniscule pieces of basswood into some overly complicated rendition of a building. I digress. As I mentioned in a previous question, my job requires comprehension of many outside forces and the pressures our clients face. An MBA is my next goal but until then, I continue to learn about running a business from my colleagues and family, and by osmosis through my career.

What would you say are the best things about living and working in Dane County?

Dane County has the perfect combination of city and country. I grew up in the north woods of Wisconsin and have a deep appreciation for the outdoors and the benefits of getting lost in the woods. You cannot leave Madison without driving by or near a state park in most directions and we have enjoyed the last few years here getting acquainted with all Dane County has to explore. My children attend a nature-based daycare and each one has inherited my wanderlust spirit. Best of all, I am able to work at an international architecture firm on projects from Singapore to Canada to right here in Dane County, and all from my Willy Street office.

Do you have any secret talents or abilities that people would be surprised to discover?

I have very few secrets in this life and tend to be a bit of an open book, so a secret talent is unlikely. The ability I am most excited about at the moment is snowboarding, though. My daughter turned five this year and got her first pair of skis; weeks after the ski hill opened, she was ripping down the hill and smiling ear to ear. There is nothing more rewarding than watching your daughter love something you have a deep and lifelong passion for.

What are your guilty pleasures?

My husband and I have an insatiable need to renovate our home. I grew up with a contractor, his father is an engineer, and neither of us can recall a time in our childhood when our homes were not under construction. My father built my mother a home as a wedding gift and went on to build several future family homes. My father-in-law took the roof off their family home in Milwaukee and put a second story on, all while raising four young children. My husband and I, for better or worse, are in the same cycle of tearing down the old and breathing new life into our family home.

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