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Megan Simmons, Flad Architects/Building Opportunities for Student Success

IB’s Professional of the Week is the premier way to meet Dane County’s professionals. This week features Megan Simmons, architectural associate/founder and lead coordinator, Flad Architects/Building Opportunities for Student Success.

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

Architecture is human-centric design; our work focuses on people and uses space as a medium to support their goals. Over the past three and a half years at Flad Architects, I have worked with professors, administrators, students, and industry colleagues as a planner for classroom and class laboratory facilities for universities across the country. I learn how our clients work and use their spaces by shadowing and attending courses and conferences to understand teaching styles and opportunities to improve through new and innovative space design. The learning curve to understand each institution’s unique intricacies can be challenging, but it is rewarding to connect the dots and deliver a customized tangible solution.

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

I am inspired by several women in various aspects of the business world. A few that come top of mind include:

As a metro-Detroit native, someone who has blown me away in thinking deeply on community impact, developing a program that delivers the intended support both holistically and in the details while also taking a radically progressive approach to sustainability, is Faith Fowler and the nonprofit Cass Community Social Services. She runs the Tiny Homes project that is carefully planned to scale, provide resources, and a long-term plan to support some of the most vulnerable population in the community.

Zaha Hadid did not want to be known as a female architect, she wanted to be known as an architect. However, she truly paved the way for women represented in architecture and high-profile design as she is known for her groundbreaking work all over the world.

Gay Lorberbaum is a favorite college faculty member and mentor. She takes an interdisciplinary approach to teaching while providing holistic support and empowerment for students to learn and grow. She runs a multitude of programs working with underserved students in St. Louis, including a weekly design and sustainability workshop on Washington University’s campus, teaches courses in partnership with local schools, and runs a nonprofit to create opportunities for students to use tools to develop full-scale projects.

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

Whether it be walking through the Solar Decathlon house I designed in college, seeing a university building come to life, launching a data-driven design database, or seeing a facade I helped design on the cover of an architecture book, it is thrilling any time you can turn a concept into something tangible.

In fall of 2018, I received a research grant through the Wisconsin Architects Foundation to develop the Building Opportunities for Student Success (BOSS) program. BOSS provides professional architecture and design opportunities and experiences for underserved and underrepresented high school students. The successful 2019 workshops included an overview of the design profession and a hands-on introduction to drawing, designing, and thinking three dimensionally. This year, we are piloting a virtual summer internship program in collaboration with the Madison Metro School District’s Teens of Promise program.

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

I’m only a few years out of school, so I am definitely still accruing wisdom. The best advice I would give right now is to commit and go all-in on something that you are passionate about and to make time to get involved in your community. Having that approach has helped me to try new things — teaching a language course to 4- to 8-year-olds, tutoring high school students in test prep, running my own nonprofit, and coaching Girls on the Run.

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

Dane County is full of great parks, great food, and great people. Madison was a wonderful, beer and cheese curd-filled surprise. Having the resources of a much larger city with the community feel of a smaller town crafts a wonderful, welcoming balance that makes it easy to connect and get involved with fellow young professionals. I can spend evenings soaking up sunsets (and ice cream) at the Memorial Union Terrace, Saturday mornings people watching and picnicking at the farmers market, go on a dumplings crawl walking down State Street, listen to live music on the state Capitol lawn, and coordinate a fun run half marathon around Lake Monona.

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

I peaked athletically in high school as a four-time state champion and four-year varsity ice hockey and tennis player. When I moved to Madison, I picked up soccer and as many of my opponents can attest, I still know how to check!

What are your guilty pleasures?

None that I feel too guilty about. In my “free time” I enjoy reading, eating pizza and chocolate, and rooting for Detroit sports teams — have to support the underdog!

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