View from the Interior: What It’s Like to be an Intern at BWBR

There’s an assumption that summer internship programs are primarily for the benefit of the students who participate, but what about the amazing contributions they make to the organizations they’re working for? We recently sat down for a discussion with four of BWBR’s 2022 summer interns to learn more about their experiences and show some appreciation for everything they’ve done.

“We have an amazing group this year,” says project manager and architect Jarett Anderson, who hosted the discussion. “We’ve gotten so much from their energy and fresh perspectives, as well as the huge contributions that they’ve made to our offices, our culture, and our work.”

Zeekra Baset Nadi smiles as she talks with fellow BWBR interns
Zeekra Baset Nadi

Meet the interns

Here are the four interns who joined in the discussion:

A University of Minnesota undergrad in her junior year, majoring in interior design, Hasnaa Elaraby is originally from Egypt and came to the United States to attend college four years ago.

Lauren Burton is a master’s student in architecture at the University of Minnesota. She also served as a summer interior design intern at BWBR two years ago and is back with a different role after shifting her focus to architecture.

A fourth-year student at Dunwoody College of Technology and architectural student intern at BWBR, Cail Tomlin is part of a relatively new collaboration between Dunwoody and the U of M and will be pursuing early licensure early as part of the IPAL program.

Zeekra Baset Nadi, architectural design intern, is pursuing a master’s in health care design at Kent State University in Ohio after earning her bachelor’s degree in architecture from the American International University in Bangladesh, where she’s originally from.

Getting on Board

As an intern at BWBR, you don’t just get sent to a cubicle and told, “good luck.” There is an extensive orientation process, the depth of which was pleasantly unexpected. “The orientation process surprised me the most,” says Hasnaa. “I expected maybe a day or two, not a whole week, and it was very well planned out. There was a lot to learn, and I thought we’d feel super overwhelmed, but we didn’t. There’s always someone to reach out to and ask questions.”

Interns have supervisors, mentors, and even social mentors to ensure that they feel welcomed and supported throughout the summer. Interns can talk to their support team about taking on more or fewer hours, exploring areas of interest, learning specific new skills, or anything else related to the role.

Orientation and onboarding are really about ensuring not only comfort level with the subject material and the company, but true psychological safety at BWBR. “That psychological safety lets you feel vulnerable and lets you raise your hand to say I don’t know,” says Jarett. “That’s a really important value at BWBR.”

Landmark Learning

Landmark Learning sessions are bi-weekly meetings focused on a rotating array of areas such as interiors, digital, and design. It’s a way to share valuable insights across different topics and help advance everyone’s holistic understanding of the industry. Interns are encouraged to attend sessions, and the feedback has been fantastic. “I really enjoyed the sessions,” says Cail, and he even made a point of viewing past archived lessons whenever he had a spare moment.

Lauren reports that these sessions were extremely valuable, especially if she came across a topic in her internship that she was less familiar with. “I’d say, I wonder if there’s a Landmark Learning session about that,” she reports. And, often, there was. Of course, if there wasn’t, there were plenty of people to ask for help, too.

The interns all mentioned the power of the support they receive at BWBR, and Jarett notes that the benefits go both ways. “Being with younger talent, who are just getting into the industry or advancing their skills, is incredibly energizing. When you mentor, you get the energy back that you put in.” And, of course, the emphasis on hands-on experience means that interns are generating real value for the firm as they learn.

Hasnaa Elaraby has a lively discussion with another BWBR intern
Hasnaa Elaraby

Designed for Flexibility

The BWBR internship program currently offers a flexible structure that accommodates both in-person and hybrid options. While she had the option to be remote, Zeekra opted to come into the office five days per week. “For me, I thought, if I am only here for a short period of time, I want to utilize this time as a means of networking, socializing, and learning as much as I can.” She also likes the feeling of shifting from a home environment to a work environment. The best part is that she was able to choose the approach that works best for her. For Hasnaa, it was important to spend some time on-site as part of her role, because she is doing work at the interiors library, yet the team was flexible about when she chose to come in.

Cail started off hybrid but, due to a long commute, ultimately ended up fully remote. That works well for him as a parent because he can take extra time to be with his son. Plus, he feels more socially comfortable connecting on Zoom, which he describes as “democratizing the conversation.” Meanwhile, Lauren relishes her hybrid schedule which affords the opportunity to be in the office connecting face-to-face with people, yet also offers time to be focused at home without the distraction of socialization.

Growing Forward

When prompted to provide feedback on the internship program, the answers spoke to the incredible level of initiative among this group. One intern said they’d like more critical — specifically negative — feedback, so they can grow. Another said they wanted more time, more projects, and more challenges. They also said they learned from their colleagues at BWBR that it’s okay to advocate for yourself, whether that means asking for more work or putting up boundaries when you have too much on your plate.

With attitudes like these, we expect that this isn’t the last we’ll be seeing of these fantastic young talents. THANK YOU to all of our 2022 interns, and best of luck with all of your future endeavors!

Data + Design: A Case Study

Data is everywhere and we’ve all seen the ways that data has revolutionized our world. But what does that have to do with architecture and design? My role here at BWBR is specifically focused on ways that data and data visualization can be leveraged to create design solutions that save clients time and make projects run smoother. Let’s take a look at what that can look like in practice.

Data to the Rescue

The Lincoln, Nebraska campus of Southeast Community College was planning a new STEM building and needed to understand the true utilization of their classrooms in order to identify gaps and fully map out their need for more space. To bolster their case for a new building, confirm assumptions, and inform internal discussions, our goal was to use data to help guide space planning and development. Was more space needed, or just an optimization of when and where classrooms are scheduled in existing space?

To that end, the client provided their full roster of classes for the impacted spaces for the spring and fall semesters of 2021. Using Python, I then broke the roster into one-minute increments for each classroom – over 60 million rows of data – then totaled them into hours to see overall utilization.

This data was then fed into a custom interactive dashboard in Tableau, which offered the following visualizations:

Hourly Utilization Matrix – An hourly grid of utilization for each building and each room.

An hourly utilization matrix showing department and room usage data

Total Weekly Course Hours – A bar chart of total hours of utilization by each college department.

A bar chart showing the total weekly course hours for a college's spring and fall 2021 semesters

Weekly Course Hours – A tree map of average weekly utilization hours by department.

A colored tree diagram that shows college departments' weekly course hours

Moving Forward with Confidence

The value in this approach was being able to see the details of where and when space was actually being used. In analytics, the aggregate often looks very different from the detail. In this case, the client thought they needed more spaces, but the data suggested that a more effective approach would be to focus more on making sure the right types of spaces would be available at the right times, since a deeper look revealed that particular time slots and types of rooms were in greater demand than others.

Now, the client is able to move forward with the project secure in the knowledge that they appreciate their space utilization fully and that the resulting design will give them everything they need.