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May 28, 2024 By Laura Botham
Navigating New Beginnings: 2024 Wilsonart Essay Competition Winner
Scott Ware, Student IIDA, wrote about how mentorship was invaluable as he dove into a new career in design
By Laura Botham May 28, 2024
Published in Articles

The IIDA Student Mentoring Program provides hundreds of students—and professionals—the opportunity to be partnered with a mentor or mentee, an often life-changing experience. Students learn more about what their career can look like, and mentees are able to pay forward the impact that mentorship has had on their lives and careers. In this valuable exchange, mentees can glimpse the inner-workings of design firms and other design industry workplaces—after being paired with a mentor (an interior designer, manufacturer representative, dealer, educator or other design professional), students are able to shadow their mentor at work.

The Wilsonart Student Essay Competition offers participants the chance to receive a $1,000 prize for an essay about the experience. Scott Ware, Student IIDA, currently studying at Dakota County Technical College in Minnesota, is the 2024 Wilsonart Student Essay Competition winner for his essay about navigating a new career as a non-traditional student, an experience that he says proved to be priceless, invaluable, and unparalleled.

The Lighthouse: How Mentorship Helped Me Navigate New Beginnings

Scott Ware, Student IIDA
Dakota County Technical College

Navigating the waters of a new career path can be terrifying. It can feel lonely and overwhelming at times. Trust me, I know. Sometimes you wonder if you made the right decision. Can I really do this? As a non-traditional student going through a career change shortly after losing my father to a heart attack in 2021, a full-time job and full-time school, finding the time to attend network-building events is tough.

IIDA, as an organization, makes this process a lot more manageable through its mentorship program and so many other great opportunities. Priceless. Invaluable. Unparalleled. These are words commonly used to describe situations that bring value to the user. Although they cannot begin to measure the experience provided to me during IIDA’s mentoring sessions.

I count myself blessed to have been partnered with Tanya Schneider from Prevolv. Tanya was so quick to respond when I made initial contact and was so gracious with her time. We chose to meet virtually as her office and showroom were undergoing a remodel, but she has planned to invite me out the moment it is complete.

No matter how busy she was I was never made to feel rushed in our meetings, nor did I feel like she was distracted. Total commitment to helping newer professionals coming up has always been my MO in life, and to see her showing what true mentorship and leadership is was heartwarming. On a professional level she was invaluable, ope, there’s one of those words. She took time to go through my resume and cover letter providing priceless (Hey! There’s another one.) feedback on how to save space and make it more marketable at a glance.

She is currently investing her time in mentorship looking over my portfolio as well; I am beyond excited to hear what she has to offer! I look forward to the day I build a career as a designer and can pay it forward. I want to give others the same unparalleled (Yay, there’s the other one!) experience I have benefited from. On a personal level, she has been so supportive with what has been a trying time. In the current climate, as an adult with responsibilities, finding an internship has been challenging. She was so great staying in contact and offering information on places to look for internships.

Tanya is a great listener; through our conversations I shared that I am absolutely in love with lighting schemes. I truly feel like light is simultaneously passive and assertive in our lives. When done well, it fades into the background to offer comfort and warmth but can step forward when accentuating wayfinding is necessary. Within hours of our first meeting, she sent me a link to a professional event centered around commercial lighting and its applications. In closing, I thank you all at IIDA for putting together this amazing program, for a new person entering the field, it is truly life-altering! I just wish dad was here to see graduation.

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