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Jul 01, 2022 By IIDA HQ
Mentoring is for Everyone | 2022 Wilsonart Essay Winner
2022 Wilsonart Essay winner Sally Birkett Seston, Student IIDA on the merits of mentorship—at any stage of life.
By IIDA HQ Jul 01, 2022
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Mentorship can be an essential building block in starting or changing careers, or expanding one’s skillset or network. The IIDA Student Mentoring Program is built to benefit interior design students from all walks of life, offer connections that can expand ideas of what a practice can be, and fill in the blanks that may be missing from one’s skill sets and knowledge base.

Sally Birkett Seston, Student IIDA, entered the program with a unique background of having previously founded, built, and sold a successful strategic retail consulting business. With a strong foundation in technology and an MBA, she made the decision to pursue a new career that encompasses her interests in interior architecture and design. Although not the traditional mentee, Birkett Sestson’s experience demonstrates the depth of knowledge that one can gain from the program, particularly for students pursuing a secondary career.

IIDA, the Foundation Trustees, and Wilsonart are proud to name the 2022 winner for the Wilsonart Essay Competition, Sally Birkett Seston, IIDA, ASID of Rocky Mountain College of Art + Design. She was a participant in the IIDA Student Mentoring Program and is the recipient of the $1,000 prize on behalf of the Wilsonart Education Fund. You can read his winning essay below.

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“Mentoring is for Everyone”

By: Sally Birkett Seston, Student IIDA

Really?! One word, raised eyebrows, and a slight smile. The shocked group was skeptical about my participation in the IIDA Student Mentoring Program. Who could blame them? Prior to returning to school, I led a strategic consultancy. Juggling priorities, clients and contracts were skills I had honed. They wondered what the program could offer. But, my instincts said, participate.

With an interest in sustainable commercial design, I knew my interest was in creating interesting, flexible, and safe work and recreational spaces that are reflective of and adaptable to our new post-Covid reality. Luckily, Kaylen Parker, Designer, Studio O+A was my mentor. She has both experience in those areas and could relate to my questions and challenges.

During our first session, Kaylen answered my multitude of questions regarding first internships and full-time work. But, what I really wanted to learn was how to distinguish myself. Having graduated in 2018, the lessons that she learned during her internships and work at Studio O+A were fresh in her mind. Our discussions led us to focus on two key areas: credentials and presentation.

Our credential discussions centered on both structured and unstructured learning. Having already passed my LEED GA accreditation, Kaylen encouraged me to consider WELL accreditation. While aligned in some areas, WELL’s focus varies from that of LEED providing a broader perspective and counterpoint. She helped me to understand which NCIDQ exams I could write prior to starting full-time work and encouraged me to broaden my participation in IIDA and ASID.

Kaylen reinforced the importance of first impressions and the role of one’s portfolio. As a student, it is challenging to define excellence. Yes, industry sources show incredible work created by experienced designers. But, that level of excellence comes from years, often decades, of work. I didn't understand what excellence looks like at the new
graduate level and how to demonstrate my capability to deliver it. This was when Kaylen demonstrated the benefits of increased participation in IIDA and ASID. When at this point in her career, the feedback Kaylen received on her portfolio led to winning the 2018 ASID Student Portfolio competition.

Accepting the challenge, Kaylen focused on my portfolio; a living example of my work and skills. Clearly I needed guidance to take it to the next level. She reinforced the perpetual changes required to your portfolio; with excellence there is no finish line. Combining constructive criticism and inspirational examples, Kaylen helped me to see opportunities to improve and generously shared many examples and the evolution of her portfolio.

Over the mentorship program the guidance I’ve received has been invaluable. I am preparing for the WELL exam, joined our school’s ASID/IIDA chapter board, signed-up for industry events and significantly improved my portfolio. Most importantly Kaylen has become a trusted colleague and friend. She pushes me to improve, something I hope I will be able to reciprocate. Hopefully, this program does not have a defined timeline and my mentorship will continue.

To the naysayers, I am proof of the program’s value.

Learn more about the Wilsonart Essay here.

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