Return of the Interns

What if you could go back in time and tell your past self all the savvy job insights you’ve since picked up over the years: the questions to ask, the relationships to build, the time-wasters to avoid? And what if you could catch yourself before your very first gig: the summer internship? You’d be able to set yourself up for some serious success.

That’s why, ahead of our upcoming summer student internship program, we asked three of our designers to take us back to their intern years, all of which began at Baskervill. (We were so impressed, we kept them on as full-timers!).

Over our firm’s 120-year history, we’re fortunate to be proud of a lot of things: our award-winning work, the relationships we’ve created with our clients, and the culture we’ve built for our team. But we’re also really proud to be known as a firm that coaches young designers, helping them grow their careers in real, measurable ways. Our philosophy: learn by doing.

Just ask Patricia Lopez, LEED AP ID+C. She’s currently a senior interior designer in our hospitality studio, who’s traveling one day for client meetings in the Caribbean, then the next day refining details for The Glass Light, an Autograph Collection hotel in Norfolk, Virginia. But 11 years ago, she was an interior design student at Virginia Commonwealth University applying for her first summer internship. “I kept hearing the name Baskervill over and over again, how it was the best place for a design student to work in Richmond,” she says. “So I went for it. I didn’t apply anywhere else.”

The risk paid off, and she spent the following months dipping her toes in a variety of projects, from space planning and red lining to art selection and furniture installations. It’s a similar tale for Ashley Jones, AIA, and Cassie Sipos, architect and interior designer (respectively) in our workspace studio. From their early days of racking up real-world experience, they’ve moved on to helping an international software giant set up shop in Virginia and setting new standards for engineering education at VCU.

As we prepare to welcome a new crew of summer interns in a few short months (application details can be found here) we asked Patricia, Ashley, and Cassie to share their tips on making the most of a design internship. Here, their advice on bouncing back from mistakes, standing out in a crowd, and embracing the fear of failure.

An internship is your first real chance to see what kind of design you’d like to do, says Cassie, an intern during the summer of 2014. “So the fact that Baskervill has six different design studios was a way for me to test the waters. I was able to try my hand at office design and hotel design to see what fit.”

She welcomed each opportunity given to her with gusto, and soon discovered joy in the process of designing spaces that people use every day: workspaces, bank branches, and healthcare facilities like the Centra Southside Medical Center, a former big-box store converted into clinical space.

“I was ordering finishes, creating palettes, and mocking up 3D views for a huge variety of projects. The exposure and the mentorship were invaluable.”

It’s a sentiment echoed by Ashley. Since starting as a summer intern in 2004, she’s worked in nearly every studio. An avid softball player (it was the firm’s softball team that eventually sealed the deal for her to accept the internship), she considers herself a utility player: “Whatever you need, I can make happen, and that’s because I tried everything when I was first learning.”

All three former interns agree: if there’s one mistake a newcomer is most apt to make, it’s working too fast, and as a result, racking up errors.

“I would do things so quickly that I wasn’t checking my work,” says Patricia, who interned the summer of 2005. Luckily, she had a great mentor who kindly told her that the work she was doing wasn’t helpful because it had too many mistakes. “She taught me to slow down, take my time, and do things right the first time.”

Looking back on that time, Patricia—who’s now mentoring young designers—acknowledges that mistakes will and should be made in an internship; they’re welcome learning opportunities. “It’s your ability to learn from them that shows what you’re made of.”

Most of what you pick up as an intern comes down to paying attention to the little details, says Cassie. She remembers forgetting to order samples on time ahead of a client meeting and having to scramble to find replacements. “That was a big eye-opener for me. What they teach you in school doesn’t always match up with the reality of putting a space together in a real way, so you have to critically think about your decisions.”

Our internship program has only improved since Patricia and Ashley interned more than 10 years ago. “We take our interns on field trips,” Ashley says. “We let them do real design work, and we give them practice communicating and collaborating across disciplines so they get used to the way it works on a design team.”

So how can you stand out? Do more, says Patricia. “What I want to see from the interns I work with today is that they’re capable of taking their work to the next level. If I ask an intern to work up a concept for a hotel lobby layout, I don’t want to see one, I want to see 10.” (She admits hindsight is 20/20: “I know I didn’t do that; I was naïve.”)

It’s refreshing, she says, to be able to share this advice: “At the end of the day, there’s no one telling you what you can or can’t do. Only you have the power to make your career exactly what you want it to be, and Baskervill gives you the tools to do it.”

One afternoon when Ashley was interning in our healthcare studio, a principal called her into his office to assist with a space plan. There was a catch: it needed to be done within three hours. “I looked at the plan, looked at him, and then I said ‘No.’ It was so much work in so little time, and I didn’t think I could do it.”

Three minutes later, Ashley walked back into the principal’s office and said, “Give me that plan. I’ll get it done.” And she did.

The moral of the story? Saying no to an opportunity because you’re afraid of failure is a short-sighted move, especially considering all of the guidance and coaching here, Ashley says.

“Our firm is growing something great,” says Cassie, who today is part of the team designing the workspace of a headquarters building for a regional credit union—a client she did a handful of small projects for as an intern. “As a designer, it’s exciting to grow alongside the firm, the clients, and the projects that taught you what you know. It’s even more exciting to be a part of a team.”

That team culture—literal and figurative—was what drew Ashley to Baskervill, and it’s what has kept her here for more than a decade. She’s played on our softball team and even had a chance to design a stadium (and meet her idol, Dot Richardson). “We’re looking for team players because we’re building a team. Our internship program is a way for students to learn who they are as designers, and also to learn how they fit into a larger design team.”

Eleven years after taking that big risk by applying for only one summer internship, Patricia sees herself continuing to grow in the place that got her started. “What I love most about my career is what I get to do at Baskervill every day,” she says. “And that’s because it’s no one person’s design here. It’s a collaboration of designers.”

If you’re ready to start your own design journey or know a college student who’s looking for summer experience, head here for full internship application details. Plus, a few of our designers will be at the following career fairs to answer questions:

VCU School of Engineering Career Fair // February 14th
UVA Lunch & Learn Interview Day // February 21st
Hampton University Career Fair // February 22nd
ASID Student Career Fair // February 23rd
Virginia Tech Career Day and Design Expo // February 26th

And if you’re looking for even more advice on how to knock your summer internship out of the park, here are a few notes from Ashley, who offered up some sage advice in an interview with The American Institute of Architecture Students. See below.