SERA Academy: Why emerging professionals love SERA

Ask anyone how they felt as an intern or a brand new employee, and you’re bound to get a range of emotional responses. On the one hand, you’re excited about the potential and opportunity, but you’re also worried, stressed, and a little intimidated. There’s so much to learn when starting a new career, and all that learning doesn’t come easily. Yes, emerging professionals, even the most experienced among us remember those early days well.

In an effort to encourage our newest group of interns, in 2022, SERA launched SERA Academy, a program designed to thoughtfully onboard interns, intentionally integrate them into the culture of working at SERA, and help them to see the breadth and depth of the profession, beyond their academic experience. With real-world exposure to the varied aspects of the profession, interns emerge more informed and ready to take on the challenges of a new career.

Companionship in a cohort

Our first class of SERA Academy participants was a cohort of eight interns who came from schools across the country. Alex, Andrew, Christine, Grace, Nate, Reid, Ruby, and Yara met each other through a combination of online and in-person experiences, moving through the program and beginning their professional careers together. The cohort experience meant that, from the beginning, the participants were a community of learners who supported each other.

The group met as a team for weekly chats and check-ins with SERA’s Director of Learning and Development, Dominique Sparks, who led SERA Academy, organizing the programming, coordinating the training, and staying connected to the interns along the way.

A firm-wide effort toward building community and learning
Incredibly talented professionals from all over the firm came together to share their gifts with the interns in 26 unique learning sessions presented by 40 different contributors. Just a few of those topics were:

  • Understanding the Language of Running a Firm
  • Introduction to Design at SERA
  • Video Storytelling
  • How to Take Meeting Minutes
  • Career Paths
  • Sketching
  • Facilitating Public Meetings

The presenters were from different disciplines and career levels, and they brought varied perspectives and approaches to the work. The topics were chosen not only to inspire fresh, creative thinking and build skills but also to help fill in gaps that new graduates sometimes have. Often, employers trust that skills like taking minutes and facilitating meetings will grow with time. Though this is true, SERA realizes that giving emerging professionals instruction from colleagues with more experience would help them to engage with tasks more quickly and with greater confidence.

The interns shared that instruction of relevant skills and the open panel discussions were among their favorite things about SERA Academy. In fact, the workshops were so popular that people from all over the firm attended them, learning right alongside the interns. This just expanded the interns’ exposure and helped them see that even seasoned professionals are constantly learning.

Investment leads to growth and success

Ultimately, our SERA Academy pilot program was a huge success, and we’re looking forward to refining and expanding the program in the future. Our interns were so successful that 50% of them have stayed on at SERA, continuing to work for the firm even after returning to school.

But to understand the benefits of SERA Academy, you don’t have to take our word for it. One of our interns, Reid, had such a positive experience that he took the initiative to lead a special video project to tell more about the intern perspective of SERA Academy.

Having been recently recognized by AIA Northwest-Pacific as an Emerging Professionals Friendly Firm, SERA considers it our responsibility and honor to play a part in growing the leadership of the future. We’re eager to connect with our next cohort of interns at upcoming career fairs.

If you’re interested in being a SERA intern, you can connect with Talent Acquisition Manager Taylor Blythe via email or at the upcoming career fairs at the universities below.

  • University of Texas, Austin
  • University of Oregon
  • Howard University