BABE #143: ELIZABETH VAN SICKEL, Landscape Architect @ England-Thims and Miller, Inc.
Elizabeth is a total badass whose career is devoted to demanding, challenging and complex work. This interview was enlightening for our team (to say the least) and taught us a thing or two (or twenty) about what it means - and what it takes - to be a successful landscape architect like herself. We admire Elizabeth's tact, confidence and diligence and are honored she took the time to chat with us about the ins and outs of her craft. (Thanks for the insight, Elizabeth! You're a Grade A babe.)
Hometown: West Lafayette, Indiana
Current city: St. Augustine, Florida
Alma mater: Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana
Degree: B.A., Landscape Architecture
Very first job: Car hop at a drive-in restaurant
Hustle: Landscape Architect @ England-Thims and Miller, Inc.
Babe you admire and why?
I have always looked up to my mother. She's a civil engineer who is incredibly well-respected among her peers. When I was little, she would take me along to conferences and I remember being shocked at how few women I saw, but more importantly, how respected she was despite being outnumbered. For as long as I can remember, she has always stressed the importance of hard work and getting a good education. I’ll never forget when my little brother and sister and I went to watch her get her Ph.D after 15 years (because she had three kids in-between). She is my role model and continues to challenge me today.
How do you spend your free time?
I love to run, read, cook, and travel. Oh, and I love my dog.
Favorite app, website or blog?
I love to follow Gal Meets Glam for travel and style tips. Mavenly and Co. is a great blog to follow for career advice tailored towards women. They also have a great Podcast called Women, Work, and Worth. I also love theSkimm for my morning run-down of what’s going on in the world.
What would you eat for your very last meal?
My dad makes the BEST pizza in the world. I would have one of his pizzas topped with pepperoni, sausage, green peppers, onion, and extra cheese, please!
Favorite social media account to follow?
The National Geographic Instagram account. I love seeing beautiful photos taken all over the world.
If you could have coffee with anyone in the world, who would it be?
Karena Dawn and Katrina Scott, co-founders of Tone It Up. I have been following their nutrition and exercise program for about a year and a half and I just love everything that their community stands for and embodies. They are so down to earth and genuine; I think it would be a great coffee date!
If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would it be?
Lake Como, Italy.
What game/reality show would you win?
Probably the Amazing Race. My husband and I have considered submitting an audition tape; I really think we would do well.
What’s something most don't know about you?
In college, I did a study abroad program called the World Tour, and we visited 30 countries in 103 days! It’s a program only offered through the Ball State University College of Architecture and Planning and consisted of 24 students, all studying architecture or landscape architecture. We had two professors who took us all across Europe, Africa, and Asia. It was absolutely life-changing in so many ways and every single day I am so thankful that I got to go.
Tell us about your hustle.
I am a landscape architect working at a civil engineering firm in Jacksonville. We work with our clients to help them envision what a piece of land could become, develop a site plan, grade the site, lay utilities, and finally construct the site. Many of our projects are large master planned communities, where thousands of families live. It’s absolutely incredible to be involved in the process of taking a large empty piece of land in northeast Florida and work towards developing it into a neighborhood.
What does your typical workday look like?
My workday is typically spent in the office, doing anything from responding to emails, working on a project in AutoCAD or in Photoshop, or meeting with clients and/or engineers to determine what the next phase of the project will be.
When/how did you first become interested in landscape architecture?
Honestly, it’s funny because when I started school I had no idea what landscape architecture was. I chose Ball State to study Architecture, but per the way the first year design program is set up, you take an introductory course in architecture, landscape architecture and urban planning, and then choose one to continue with after freshman year. I had an amazing professor for my first landscape architecture class and he opened my eyes to this new profession that sounded so much more “me” than architecture did. He explained to us that architecture is the buildings, and landscape architecture is everything else. This really summarizes the variety and diversity of what landscape architects do.
What draws you to the industry, and what has your journey looked like?
My first job out of school was with a five-person firm in Fort Myers, Florida. Because the firm was so small, I was able to be involved in nearly every project that came through the door. This experience was invaluable when I began applying for a new position in Jacksonville because I already had a diverse portfolio. We decided to relocate to St. Augustine a month after we got married, when my husband was offered a job at his alma mater, Flagler College. That’s when I found England-Thims and Miller.
Have you always had a love for outdoor landscapes?
I have always loved being outside, but I never considered the thought that goes into creating places like zoos, golf courses, playgrounds, shopping centers, parks of all sizes, hiking trails, greenways, etc. I didn’t learn what a landscape architect did until I was 18-years-old. I saw it as an opportunity to combine my lifelong interest in science, art, nature, and design and turn it into real-life, human-scale places.
How do you stay organized and on top of your work?
I have a huge planner from Rifle Paper Co. that helps me keep everything organized. I’m the type of person who will forget something if it isn’t written down, so I keep a pen and a notebook with me at all times.
What is your work environment/office culture like?
We work in a very collaborative environment. One of the things I love about my office is that the landscape architecture department is only six people within the larger company of about 200. It gives you the feel of a small, close-knit group within a big company, so it feels like the best of both worlds.
Where do you go to for inspiration for new projects? Do you ever struggle to come up with new ideas?
We have an ongoing collection of inspiration images that we add to frequently. One of my favorite ways to find inspiration outside of the office is through travel. One morning while on vacation in San Diego, I came across the coolest light posts on a main street along the bay. I took a photo and added it to the collection; I’m still hoping to use those light posts in a project someday!
What’s your biggest career milestone and why?
In Florida, there are a rigorous series of five tests that you have to pass before you can legally use the term “landscape architect.” In February of 2017, after almost a year of studying every day, I completed my last test to become a licensed Landscape Architect!
How would you say being a woman has affected your professional experience?
Unfortunately, as a young woman, I have to work harder to earn the respect of professionals in this male-dominated field. While this isn’t the case in my office, when working with clients and other companies, there are sometimes misconceptions that get in the way.
What is the gender ratio like in your industry? Do you see it evolving?
The American Society of Landscape Architects is roughly 1/3 female. There are several initiatives geared towards introducing girls to landscape architecture. A career goal of mine is to be involved on the grassroots level to promote gender equity in the field.
Do you ever feel like your age is a disadvantage in the workplace? What about an advantage?
Yes; it is both an advantage and a disadvantage. It is an advantage when I am capable of using a new technology and thinking in a new way, but a disadvantage when voicing my opinion to a group of people who have decades of experience.
What are some common misconceptions about your job?
Landscape Architecture is not landscaping. The most common response I get when I tell people that I am a landscape architect is that they need a design for their backyard. While I smile and nod my head, it secretly drives me crazy because I have never had any interest in designing on that small of a scale.
Who are the businesses you'd most like to work with?
I would love to be involved in designing a neighborhood park or community garden. There is a great initiative starting in Riverside called Fleet Farming, which aims to take a person’s front yard and turn it into a small community garden to provide affordable produce to local residents. I really hope this concept will catch on and expand to other parts of Jacksonville and throughout the country.
What’s your ultimate dream job?
I would love to be able to design a botanical garden someday. I love seeing all the different kind of plants that can grow in a particular climate.
Are you involved with any other community organizations or side projects?
I am the current Section Chair for the Jacksonville Chapter of the Florida American Society of Landscape Architects. We meet about once a month for lunch and learns, group socials, and community service projects. April is World Landscape Architecture Month, so to celebrate, we work to raise awareness about our profession.
What advice would you give to a Babe trying to break into your industry?
Get experience any way you can. During summers from college, I worked at a local plant nursery in Indiana. The hands-on experience with the plants was so beneficial when I returned to school in the fall. It certainly wasn’t the most glamorous job, but really helped me look at things with a different perspective. Involvement in the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) is a great way to get involved in projects in the community, meet fellow professionals of all ages, and raise awareness for landscape architects.
What helps you wind down and manage stress?
For me, exercise is the thing that keeps me sane. I love to wake up at 5AM to go for a run and feel like a completely different person when I do. I also love yoga and meditation; I use Headspace and Calm to help me wind down. My commute each way is about 40 minutes, so I listen to a lot of podcasts and audiobooks to detach from the workday.
What are your goals for the future?
I would love to work for an international firm someday. It would combine my love of design and my love of travel.
Career and/or life advice for other babes?
Don’t ever doubt yourself. While trying to land my first job after college, I drove 1,200 miles to Florida to interview for a job I really wanted. I never would have had that opportunity if I had taken no for an answer, and the extra initiative I showed got me the job. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else. You have a unique set of talents and a background unlike anyone else. It’s important to stay true to yourself and not be distracted by what others are doing.
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