Meet Higher Education Client Liaison Sara Richey—a trailblazer in the AEC industry, whose journey of career transformation has been nothing short of inspiring. From her early beginnings at Purdue University where she earned a bachelor’s degree in interior design to going after a master’s degree in architecture at the Rhode Island School of Design, Sara’s unwavering determination and passion has led her on a remarkable path that took her to the Midwest, East Coast, overseas, and back to Indiana, eventually steering her into the dynamic world of business development. With an impressive track record of eight diverse roles across four companies, Sara has proven time and again that her versatility knows no bounds. Armed with an array of skills, she has adeptly navigated through the workplace, leaving an indelible mark wherever she treads. Prepare to be wowed as we delve into Sara’s career experiences, showcasing how her drive and adaptability have shaped her success every step of the way.

What were the experiences that led you to where you are today?

My love for design, research, and business has led me to where I’m at today. My first degree is a Bachelor of Arts in Interior Design from Purdue University. I practiced for a few years in AE firms including, Schmidt Associates. Always having my sights set on being an architect, I returned to school, attending the Rhode Island School of Design to pursue my master’s in architecture. After a summer internship, I realized what I loved most was working directly with Owners, understanding their visions and being a changemaker for people to thrive. The power of good design can positively impact occupants’ health, productivity, and wellness, which eventually launched me into my career with Steelcase. While there, I delivered research and workplace trends to the architectural and design community. Finally, staying in the A/E industry, I acquired strategy and sales management roles which helped me understand a lot about business. Full circle, my current role is a beautiful blend of all these things, and my career has been very myopic, with a lot of juggling, which I find exciting.

With all your experiences and even working in different markets, what do you feel are the most valuable insights you have gleaned?

I feel like no matter where you work, you can always learn something. That’s been one of the best parts of my career journey. When we are continuously learning, we grow, and it enables us to pivot into different roles that serve us best. For me, the variety of transferrable skills and the understanding that everything in life has a business element has allowed me to flourish. I also believe that listening, embracing your fears, being vulnerable and curious, going in with your eyes open, and having confidence can set you on a good path toward success.

With your background and having the versatility that you do, what types of work have you done, and how have your past experiences helped you today?

I’ve done research for architects, designers, and c-suite executives on how spaces shape behaviors, strategic account management for national and international clients, and now I’m working as a client liaison and studio leader for the Schmidt Associates Higher Education Studio. This blended role is comprised of business development, strategy, and overseeing that our Owners’ visions are met, operationally and through design.

These positions have allowed me to build upon my experience. Working in different markets and with international clients enabled me to have a broader understanding of industry trends and a sense of business accountment. I’ve also learned diplomacy, budgeting, problem solving, and how to approach helping others.

So why did you switch careers?

If I’m being honest, it was from burnout, wanting a higher quality of life, and a stronger company culture, which I have found at Schmidt Associates. In past jobs, I traveled a lot, and that is tough to do with a young family. I also wanted to get back to Indiana and serve my community with a greater purpose. The work I do for Schmidt Associates has given me all of this and more. Throughout all my roles, one thing has remained constant, and that is staying true to who I am. My personal desire is to help people and to provide a sense of belonging, which includes equity to live, learn, produce, and play.

As a client liaison and Studio leader, what does your job consist of daily?

My day is a blend of several different activities. Those include supporting our designers, doing pre-client prospecting, research to understand Owner challenges and the Midwest’s higher education market, offering support for proposals and interviews, overseeing higher education projects at a high level, understanding client missions, visions, and goals, and attending conferences to keep Schmidt Associates visible to college and university decision makers. I really love what I do. The internal team, and Sarah Hempstead make me want to work harder, and I would do anything for our clients.

If you had to do it all over again, is there anything you would change?

Yes and no. Yes, I think I would have pivoted sooner and had the confidence to follow my heart. No, I would not have given up the time I took off to be with my family. Those formative years are some of the most important, and you miss out on a lot when you’re always gone. I get a lot of inspiration from my kids and often look to them for feedback.

As you’re looking back on your varied experiences, the expertise you have gained, and the lessons you have learned, what advice do you have for others who are looking to make the leap into a different career, or perhaps going into business development like you have?

First and foremost, I would say dream big, explore, and be grateful and humble. Pay your dues and give things a chance to work. Secondly, being a client liaison and Studio leader for Higher Education, I fully believe in education. Practice what you pursue in school to truly understand your industry fundamentals, and always bring what you have and make lasting impacts. Mentors can really help a lot and you can learn from their expert perspectives. I’ve been lucky to have different people who have taught me. My first one showed me the importance of being authentic, my second told me to voice problems without bringing some solutions to the table, and my third one explained early on that stewing on things never makes them better. Have the courage to pivot when needed. Finally, be willing to work hard and build versatility. This will shape and mold you into becoming a stronger professional while helping you gain invaluable experiences.