Architectural Graduate Daniel Klemen and Architectural Landscape Graduate Krystlyn Lee have followed similar paths throughout their academic and professional careers. They met their senior year in North Central High School’s AP Art class where they became friends and decided to participate in the ACE Mentor Program together. This mutual interest in art and architecture led them both to Ball State University to study at the R. Wayne Estopinal College of Architecture and Planning (CAP). After graduating, completing their respective internships, and working at firms in different cities, they’ve now reconnected in Indianapolis to work full-time at Schmidt Associates where they have had the unique opportunity to work directly on Washington Township schools and experience an immediate full-circle impact on their high school. When they find free moments between these projects, they operate a drawing board that engages fellow employees with prompts to help create a more inclusive and positive work environment and help share their love for art that guided them into architecture.

To get the full picture of how and why they decided to pursue architecture and landscape architecture as a career paths, what the experience has been like working on Washington Township projects as alumni, and their opinions on how K-12 and other educational design has changed since being students, we connected with them to learn more.

What got you to where you are today?
Daniel:  I have a deep appreciation for the arts, math, and sciences, and recognized I was artistically gifted very early. I was introduced to architecture as a career that could encompass these interests during my time at Eastwood Middle School, and after learning more about it through ACE, I knew it was a natural fit. Completing the first-year program at CAP and getting accepted into the architecture program really solidified this career as my path. After completing my undergraduate, I did a seven-month internship at Schmidt Associates where I experienced the depths of the profession even further. Following my internship, I returned to Ball State to pursue my Master of Architecture. While there, I was encouraged to seek out my creative interests within the industry while participating in a national competition hosted by the U.S. Department of Energy and researching and writing my thesis on energy-conscious modular architecture solutions. After receiving my Masters, I came home during the pandemic and found a unique opportunity with Schmidt Associates through a contract with CAD-Vantage. After about a year, I was hired full-time at Schmidt Associates to continue my education toward my license through their learning-centric culture that I’ve witnessed them cultivate.

Krystlyn: I have an extensive background in art, photography, and design, so architecture was fitting. Doing site work lets me mix art and design while creating a living picture for the Owners, which is something I enjoy. My first job was in Tennessee before the pandemic, but due to losses from COVID-19, I was downsized. This brought me home and eventually led me to Schmidt Associates. Within the firm, I have enjoyed learning and enhancing my skills. Coming home as an adult and being on my own has made me look at the city differently and appreciate it more as I discover new things.

What projects for Washington Township have you worked on together and what are some of the ways you have noticed design trends changing since you were a K-12 student?
Daniel: I’ve had the pleasure of working on North Central High School, Northview Middle School, and a little bit of Eastwood Middle School during my time at Schmidt Associates and CAD-Vantage. As a graduate of North Central and Eastwood, it’s been incredible to witness the progress being made to enhance their respective learning environments, and a humbling experience to play a small role in that change. From working on these projects, I’ve noticed a big trend in adding and/or improving existing technology throughout facilities to both integrate learning practices at a new level and to enhance the educational spaces we design.

Krystlyn: I worked on Westlane Middle School, Northview Middle School, and North Central High School. I went to Westlane and graduated from North Central. What I have noticed is there is more of a focus on creating 21st-Century media centers that have become centralized focal points of the schools. There’s also more specialized, sophisticated maker spaces and science labs, and smarter technology is being used in cafeterias, which helps when there are large numbers of students having lunch at the same time.

What’s it been like to work for the same school district where you went?
It’s been a wild and rewarding experience. People no longer see you as a student, but instead view you as a professional. It was awesome going back and getting to work alongside some of the same faculty who initially taught me and either intentionally or inadvertently led me to this profession, and subsequently right back to my old schools. Walking through North Central’s hallways again on an initial field visit and seeing my old banana painting still hanging in the hallways was a full-circle moment for me that helped to peel back the true significance of my contribution.

Krystlyn: It’s completely surreal. On one hand, I realize I’m not a young person anymore. On another, it’s inspiring knowing that the work I do ultimately impacts the learning environment for today’s students. As an up-and-coming landscape architect, that means something.

Are you working with anyone from the district who was there when you were students? How have those relationship evolved?
Due to the size of the North Central project and the nature of the renovation, I haven’t had too many overlapping opportunities with familiar faculty. However, it’s neat seeing our principals and architects working together to make appropriate decisions toward the future of education at NC. I also have a unique relationship with Andy Elkins. His daughter went to Ball State with me and married my best friend who went through the architecture program with me. Being part of their wedding and then sitting in meetings with Andy has been a wonderful parallel that I wouldn’t have been able to witness anywhere else.

Krystlyn: I’m not working with anyone who was there when I was, but by answering questions and making myself available as a resource, I’ve built strong relationships with the Owners, and that is important.

As North Central alumni, have you been able to offer any practical design ideas?
Daniel: Yes. I had an immediate opportunity to contribute to the design of the new auditorium, which led me to stick around on the new performing arts classrooms and other acoustically driven spaces. I also worked on the new fieldhouse design. I laid out general plans, sections, and elevations and created and coordinated precast concrete details. Contributing to that conversation in a small way was another major full-circle moment.

Krystlyn: I’ve gotten to do some lightbox designs, and while working directly with the engineers I have realized the importance of phasing with the parking lots and bus storage projects, as well as how it can benefit other Owners. That’s invaluable experience.

Now working together professionally and looking back on your history, do you feel it’s changed your relationship in any way?
Daniel: Absolutely. How everything ended up working out for us was organic, but working with someone you’ve known a while builds trust, confidence, and a deeper appreciation for the work you’re doing. Having gone through Washington Township Schools together provided us with key insights into the existing educational and student-body cultures, which empowered us to contribute to the design discussions at a much larger scale than previously anticipated.

Krystlyn: Definitely. It really is a funny coincidence how everything has evolved, but working together has not only made us stronger professionals, it’s also made us better friends. We always get our work done and have a lot of fun doing it. Culturally, it just works.

What is the purpose of the doodle board and how has it boosted employee spirits?
Daniel: This is something Krystlyn started to combine art with our company culture. Our first effort was leading up to Father’s Day. She wrote, “Happy Father’s Day,” so naturally, I drew a picture of the in-office King of Dad Jokes, Steve Schaecher. Over time, it has morphed into a question-and-answer board that encourages engagement among teammates, all while featuring my freehand drawings. I’ve drawn almost everything, including foods, animals, and even the Colts mascot, Blue, for our resident fans.

Krystlyn: It’s a great way to lighten the mood when things get busy, and it’s also a fun way to get to know employees who work on other teams. We have asked about everything from favorite State Fair foods to seasonal things you look forward to. The answers have sparked a lot of positive conversations, too. Best of all, Daniel has an opportunity to keep on doodling.