SaraSara discusses her illuminating path from student intern to leading the firm’s lighting design studio.

Where did your interest in lighting design begin?

My mother always told me I was born to be an engineer, but my introductory courses in fluid dynamics, chemistry, and strength of materials made me wonder if enrolling in the Architectural Engineering program at Penn State was a mistake.  As soon as I took my first lighting class, however, I knew in what area of engineering I wanted to make my mark.  I was instantly inspired: A field that allowed me to combine my artistic passion with my enthusiastic knack for problem solving.

How did you get your start at CannonDesign?

I had the good fortune to intern for two summers with the electrical engineering group in Grand Island, where I learned a lot about the engineering process and about CannonDesign. By the end of my internship, I knew that I wanted to join the firm, but I also knew that I didn’t want to be a traditional electrical engineer – I wanted to work with light!

Tell us about your transition from student intern to lighting designer.

I was hired upon graduating from Penn State, but contingent on the idea that I could focus on lighting. At the time, I wasn’t expecting to be leading the charge to start up the lighting studio, but I was intent that lighting design would be a specialty service supported in the firm.

I connected with a fellow electrical engineer in St. Louis who shared my passion for lighting and we started to raise the profile of the value of thoughtful lighting design through the projects we worked on. Within my first year, I became the lead lighting designer for several large projects, and very soon lighting design became an integral offering in the firm’s suite of services.

That’s pretty impressive! So then that was the start of CannonDesign’s Lighting Studio?

Yes, and then adding new people the mix, we quickly developed some impressive lighting talent within the firm. Before long, we were a coalition of half a dozen people and we said to ourselves, ‘We really need to organize this, begin marketing lighting design, set up a fee structure, etc. We have a lot of value to offer here as an integrated service.’

I then began talking more seriously with our group and leadership about what lighting could and should be for the firm, and a business plan with a set of goals was formed. We began operating within the engineering group, and eventually after a stream of successful collaborations and award-winning projects, we got some awesome momentum going. In 2015, we officially launched the standalone Lighting Design Studio. Obviously I am thrilled that lighting has become an established service offering and we have come a long way, but I still think there is a lot more to come in terms of showing the firm and the world what we can do!

What advice do you have for young interns aspiring to go beyond the traditional path?

Don’t be afraid to pursue what inspires you! The lighting medium fascinates me. It literally materializes as a reflection of design—it’s a mix of art, science and relationships. Following my passion, I chose Lighting Design as my focus in the five-year program, and a new world was opened to me.

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