Alumni Jenna Vasington & Sarah Warren Pivot & Adapt to Contribute to Northeastern’s COVID-19 Taskforce
Alumni Jenna Vasington and Sarah Warren, who both graduated with a Master of Architecture and Bachelor of Science in Architecture, are now working on the In-House Design Team within Northeastern’s Design and Construction Department – where they manage smaller scale interior renovations across campus and recently had the opportunity to work on the COVID-19 Taskforce. In their roles as Assistant Project Managers / Designers, Jenna and Sarah split their time between working as architects / designers and supervising constructions projects. The School of Architecture taught them how to be adaptable and flexible, how to work efficiently, and how to embrace a wide-range of skills, including drawing, 3D modeling, space-planning, graphic design, and more. We had the chance to catch up with Jenna and Sarah to learn more about what it’s like working at their alma mater, how they contributed to the university’s reopening efforts starting as early as April, and how things have shifted since going remote. Learn more below.
Why do you love working at Northeastern?
Jenna: I really love my job at Northeastern because I get to see projects from start to finish. I get to work with clients to identify problems they have in their space and come up with creative solutions to solve them. I also have a lot of freedom to propose new furniture, lighting or graphics to enhance spaces across campus. The other great thing about this job is how fast paced the projects are. Seeing your designs implemented in a matter of months is amazing and it is rewarding to see students, faculty/staff and visitors enjoying the space you helped create.
Sarah: It’s great to see spaces I frequented as a student being upgraded and renovated. I like working for Northeastern rather than a traditional architecture firm (as was my original plan), because I have so much more agency in every project I work on. As a young professional, I have a lot more say in design choices than I might otherwise at a traditional firm.
I get to see dozens of projects through from start to finish every year, which makes my job exciting and ever-changing.
Having gone to Northeastern, my familiarity with the campus has also helped a lot. The student perspective of campus is important to consider when renovating spaces, and I think it creates a great balance to have personally experienced both sides.
How did your role change to help with the COVID Taskforce?
Jenna: My role has changed drastically to help on the Covid Taskforce. As the campus switched to remote learning in the spring, our In-House Design Group had a lot of our projects put on hold because of the construction halt in Boston. However, our group pivoted and started to look at what Covid would mean for our campus in the future. Our department helped the Covid Taskforce with the creation of floorplans, diagrams and graphics to help inform smart, practical solutions for student, faculty and staff spaces across campus.
Sarah: In April, Boston shut down construction for the whole city. This meant that the majority of our projects could not continue. Shortly thereafter, discussions began to happen regarding how my team, as a group of designers & PMs, was in a great position to help the University reopening efforts. I was able to help create diagrams, documents, guides, and layouts for different groups across campus, which was a great way to meet departments I had not worked with before. I had a chance to work on creating exciting & useful graphics for different groups, which was not only a good exercise in experience design, but also fun! I also helped to spearhead the Workspace Response Task Force, which assisted departments with readying their office spaces to reopen safely.
What were your contributions to the Campus Reopening effort?
Jenna: My role in the Campus Reopening effort has been signage. We needed signage on campus to help people navigate the new normal they would face when they stepped back on campus in the fall. Working with Marketing, the sign shop, external signage vendors and departments all over campus, I created a signage package that could be used across the Boston campus and our regional campuses. It was apparent early on that we needed a streamlined signage package that would meet the requirements of the majority of sign requests we were receiving. We wanted consistency across campus but also needed to create signage that was universal. Adding icons to the signs helped create intuitive, recognizable and friendly signage that could be understood in a glance and from a far distance. The signage package I created included banners to welcome people into lobbies and outline the University’s Covid guidelines, capacity signage for elevators, tables and conference rooms and floor decals to show people where to stand to safely distance. In addition to creating the signs, I also helped with the implementation. I have helped coordinate installs of over 7,500 signs on campus this summer in academic spaces, dorms, labs, hotels and the testing center.
Reopening the campus has been a tremendous effort and the whole Northeastern community is to thank for campus opening so smoothly.
I am extremely proud I was able to step up and help create the signage that allowed the University re-open and also get to work on my graphic design skills in the process.
Sarah: Our primary goal was to make campus feel safe to return to, particularly for researchers and those who returned to campus early. I developed the Return to Campus Guidebook, which sought to assist the University community with spatial and behavioral considerations upon returning to campus. Then, as the fall semester approached, we assisted with getting the many student spaces ready – classrooms, lounges, and lobbies in particular. Wondering where all the extra chairs went? There were over 3,000 of them removed, and that was us, along with tons of help from Building Services/Operations, of course!
How has your work shifted as you moved to work remotely?
Jenna: Working remotely has been interesting. Our job typically requires a lot of site visits and samples. However, since my role pivoted to signage creation this was easy to do from home over the summer. As projects have picked up again in the fall, I have been receiving a lot of samples to my house to help with design. I definitely miss being able to come into the office and connect with people in-person but my team is in constant communication which has helped with the work from home / quarantine conditions. We still have design meetings together to work collaboratively and brainstorm and we are actually busier than ever. I am glad that our work from home environment has allowed us to continue to work efficiently while still being creative, collaborative and having fun.
Sarah: One big change is that my home office has become an impromptu finish library! It’s important to visualize materials and colors for design projects in person, as digital representations don’t always reflect the real thing. As a result, I’ve got dozens of carpet & fabric samples all over my house, so I can send pictures to clients! But overall, I love working remotely. It really helps to have a great team, all of whom like to communicate regularly.
Collaboration is a huge part of what we do, so we’ve had to find creative ways to work together.
We all chat daily and collaborate remotely on our projects whenever we can. We have casual “coffee chats” in the mornings, and virtual design charettes to share what we’ve been up to. We all put in the work to maintain our great team dynamic!