At the beginning I was very stressed and didn’t think it could be possible. The best advice came from my husband, who told me to enjoy the time we are spending with our kids and family and do as much as you can. In trying to follow his advice, compartmentalizing is essential. When I am working I concentrate on that, and when I am with my kids I don’t think about work.
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Many of us now have new challenges that come with working from home, homeschooling, and sheltering in place.
As a part of my series about how women leaders in tech and STEM are addressing these new needs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sonia Navas.
Sonia Navas, LEED AP has 18 years of architectural experience both nationally and globally. As a design architect, she has experience in healthcare, residential, retail, data centers and nanotechnology facility projects with a strong background in project management from programming, design, and construction administration. Sonia holds a Master in Architecture, Architectural Engineering and a Master in Architecture, Urban Planning from Escuela Técnica Superior de Arquitectura de Madrid.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
When I was a little girl, I used to draw everything and everywhere. I was aware of my surroundings, so anything I saw I would draw — trees, bugs, etc. When I grew a bit older, I started to notice buildings and began drawing them as well, including every detail — gargoyles, rose windows, cathedrals, modern buildings, glass buildings, imaginary buildings, etc. When it was time to decide what to study, I knew architecture or engineering was the right path for me.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started at your company?
The most interesting thing that happened to me was when my manager at the time went to have a doctor visit and never came back. Turns out, she had a baby! This was about three or four months after I started with Sheehan Nagle Hartray Architects (SNHA). So, they put me in charge of the project we were working on. I barely knew who our consultants were, and it was my first data center project in the US and only second in my career. I had to step up and learn as much as I could now that this was on my shoulders. I have a lot of people to thank for their help, including everyone who answered my questions patiently and helped me understand new structural terms.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I specialize in working on data centers. These are very exciting projects because of the coordination that takes place with other disciplines. Seeing these buildings come to life and helping people store their valuable data like photos, music and memories has always been rewarding to me. These are fast-paced projects, so you get to see the project you design and work on for 6–8 months being built, and that is a very satisfying, and rare, feeling as an architect.
We always try to make these buildings as sustainable as possible, considering that they consume a lot of energy. We also keep the occupants and employees top of mind and try to improve their environment by providing good views, cross ventilation and operable windows as well as temperature controls.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I was finishing my masters on sustainable architecture and one of my classmates told me a good friend of his boss was looking for someone to help out in his studio. I wasn’t planning to start working while I was still in school, but I gave him a call and started to work for Paco Farina that very day.
The first project I did with him was a data center campus for a big bank in Madrid, Spain. The master planning was done in New York and while Paco travelled to the US to meet with the architect in charge of the entire campus, we delivered a competition for an outpatient urgent care facility. He taught me everything that I know up to this date, including how materials age and how they should be used. I stayed with him for three years, and worked on very different projects: data centers, telecommunication towers, warehouses, museums and outpatient care facilities. By having such a diversified portfolio, it opened a lot of doors later in my career, including my current position with SNHA.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Can you articulate to our readers what are the biggest family related challenges you are facing as a woman in STEM during this pandemic?
The biggest challenge Is trying to be a multi-tasker: right now, we are asked to be a full-time mom, teacher, and an employee. Trying to keep up with two kids’ schedules and a very demanding, high-speed work schedule with meetings ranging from 5–7 hours daily has proved quite the challenge.
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
My family lives in Spain, so they have been keeping us posted on the development of the virus. When they let us know they were closing schools in Spain, we knew it was about time it happened here, too. Once this became more of a reality, we talked to my husband’s parents and they let us move in with them for the time being. They are helping us a lot with the kids and having a backyard here (since we live in the city of Chicago) is a life saver with two small kids!
Can you share the biggest work related challenges you are facing as a woman in STEM during this pandemic?
The biggest challenge is trying to commit to deadlines. While being home with kids, you can’t always deliver immediately as my work usually requires. It requires me to get up early to get work done prior to my kids waking up and if I need to get something out that day, I will be working late at night to get it resolved.
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Being a project manager requires me to have control and know the status of my projects at all times, so unfortunately these early and late hours are required during this uncertain time. Thankfully, I do have my husband and in-laws to help with our kids, and a great team that makes meeting these deadlines possible!
Can you share your advice about how to best work from home, while balancing the needs of homeschooling or the needs of a family?
At the beginning I was very stressed and didn’t think it could be possible. The best advice came from my husband, who told me to enjoy the time we are spending with our kids and family and do as much as you can. In trying to follow his advice, compartmentalizing is essential. When I am working I concentrate on that, and when I am with my kids I don’t think about work. We split home chores and time with the kids, so we can get our work done on time. My son’s school and my daughter’s daycare send out weekly plans over the weekend, so we look over it and try to accomplish as much as we can during the week. When my in-laws are not with them, they sit next to me and we work of their reading, writing or math. My oldest can do some of his homework while I am on calls and then we review It later. In order to get them moving we also do yoga and dancing on the TV after dinner, and we always take time to read at night at least three books each. Keeping calm and knowing your limits It the best you can do.
Can you share your strategies about how to stay sane and serene while sheltering in place for long periods with your family?
We do fun family activities after the workday is done and try to do knew things every day — like going for walks in the yard and searching for bugs or pine cones! We invent games to motivate our kids and keep learning as they play. We try to enjoy every moment with each other, since you never know what will come next.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
- Family — It has united families more. Not only physically (hard right now) but emotionally and mentally. Reach out to your friends and loved ones and be there for them. Many times, we just need someone to listen to us to make us feel understood and taken care of. We are reaching out to our loved ones in ways we did not used to and closing the distance of living in different countries. The Covid-19 virus is uniting families and friends and making us more human.
- Health — we are getting healthier where possible by cooking more and exercising. We are teaching our kids and younger generation how to take care of yourself in order to help others.
- Flexibility — we are seeing a shift in rigid work schedules, to a more flexible one (like the one in the SNHA office) and making it possible for parents to attend school events without having to take time off work. Employees with more flexibility usually perform better!
- Self-discipline — This time is making everyone manage their time wisely to be able to rest, work and enjoy being with your family.
- Hope — there must always be hope. This will pass and a new virus/ disease, etc. will come by, so we need to be prepared, but without living in fear. We need to be hopeful that we learn from our mistakes and we will be better prepared for next time.
From your experience, what are a few ideas that we can use to effectively offer support to your family and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?
My family is in Spain, so they are ahead of us, so I just try to talk to them every day, even if it is a short text or a 5-minute Facetime, and on the weekends we have time to talk longer. We also help with groceries or order items online for them. Just being present in their lives, telling them that they matter, that you love them, and letting them know are there for whatever they need.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Whenever I feel doubt, my mom always tells me, “Nothing is impossible, you can do anything you set your mind on.” I remember this especially during these hard times to keep going!
How can our readers follow you online?
You can follow along with SNHA online on our LinkedIn page.
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!