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BSA News

Aug 24, 2023

Nominations Underway for WID Design Award of Excellence


Image from BSA Archives

Nominations for this year's Women in Design (WiD) Award of Excellence are underway, with criteria that focus on impact.

For more than 20 years, WiD has annually honored women in the design community to recognize “a person who has built one’s own life around design, whose work exemplifies the best of process and product, and who uses a position of achievement to give back to the world of design and to the community at large.”

Nominations are open until September 22 for the WiD Award, which honors two to three recipients every year. Both prospective awardees and colleagues may submit nominations.

What Makes This Award Different?

While it recognizes design excellence, the WiD Award differentiates itself from other awards by focusing on “how the person has used their career and their accomplishments to give back or to extend to their outside community beyond their own personal accomplishments,” says Felice Silverman, principal at STA Design, Inc., and former WiD Award of Excellence chair. Design awards that are all about built things “are interesting but are not what advances the profession,” adds Kelly Ard AIA, partner at designLAB architects and 2023 WiD Award of Excellence co-chair. “How you conduct yourself and how you help nurture and support others and enrich the overall experience—this award is really looking at all those elements as well.”

The Breadth of the WiD Award

In 2020, to mark the award’s 20-year milestone, the WiD community curated an exhibit titled IMPACT: Inspired and Inspiring at BSA Space, asking all past award winners to reflect on their career in their own words, doing so via a graphic, a video, writing, or even a board game. What is evident when looking at the award winners is not only the breadth of what they have done but also how they are making an impact in nontraditional ways: From creating a mobile farm stand to combat food insecurity to delivering a TED Talk on imagination that has since been translated into more than 35 languages and viewed by an estimated 2 million people to tirelessly advocating for what is now Boston’s 43-mile HarborWalk public access system. And those examples just scratch the surface of what these designers have given back to and the impact they have had on the world at large.

Importantly, this award honors those across many disciplines, as represented in past recipients such as artist Janet Echelman, ArchitectureBoston magazine editor Renée Loth Hon. BSA, Boston By Foot founder Polly Flansburgh Hon. AIA, founding principal of Nitsch Engineering Judith Nitsch, international designer Mikyoung Kim, landscape architect and principal at Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates Laura Solano, and deputy director of capital programs and environmental affairs at Massachusetts Port Authority Luciana Burdi Intl. Assoc. AIA, to name just a few.

Key Tips When Applying

Among the general tips to keep in mind when submitting, these two stand out:

  • Age doesn’t matter. Although nominees are asked to explain the winding road that got them to where they are, a common misconception is that nominees should be at the later stages of their career. “We’ve identified the desire to frame that ideal differently, to broaden the pool and highlight people who still have a lot of career left" says Kelly Ard AIA. "It doesn’t take 20 years for someone to have an impact.”
  • Carefully choose your reference letters. Part of the submission process requires three letters of recommendation, and these are key to providing a more nuanced look at the nominee. For example, letters from the nominee’s firm are not as effective as letters that describe how this person was engaged in the community or letters from students or colleagues whom this nominee has mentored. As Silverman suggests in a prior WiD Award informational session, “Carefully choose the three letters because they sometimes tell the story better than the writing on the application… and jurors so often will bring up the letters.”

Lasting Impact

At the crux of the WiD Award is the nominees’ impact in terms of their personal accomplishments within the design profession and in how they’ve used those accomplishments to the advancement of others. Natasha Espada AIA, one of the recipients of the 2022 WiD Award, describes how honored she was to receive the award: “It recognized my design work as founder of STUDIO ENÉE architects, a woman and minority design firm in Boston, and my leadership as the 2020 BSA President,” which was focused on equity, diversion, and inclusion, and social justice. But most important, she says, is that the award recognized how she used her position of achievement to give back to the world of design and to the community at large “by mentoring and sponsoring women and minorities in architecture."

But there is also the lasting professional impact for those who have received the award. “[Nominating] someone who is not a known name could really set that person up in a very different trajectory,” says 2020 WiD Award of Excellence chair Yanel de Angel in this video on WiD’s history and evolution. For Espada, receiving the award has given her firm “more visibility in the architectural community and with clients.” Moreover, she says, “We have continued to be selected to represent under-represented communities and provide the highest level of design to civic, educational, cultural, and community-based projects.”

Nomination Deadline

If you recognize someone who represents the ideals of this award and would like to see their name on this inspiring montage, nominate them today. All submissions are due by 4:00 p.m. on Friday, September 22, 2023.