Omaha’s RDG Planning & Design has contributed an endowed gift to the College of Architecture to establish the “Create Meaning Together” Fellows Program in honor of retired principal John Birge.
This new program, designed to build leadership skills among students using the CliftonStrengths Talent Assessment Program, focuses on each student’s strengths to maximize their potential and develop their talents so they can become more effective, emerging professionals. Implementation of the program is scheduled for the upcoming fall semester in one of the college’s fourth-year collaborate studios. These discipline-blended courses represent the college’s three allied undergraduate programs of architecture, landscape architecture and interior design simulating a firm-like, cooperative environment.
Course students and faculty will take the CliftonStrengths Assessment at the beginning of the semester to discover their top five strengths and receive strengths-based coaching from College of Business students; John Birge; Lori Stohs, founder and consultant with Lori Stohs Consulting Group and RDG leaders. These coaching sessions will help students understand their results and how to tap into their strengths to empower them to be better leaders, collaborators, co-workers and designers.
“Funding this fellows program, which supports the elevation of collaboration and design thinking into the business aspects of architecture, was a no-brainer for RDG. Our investment in the success of aspiring designers and the future leadership of firms is critical not only to our profession but to the community at large. These individuals will be designing the spaces of our collective future; by supporting them, we’re empowering the next generation to dream big, to transform lives and ultimately, to create a better world,” said RDG Planning & Design Principal and COO John Sova, AIA.
As part of RDG’s philanthropic culture, retiring or transitioning founding principals are given the opportunity to select a higher educational institution of their choice to receive an endowment level gift. Because Birge is not a UNL alum, one might question his choice.
“I am actually a graduate of Iowa State and one might wonder why I didn’t choose that institution. Well, I’m from Nebraska, and we thought we would choose UNL since we were able to build our business here in Nebraska. That's where I started my career, and I’ve been with the same company for 47 years,” said Birge. “It just makes sense that it is here where we invest in continuing that pipeline of talent to service Nebraska firms and also to champion UNL students as leaders in these firms because we don't want those assets to leave the state.”
RDG has been using CliftonStrengths Assessments for nearly 20 years to build teams and develop talent. Birge and College of Architecture Dean Katherine Ankerson envisioned this as a valuable addition to the fourth-year studio curriculum.
“This fellowship program is a way we can become engaged in the leadership process, helping students to become more cognizant of who they are and more aware of how they're wired. Knowing these strength traits will help students to become better collaborators with the different allied disciplines and will provide a pathway to incorporate all those tools within the workplace,” said Birge.
RDG, Birge and the college leadership team have incorporated a long-term plan to ensure the program’s longevity beyond their involvement.
“I’m not going to be the strengths coach indefinitely, and Dean Ankerson isn’t going to be the dean forever, so we wanted to put measures in place so the benefits outlive us,” Birge said. “I can’t wait for the first class!”
“I am thankful for this wonderful gift and excited about the opportunities this synergistic partnership presents our students and the future of our allied professions,” said Dean Ankerson.