How one South Dakotan is continuing her education


This article was produced by Startup Sioux Falls and the Zeal Center for Entrepreneurship and is syndicated by the Sioux Falls Business Journal. Startup Sioux Falls is a digital hub that aims to connect the communities, companies and non-profits that make up Sioux Falls’ startup ecosystem.

Sara Lum sought out an internship with the Zeal Center for Entrepreneurship to gain experience with a local nonprofit organization as part of her MBA program at the University of South Dakota.

But she started as an architect.

Lum earned her Bachelor of Science degree in design and architectural studies as well as a Master of Architecture, and she currently works full-time for the South Eastern Council of Governments as a planner.

Lum sat down with Startup reporter Andrea Van Essen to talk about her work an architect and how she thinks an internship at Zeal will add to her future career.

The following interview has been edited for length

Tell us about yourself

I grew up in Brandon and my husband Mike and I now live in central Sioux Falls. We have a small dog with a big personality named Henry. My husband is a builder and I’m an architect, so we love to design and make things together.

I love to read, spend time at local coffee shops, volunteer, exercise, travel, and spend time with friends and family.

What’s your background?

I graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a Bachelor of Science in Design-Architectural Studies. After UNL, I attended Rice University in Houston, Texas and graduated with a Master of Architecture degree in 2012.

My first job after graduation was a one-year urban design fellowship at a design research nonprofit in Omaha, Nebraska called Emerging Terrain. 

I returned to South Dakota after the fellowship to be part of starting the Department of Architecture at SDSU, which at the time was the first new professional architecture program on the Great Plains in 100 years. It was an incredible learning opportunity in a start-up like atmosphere; as an instructor, I was given the opportunity to develop and teach courses at every undergraduate level, organize the annual lecture series, and publish research papers.

In 2015, I decided to complete my architecture licensure which requires working at a firm and completing seven exams.  I joined JLG Architects, where I had the opportunity to work on large projects with incredible clients such as the Gage Brothers Manufacturing Plant, the Dakota State University MadLabs project, the DSU Athletics Masterplan, and Minnehaha County Jail expansion.

In 2019, I started work at the South Eastern Council of Governments as a planner, where I work with over 20 communities and their engineers on funding for community and economic development projects. I also assist with the affordable housing work in Sioux Falls of our sister organization, the South Eastern Development Foundation.

I started school again in 2018 through USD’s online MBA program. I knew that I wanted to continue to pursue a non-traditional career path as an architect, and an MBA would provide me with a broad base of knowledge to make a positive impact.

Instead of completing my elective courses online, I decided to complete internship hours with a local non-profit. I have a few more wrinkles than your typical intern, but working with the Zeal Center is an opportunity to contribute to and learn from people and an organization I believe is doing important work.

What appealed to you about the opportunity with Zeal?

As a designer, I have always been inspired by entrepreneurs. I think most entrepreneurs are driven to impact their community and clients in a positive way. Who wouldn’t want to support the kind of people who want to solve the world’s big and small problems?

What are your responsibilities during the internship? 

I’m working with Zeal on marketing strategy, specifically related to social media. I am also assisting with the communication of the organization’s mission and strategic direction as they embark on implementing initiatives related to their strategic plan.

What do you love about Sioux Falls? 

I love that I can live in a community where I know many people, but still have a somewhat urban lifestyle; I can walk, bike, or take a very short drive to the places I go on a regular basis. I also love being involved in and supporting the budding creative community in Sioux Falls.

What’s your favorite local, small business? 

I can’t choose just one. This year my husband and I have walked to Queen City Bakery every Sunday morning since March. The outdoor public spaces there are some of the best in our city. I also love The Source and The Breaks. Clearly, coffee shops are a favorite.

I also love Terra Shepherd Boutique; the owner is building much more than a business. Lastly, I am a huge fan of CK Design. I actually first met Carly at a Startup Weekend event at Zeal.

She is such a talented designer, and she is one of my favorite people to follow on social media; she has such an authentic way of connecting with her audience.

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Wednesday November 2, 2022