To foster interest in the profession of architecture while promoting the international exchange of ideas, DBI recently participated in the George C. Marshall International Center’s Student Partnership Exchange Program (SPEP).  The Marshall Center, based in Leesburg, Virginia, organizes the program in an effort to cultivate global understanding by providing high school and college students with the opportunity to experience foreign cultures and countries.  The program celebrates the humanitarian spirit exemplified by Marshall’s European Recovery Program (the Marshall Plan), which orchestrated the economic revitalization of Europe after World War II and earned Marshall the Nobel Peace Prize in 1953.  Like the Marshall Plan, SPEP seeks to “strengthen the relationships between Europe and the United States” by engaging exchange students in an 8-day career exploration based on their individual interests and experience, as well as in activities that impart the host country’s history and heritage.


Volunteering to serve as a career exploration site, DBI was delighted to host 17-year-old high school student Marta Laginja, who had noted her interest in the architecture, construction, and engineering industry in her exchange program application.  From Vienna, Marta is an accomplished field hockey player (she is a member of the Senior National Team of Austria) who has traveled with her team to several countries, including Japan, South Africa, France, Russia, Germany, Spain, and Ireland.  Her private travels have taken her to Egypt, Finland, Croatia, and Italy; her trip to Northern Virginia is her fifth experience as an exchange student, having participated in programs in Canada, China, and France (twice).  Her visit precedes her graduation in June, after which she will decide what academic and professional paths to pursue in college.

DSCN0886Mentored by Director Raj Banga during her visit to DBI’s Virginia office, Marta, with remarkable poise and self-confidence, was eager to learn about the company and the design industry.  Raj, after brief staff introductions, provided an overview of the firm and the types of commercial projects it pursues; in an effort to provide a real-world professional experience, Marta was included in several project meetings and scheduled activities.  For an adaptive reuse project involving the establishment of a brewery in an old warehouse, Marta attended a client meeting to discuss the building’s structure, plan and layout changes, and engineering coordination.  For another current project, requiring the creation of interior architecture for an educational facility, Marta joined a conference call with contractors to discuss cost estimates and pricing on finishes.

Marta also teamed with other DBI staff members to learn more about the firm’s diverse range of projects.  With Senior Manager Ebong Ukor, Marta reviewed plans for Yenagoa City Centre, a master-planning project to be located in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, Nigeria.  She met with Masha Casey and Steve Foster, two of DBI’s base building designers, who introduced her to the concept for, and model of, Leesburg’s forthcoming Courthouse Square building.  Marta also explored DBI’s marketing platform with Brand Manager Sancha Flynn, who presented the firm’s graphic standards, its presentation preparation using Adobe InDesign software, and its deployment of Revit and AutoCad, three-dimensional modeling and rendering programs.  Of course, a visit to DBI would not be complete without attending a luncheon hosted by sales representatives from architectural product companies, which included textile giant Wolf Gordon and illumination expert Commercial Lighting.  Perhaps most memorable, however, was Marta’s first visit to a construction site; she accompanied Interior Designer Kinga Wojtusiak and Director Marcy Trepke to the site for iDirect’s new office in Herndon—and she particularly enjoyed wearing a hard hat.

After a celebratory lunch at the Reston Town Center on her final day, Marta commented on her brief experience at DBI.  She thanked SPEP Program Directors Anne Shively and Alisa Soderquist for organizing this career exploration, adding that it was her first exchange program opportunity to “gain experience on a work site.”  She continued:

“I have seen and learned a lot of new things.  Of course, I was a little shy during my first day, but my mentor Raj Banga and everybody else who works in this office were very kind, so I was feeling comfortable very soon.…The staff from DBI gave me the best overview I could have got within four days.  No matter, if it was about architecture, interior design, or graphic design….They enabled me to visit a construction site, so I could see how that runs, [and] they showed me some of their earlier works to see the procedure of planning….now I have an idea of [what] an architect’s work looks like, and it supported my decision to start studying architecture.”

Thrilled to have amplified Marta’s interest in the architectural field, DBI also thanks the George C. Marshall International Center for the opportunity to participate in SPEP.  This international collaboration has provided an invaluable professional experience for our designers—and we are glad to include Marta as a member of DBI’s extended family.