Each year, SWA celebrates March 8, highlighting the accomplishments of the firm’s women professionals – 48 percent of our staff – for International Women’s Day.

For 2021, we asked five of SWA’s associate principals to reflect on their achievements over the uniquely challenging past 12 months.

From creative work-arounds to new skills to personal accomplishments, SWA’s up-and-coming leaders continue to go above and beyond despite the pandemic, which has had disproportionate impacts on many women in the workforce. Read on to learn what they’ve been most proud of during this unusual past year.

Julie Canter
Landscape Architect
New York: SWA/Balsley

Having joined the SWA/Balsley family during the pandemic, here are some challenges I’ve overcome: onboarding remotely, and meeting and getting to know the team in a really meaningful way! I’ve always been a strong believer in the power of in-person, face to face collaboration, but having that ability stripped away made it even more apparent. We learn from each other in our informal interactions and overhearing about what people are working on in the office in a way that can’t really be replicated in a remote environment. To compensate, I’ve been focused on being intentional about connecting with everyone in the office, even if there isn’t a pressing need, to allow for more informal check-ins.

Irene Duan
Landscape Architect
San Francisco

In these days when I haven’t had to commute to work, I’ve learned to appreciate life’s small blessings even more. Routines like watching the sky through a bay window at home, wandering in my neighborhood, and getting a drink on the sidewalk, have never been so fascinating as they are under quarantine. With more time to spare (and less “hustle,”) I’ve been allowed the time to be more present and find pleasure in everyday things. I would say that a deeper understanding of the beauty of my surroundings may be the biggest accomplishment for me personally from “staying at home” this year.

Cindy Riley

The past year brought with it a pandemic, the death of my beautiful mother, prolonged medical challenges for my husband, and a move to another part of the state. I would say that I’ve weathered all this by resisting the urge to react to and push against my grief, fear, sadness, and anger, choosing instead to stand tall and allow these things to pass through me. Receiving all as sacred, even feelings that might be deemed “negative,” has enriched my experience and allowed me to grow both personally and professionally.

Peiwen Yu
Landscape Architect

The lockdown months have been both challenging and fruitful. It’s gratifying to know that my leadership and marketing efforts led to two big wins on major waterfront projects, that have kept a whole team of designers engaged. With the need to travel temporarily off the table, I’ve spent time engaging with the local community in Houston, helping business owners to revitalize Asia Town. I’ve gotten to see my ideas on public and retail space transform old retail spaces into popular community gathering places. My passion for urban place-making during this challenging year has found further outlets through writing, small-scale inventions, and social engagement.

Yang Zhang
Landscape Designer

2020 was about stepping out of my comfort zone, personally and professionally. When I rushed back to the US at the beginning of the year, when Covid-19 first broke out in China, I never realized that would be the last goodbye I would say to my beloved grandmother. The pandemic has forced me to adapt to new working dynamics, as my project team is spread out in different countries and states, across different time zones. I’m inspired to see this as an opportunity to foster better interoffice collaboration, and I’ve had good feedback from my colleagues. My ongoing projects — a 20+ hectare tech campus and a 14 square kilometer medical city masterplan – are offering opportunities to stretch and explore my potential. 2020 to me feels like a boat sailing against the current—and it has to forge ahead or it will be driven back.