Seeing the Whole Picture
By Larry Peña
Donna (Endo) Clandening, the College of Architecture and Environmental Design's 2020 Honored Alumna, has always appreciated the ability to see the big picture.
"Donna’s career path has embraced a variety of roles from design and project management to business development," said CAED Dean Christine Theodoropoulos in nominating Clandening for this year's honor. "She is an extraordinary role model for future leaders of the built environment industry who charts courses that anticipate the future."
Growing up, Clandening loved math and science, as well as art and design. When she found architectural engineering at Cal Poly, she also found a way to bring together all of her passions.
“One of the things that I discovered as soon as I got in was that it was a multidisciplinary program,” said Clandening, who earned a degree in architectural engineering in 1987. “I somewhat accidentally found the best place possible where you could discover all the different sides of the built environment.”
During her time at Cal Poly, Clandening worked on hands-on team projects, learning about the different positions within the built environment — from architects to city planners to construction managers — and gained a deep understanding of how the industry works. She loved the interdisciplinary experience, which involved taking classes in other programs and traveling to Morro Bay with classmates from other majors to watch the city's Planning Commission meetings.
“I think that educational background and those experiences have guided my career path all along,” she said.
That path has taken her through a variety of roles in many different aspects of the industry. After interning at an architectural design firm and a structural engineering firm as a student, she graduated and landed a structural engineering job. She worked at a multidisciplinary engineering firm for several years, followed by several years at a specialty design build firm, eventually returning to architecture with a job at AC Martin Partners, starting as the Los Angeles firm’s marketing director in 2007.
“When you have been a practitioner, the transition to business development and marketing is easier,” she said. “You've worked on projects from beginning to end, and know all the work that goes into the built environment.”
Clandening’s position has since evolved into a more big-picture role. She’s now AC Martin’s chief strategy officer, looking ahead to the firm’s future and long-term success.
She knows firsthand that getting the collaborative, diverse, hands-on experience early on is the best way to prepare for success in the built environment. It’s what she values most about her own experience at Cal Poly, and why she currently serves the CAED on the Dean's Leadership Council.
It's also why she’s involved with the ACE Mentor Program, a nationwide organization dedicated to engaging high school students interested in careers in architecture, construction and engineering, and setting them up for future success.
In addition to providing college scholarships, the award-winning, afterschool program organization creates teams of students interested in different aspects of the built environment and connects them with local working professionals in those areas to develop hands-on interdisciplinary design and build projects.
“When you have high school students interfacing and learning from professionals in different fields, they are already learning to communicate and work with each other from the get-go,” she said. “If those students go and attend a school like Cal Poly with a mission of Learn by Doing, and a multidisciplinary program such as the one at CAED, they are one step ahead."