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Professional Profile: Diane Kase

Lab Manager speaks to Diane Kase, senior laboratory planner with SmithGroup

MaryBeth DiDonna

MaryBeth DiDonna is lab design editor and digital events editor for Lab Manager. Her work for the lab design section of the publication examines the challenges that project teams...

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Diane Kase is senior laboratory planner with SmithGroupLab Manager recently spoke with Diane about her career, experience, and personal interests.

Professional Profile, Lab Manager - Diane Kase, SmithGroup

Q: How did you get started in your career? Did you major in your field in college, get an internship, switch careers along the way, etc.?

A: I graduated with a bachelor of science in interior design from Arizona State University with the intention of entering the healthcare design field upon graduation (at that time, the Boomers were getting older and the need for assisted living and care facilities was growing). I was limited in work experience so the only entry level position I could find at the time was as an entry-level draftsman for a firm that focused solely on laboratory planning—Earl Walls Associates in San Diego. I had no intention of staying more than a couple years, but found the more I learned about lab planning, and Earl’s history with Dr. Jonas Salk and Louis Kahn, I was hooked. At that time, Earl Walls Associates was THE lab planning consultant you wanted on your team, so I had exposure to many projects throughout the country and even the Middle East. I was also humbled by many of the projects we worked on and the research being done to find cures for diseases.

Q: What is a typical day at work like for you?

A: Bouncing between meetings on the various projects I’m on, answering emails, and mentoring younger lab planners. If I’m lucky, part of my day is spent solving a complex planning issue.

Q: If you weren’t in this profession, what job do you think you’d be doing instead?

A: I cannot think of doing anything but what I do. When projects become stressful, I often think I should go work for my local grocer bagging groceries. The most stressful decision there is how to pack the groceries without crushing the bread or breaking eggs.

Q: What’s a common misconception about your job?

A: While there are some trends and ideas that repeat from project to project, there are so many diverse types of science and research focuses that most times each project is unique with its specific goals, criteria, local codes, and challenges.

Q: What is the biggest work-related challenge you’ve faced? How did you overcome it?

A: Not fully understanding my worth and the value I bring to the table. It took coming to SmithGroup, a company I worked with as a lab consultant in years past, to fully understand the value I have to offer and how much they appreciate my knowledge and expertise. I also have an amazing husband who has been incredibly supportive of my career. He constantly reminds me to never undersell myself. These are lessons I pass on to the younger colleagues I mentor.

Q: What is your favorite building, lab-related or not?

A: The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain by Frank Gehry. The Walt Disney Concert Hall in LA is a close second. I just love that the buildings are more sculptural art than architecture. My favorite lab-related building is the Salk Institute. The interstitial design lends itself to reconfiguring lab spaces with minimal down time to the research being conducted. Plus, it is the flagship of my first mentor whom I credit with creating the discipline of lab planning.

Q: What lab projects are you working on at the moment?

A: I’m working on a fascinating project for one of our national laboratories. Unfortunately, I cannot disclose any specifics but it’s why I love what I do … I’m exposed to research projects with unique and stringent requirements. I’m also working on a new science building for Norfolk State University with our DC office. While I enjoy collaborating with high-profile clients, I also love working with people at the smaller, less prestigious universities and colleges. They tend to have a passion for what they do, and their focus tends to be teaching students. All I want to do is work with them to create the best, state-of-the-art labs possible for them to continue educating the younger generations.

Q: What’s the funniest thing that’s ever happened to you at work?

A: Being a young female in this profession, I often found it challenging to be taken with any credibility, especially on a jobsite. In one of my first solo punch list trips, I was punching a lab with many cute male trades on site. I was standing at a lab bench writing down my comments with one foot crossed over the other (it was a long day, and my feet were hurting). As I went to straighten up and move away from the bench, the shoelaces in my boots tangled with the shoelace hooks, the momentum kept moving me backward, but I couldn’t get my feet untangled. I ended up falling on my butt, momentum rolled me up my back, feet in the air. I immediately picked myself up, looked around hoping no one saw. At the end of the large open lab there was a tradesman, looking through the window, laughing his head off at me. At the time I was so mortified, but 20+ years later that incident still makes me chuckle.

Q: If you won a million-dollar lottery tomorrow, what would you do with your winnings?

A: I would use it to attempt to eliminate all puppy mills in the US, and as far as the money would go into Mexico, Canada, and any other country with puppy mills. I would likely run out of money before I succeeded, but it’s worth a try. I’m not opposed to pure breeds, but I strongly believe all breeding should be limited to professionals.

Q: What kinds of hobbies or interests do you have outside of work?

A: I love solving puzzles! That’s what lab planning is—solving complex problems for the best solution. For fun, I love jigsaw puzzles and crossword puzzles. My biggest puzzle challenge was a 2,000-piece Starry Night by Van Gogh. It took me seven weeks to complete. My other interest is riding my motorcycle. My husband encouraged me to take the Motorcycle Safety Foundation’s course, believing it would empower me. At the end of the course, they test you and if you pass you have your motorcycle endorsement to legally operate a motorcycle. The weekend course was the first time I had ever ridden a motorcycle. It was exhausting and overwhelming and I failed the test, but I’m known to be persistent. Instead of giving up, I doubled down, bought my own motorcycle, obtained my learner’s permit, and began practicing at my own pace. I retest again just before Christmas. I’m confident I will pass, and it will be the most rewarding Christmas present I’ve ever given myself.