on Dec 22, 2023
Erin Lonoff and Sierra Scott Discuss their Paths from Fellowship to Full Time
Summer Analyst Fellows turned full time HR&Aers, Principal Erin Lonoff and Analyst Sierra Scott, share insights into their experiences in our Fellowship Program, aligning academic passions with career paths, HR&A’s culture of mentorship, and what they’ve learned along the way.
What inspired you all to apply to the HR&A Summer Fellowship program? And how did HR&A stand out?
Erin: I was a summer fellow a little over ten years ago. Prior to heading to planning school, the planning world itself was unfamiliar territory for me. When I stumbled upon the Fellowship at Summer at HR&A in a job posting, it stood out as the singular internship opportunity that resonated deeply with my passion for quantifying and advocating for public policies. I recognized that while I might not have initially seen myself deeply involved in real estate, my true passion was utilizing data to articulate infrastructure investments and policies that benefit society and the environment. HR&A’s Summer Fellowship Program was the sole internship opportunity I found that explicitly highlighted a focus on using data to advocate for public policy.
Sierra: Towards the end of my time in graduate school, I was still uncertain of whether I wanted to work in the public or private sector. Throughout my academic journey, I’d worked at a state government agency and took on a few contracted policy research gigs, yet my definitive post grad direction remained unclear.
It was a former classmate turned colleague, Miriam Dominguez, who introduced me to HR&A. Her experience as a fellow in 2022 intrigued me, prompting a deeper dive into HR&A’s portfolio. What I found resonated deeply — it epitomized the aspirations I held while pursuing my graduate studies, aligning perfectly with what I like to call a “planner’s dream”.
Despite receiving an opportunity for a two-year policy fellowship, HR&A was the place I wanted to be. It offered an exciting blend of public and private sector exposure and the opportunity to fulfill my professional aspirations. Today, I find myself precisely where I am meant to be, nurturing my career in alignment with my ambitions.
After your fellowships, you both stuck around. Why? What made you decide to join HR&A full time?
Sierra: I consider myself a generalist, which is something you’ll hear from many of us at HR&A. When we form our project teams, we bring together versatile professionals to do work that interweaves public policy and economic development, or housing and public transit planning. As Erin pointed out, our projects encompass diverse components. What truly stood out for me was the exposure I gained. It wasn’t just about isolated industries or sectors; it was about understanding their interrelationships.
The chance to figure out how to implement affordable housing initiatives alongside Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) work was compelling. It offered a holistic view, allowing me to appreciate how these elements aren’t standalone entities but pieces of a larger, interconnected puzzle. HR&A is a space where the work isn’t confined to just one thing. It thrives on the synergy between various sectors.
Erin: Honestly, I didn’t plan on joining the company after my internship, but within days of stepping into the Fellowship, I changed my mind. I fell in love with the job, this company, and New York. That first day, I joined three different projects that were all kicking off at the same time. I loved the pace, the energy, and most importantly, the alignment of excitement among my colleagues. Ten years down the road, I’m still at HR&A, and I’m so happy I made the choice to build a career here.
How do you feel the summer fellowship set you up for transitioning into full time work in this industry?
Erin: Reflecting on my summer fellowship at HR&A, one invaluable takeaway was a holistic understanding of how all these pieces come together in this industry. This insight influenced and shaped my coursework during my final year of planning school. I shifted my focus, veering towards economics, real estate, and data analytics courses to expand my technical knowledge base.
My summer fellowship experience closely mirrors our current Summer Fellowship program’s Track One option, allowing me to complete the Fellowship and return to school before coming back Full Time after graduating.
Sierra: My summer fellowship allowed me to gain experience with technical competencies, while also honing soft skills. Technically, my time at HR&A provided invaluable exposure to various templates and models that hadn’t crossed my path during grad school. Looking back, if I had the chance to lean towards altering certain courses for that crucial exposure, I would.
Pertaining to soft skills, I had always prided myself on time management, navigating multiple jobs alongside a heavy academic load throughout undergrad and grad school. However, transitioning to the corporate world demanded a heightened level of efficiency. It pushed me to elevate my time management skills not just for meeting deadlines, but also making time for self-care. Within this growth, an unexpected skill surfaced: advocating for myself to make sure my project workload was balanced.
Luckily, HR&A offers an abundance of resources and a collective willingness to help me adjust to the pace of corporate life. The team’s readiness to extend support, allocating time to ensure understanding and setting up for success, was really essential in my professional development.
What role did mentorship play in your fellowship experience?
Sierra: I’m based out of one of the smaller offices (Atlanta), but the sense of mentorship extended far and wide. It felt like every individual took on an unofficial mentorship role, generously offering guidance and sharing their experiences and career trajectories, which have helped shape my own path. Surprisingly, what I initially thought might not interest me, like Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) work, has now become my favorite practice area — all thanks to insightful conversations with mentors like Christina De Guilio.
In addition to these informal mentors, the Summer Fellow Mentorship Program was invaluable. My mentor, Rachel Waldman’s flexibility, advocacy, and consistent support were instrumental in my growth. Additionally, the accessibility of partners within the firm for mentorship was remarkable. Despite their busy schedules, they graciously spared time for mentoring sessions, reflecting their genuine commitment to nurturing talent. Joining the workforce can be intimidating! And, when I started, I didn’t always feel comfortable sharing my ideas. But that dynamic changed quickly, especially when working closely with partners who were not only willing to listen to what I had to say but encouraged me to further expand on my ideas.
Erin: Before joining HR&A, I worked in other industries that could feel very hierarchical, where entry-level individuals rarely interacted with senior figures without a compelling reason. However, in just a few weeks, HR&A shattered my previous assumptions. I found a news article relevant to our project and shared it with my project manager. Their response surprised me: they encouraged me to send it directly to Candace Damon, the Partner leading the project. This seemingly simple gesture was eye-opening. It signified a culture where partners were invested in everyone’s success, regardless of tenure, and everyone’s ideas matter. It was a pivotal moment that reshaped my understanding of workplace dynamics and organizational culture.
The impact of these individuals extended beyond my summer experience. Kate Coburn, for example, helped me secure a scholarship when I returned to school .
Now, as a Principal at HR&A, it’s incredible to have built my career alongside these familiar faces who mentored me when I was a Fellow ten years ago, who are now my colleagues and friends. Their commitment to my professional growth sparked my own passion for mentorship, and I love “paying it forward” by mentoring staff and our new classes of Summer Fellows.