Higher Education: Get to Know Greg Billman
Written By: Valerie Edgren
Date: August 18, 2021
Five Questions with Greg Billman, AIA
Greg Billman, AIA, is a Principal, Higher Education Sector Director, and Parkhill’s Amarillo Location Leader. In addition to Higher Education Director responsibilities, he leads, or assists as a liaison, on other sector project types within the Amarillo and panhandle region.
1. What values set Parkhill apart for you?
If I were to pick a couple out of our 11 values, I would select Engaging Collaboration and Unassuming Influence.
- Engaging Collaboration (a collective value) is the “overlap between individual aspirations and the common good.”
At Parkhill, we want all our employees to set their personal and professional goals to maximize opportunity potential for their growth and advancement and their contributions to great projects to meet the needs of our communities. Our mission of “Building Community by creating inventive, relevant built environments together” is truly only achieved by utilizing our aspirational successes and contributing through engaging collaboration within our teams and with our clients.
- Unassuming Influence (an individual value) is “focusing on long-term change.”
Our clients and communities are one and the same. Parkhill has developed and maintained a very large client base with a high percentage of repeat clients over the past 75 years. That is difficult to achieve if you don’t take the time to cultivate relationships over the long term. We influence these relationships by providing our reliable knowledge/expertise, following through on our commitments, and responding positively… even in difficult situations. It is also difficult to gain respect by being presumptuous or boastful, not traits of dependable, unassuming influencers.
2. What project has given you a passion for your expertise?
I would consider myself a “generalist,” having worked on so many interesting projects of different types and in different roles throughout my long career, including the past 6 years with Parkhill. My passion is really on the process and not any individual project. I feel strongly about making good things better. As Higher Education Sector Director, my passion is in making our people successful by making sure they are in the right place at the right time to succeed individually and in teams to deliver great project results for our clients. I guess my “expertise” is sharing my many experiences over the past 39 years to help inform and influence others to succeed.
A Parkhill project that supported my passion for the process was the Texas School for the Deaf Campus Master Plan we delivered in 2017. This project was the perfect definition of COLLABORATION. It put a large team of people from numerous sectors and office locations in the company together on the ground and in various work sessions. They assessed a K-12, 62-acre campus (relates to higher education!) to address critical deferred maintenance and future growth issues to advance the school’s mission and strategic plan. I was on the facility assessment team and thoroughly enjoyed this process. This is the kind of collaborative teamwork that keeps me passionate about what I do.
3. What innovations have you helped with or have seen at Parkhill?
I was asked, based on some past experiences before coming to Parkhill, to participate with other selected professionals from around the firm to develop an outline template for how we would ultimately implement a powerful software to plan and manage our work and resources in coordination with how we were using it for our accounting. This initial group developed the groundwork for others to strategically develop new project delivery processes for better project planning, fee-building, and resource allocation tools, instrumental to our success today.
4. What do you think is the next challenge in your field?
Architects have faced numerous challenges in their field. Among them are speed and low-cost results over design quality; keeping up with ever-changing technology; being environmentally responsible and affordable when material availability and cost is volatile and unknown; finding the best ways to further our profession through mentoring; and finding ways to increase inclusiveness, so that our profession continues to grow and better resembles our communities.
Just about everyone in the world wakes up and goes to sleep at night (and everything in between) in a built environment. There isn’t much we don’t do that doesn’t involve shelter, enclosure, or open spaces for recreation and leisure. Yet, I don’t think there is much thought about how those spaces were developed or got there unless you are in the profession or a related industry.
Something that I would consider a challenge, more in the sense of a charge to architects, is to be more deliberate in educating our communities about what architects do. The challenge is to find outreach opportunities to get in front of K-12 students, local community organizations, and into politics (for those with that passion) to inform in a more deliberate way about who we are and what we can do in our communities. Many young, creative minds across all demographics could be informed about our profession to expose them to the possibilities and opportunities to utilize that creative talent as they look forward to their futures. When a child is asked what he or she wants to be when they grow up, it would be wonderful to hear “architect” stated as commonly as the standard responses of nurses, doctors, firefighters, and policemen, and women!
5. Looking forward, where do you see your practice area going in the next 20 years?
The norms of the entire world changed in the span of one year. None of us has a crystal ball (at least I don’t know of anyone possessing one), but I do know that the 2020 COVID pandemic and the mandates imposed by it taught us a great deal! We can’t ignore what we have learned about working and learning remotely. Perhaps, surprisingly, we learned we could be just as productive working and learning from home as we were in the office. Our expectations about what we want relative to our environment flexibility have now changed. Competition for employees who want a choice will need to be acknowledged by companies wanting the best talent. We will need to make flexible life balance environments and schedules available. This is also true for education, particularly higher education. Although it appears things may be getting back to a level of relative normalcy, there are continuing concerns and unknowns about the COVID virus and vaccine coverage which will continue to impact decisions by higher education leaders as we come out of the summer of 2021.
For the immediate future, we are seeing some critical capital projects moving forward that was already in the works before the pandemic. Due to this new enlightenment of flexible life balance and learning needs, I believe we will be shifting more toward renovations that address the flexibility and safety of spaces and helping our clients figure out ways to modify existing space originally designed to address single, limited functions. We will need to help them reprogram existing square footage while addressing building system upgrades for better HVAC filtration, surface hygiene, etc.
As we look forward to rebuilding our nation’s infrastructure, more front-line and skilled construction trade training to support numerous industries will continue to be a big focus. With current synergies and program developments between high schools and community colleges to advance opportunities in Career and Technical Education (CTE), new or renovated facilities to merge these instructional spaces will continue to be necessary. Learning spaces will be designed to offer various levels of experiences for interaction and collaboration. Larger social gatherings for cultural, recreational, and collegiate athletic events undeniably play a large part in the higher education experience and will also need to be part of the discussion relative to health and safety as the world grapples with what may be beyond the knowledge gained over the past 18+ months. We need to scrutinize past design processes to give us new answers.