Mid-career spotlight: Architect charts successful career, finds personal fulfillment in Sioux Falls
Michelle Klobassa was looking to spread her wings, as the saying goes.
It took the North Dakota native to Montana as a recent high school graduate, where an accelerated architecture program at Montana State University prepared her for a career.
“After I got my master’s degree, I realized I really wanted to get back closer to family, and I had one of my sisters living in Sioux Falls,” Klobassa said. “She was a teacher, and she said, ‘Why don’t you think about living in Sioux Falls?’ So I did.”
She was 23, and found a job as an architectural graduate with a small group of architects, “which was a great blessing to me, and I had a great mentor who was an amazing boss,” she said.
A few years later, in 2007, her firm was acquired by TSP – a multi-state full-service firm based in Sioux Falls offering engineering, architecture, planning and interior design services.
“I became a licensed architect in 2010 and TSP did a good job of supporting and encouraging that path,” she said.
“They give young people time to be out of the office, to take the full series of exams and they just have been great with the amount of opportunities here at TSP to grow my career and my leadership roles.”
She became an owner in the company, then a principal, and now sits on the board of directors. As a senior architect and principal, her career now brings the opportunity to mentor others.
“One of the biggest things I tell young people who come into the office is how I’ve gotten to work on such a huge variety of projects. That’s what’s helped keep me interested,” Klobassa said.
“I’ve worked on projects like designing the South Dakota School for the Blind, which is a once-in-a-lifetime type of project and on other projects that really are impacting the community and across different sectors. That’s something someone working in a bigger city or larger firm wouldn’t be able to do.”
She’s also helped evolve the broader architecture field statewide, serving on the board of AIA South Dakota.
“We’ve seen more young people coming to our area in architecture. One reason is the great architecture program at SDSU, and we’ve also seen more firms coming this way, and those things go hand-in-hand,” she said.
“We’ve got a good economy and there’s a lot of building going on and we have an increasingly diverse workforce, including a growing number of international students and women in engineering.”
Her time in Sioux Falls also has allowed her to give back. Through TSP, she’s filled backpacks of food for hungry kids and helped with events like the Buddy Walk.
“Creating networks of support, especially for women, is really important to me,” she said. “I try to create connections and mentoring relationships with other female designers, architects and engineers in the office, and it’s a really important personal goal of mine to support other women.”
She’s come a long way from the 23-year-old who arrived in Sioux Falls knowing only her sister. She’s now married, with two kids and says she sees her city in a new way.
“I noticed as soon as I came here all the amenities and things available to people. There are so many free events, always things going on and it felt really accessible,” she said.
“And now with two little girls I really appreciate what a great community we have for young families, things like our Washington Pavilion for the arts and science, our zoo, Butterfly House and Aquarium.”
Thinking back on herself as a recent college grad, she says she’s grateful her path in life took her to Sioux Falls – where career and community came together.
“It was a great decision. I wouldn’t ever change it.”
Hometown: Fargo, N.D.
Alma Mater: Montana State University
Best thing about her job: “I’m learning something new every day because of the different projects I’m working on.”
When she’s not at work: “My favorite thing to do is read, but I’m usually at a park with my daughters. We live right by Sonia Sotomayor Elementary, so we’re always there or Sertoma Park because it’s big and like four parks in one.
Favorite place in Sioux Falls: “Probably McKennan Park. I’ve had a lot of events there. There are great summer concerts, a wading pool for my daughters. On my second date with my husband we went ice skating at McKennan Park. We had our wedding photos there. It’s just such a gem in the middle of town.”