Designing with a Global Perspective

The Alumni Achievement Award recognizes alumni who have attained outstanding professional accomplishments.

Story by Nicole Thom-Arens | September 16, 2021

Sandra Strand ’77 knew she wanted to be an interior designer before she entered high school. Her passion and love for the industry blossomed from an assignment in eighth grade during a six-week program on interior design. She was the only one in her class to score 100%.

“I remember one of my friends complaining, ‘Why didn’t I get a 100%? I had all the pictures,'” Sandy recalled, “and Mrs. Herstad said, ‘Yes, but Sandy had them all right.'”

At that point, Sandy decided to pursue a career in interior design. She never wavered and has enjoyed every part of the career.

While at North Dakota State University, Sandy learned the importance of a global perspective and that “good” design is about exposure. Through university programs, she was able to go to Chicago and Atlanta while an undergraduate. The faculty in the interior design program at the time also offered diverse influences with professors from Hungary, Texas, and the U.K. bringing their unique world views to the classroom.

At NDSU, Sandy joined Kappa Delta and, at the advisement of her mom, sought out jobs in the field while earning her degree. Upon graduation, Sandy set a career goal to have a project published in a magazine, so after a year in Fargo post-graduation, she left for Texas to gain the experience she knew she needed to advance her career.

Sandy worked in Houston, Denver, and Dallas in her first 10 years out of college, and she accomplished her goal of being published by age 27 while she was an associate at Neville Lewis Associates — one of three Hall of Fame Designers she worked for along with Andre Staffelbach and Art Gensler.

While at NDSU, Sandy learned the importance of a global perspective

In the mid-1980s, she became a vice president at Ellerbe Becket in Minneapolis, and she earned her MBA at the University of Minnesota. At Ellerbe Becket, Sandy began a specialty designing control rooms, but her biggest project was the Hewlett-Packard campus in Delaware. The 365,000-squarefoot project took three years to complete. This was Sandy’s first lab project, and through creative design solutions, the team won R & D Magazine’s laboratory of the year.

In the late 1990s, Sandy joined HOK in St. Louis. Shortly after moving, she jumped at the opportunity to transfer to HOK Hong Kong. She credits her Norwegian heritage for her sense of adventure, saying she believes she’s never lost the wandering Viking spirit.

“I thought, ‘When will I ever have the chance to go to Hong Kong?’ So I did it, and I was in Asia for 20 years,” Sandy said.

After 9/11, Sandy moved to Shanghai, China, to work for Perkins and Will and Gensler, where her team won the company’s first major project with Mary Kay.

Also at Gensler, Sandy and her new team landed the interior design of the new 765,000-squarefoot Dow Chemical campus. This project, upon completion, won the 2007 Gensler’s Design Excellence Award, which was awarded to one internal project per year.

In 2009, Sandy sought a new adventure working as an independent consultant with her colleague Chris Yang of CJ2 Design. Her first project was for Beijing Rail designing a control room for 300 people — the largest in the world.

For five years, she led the China-NDSU Interior Design Intern program, which resulted in one intern being hired by CJ2 Design in Shanghai.

In the years since graduating from NDSU, Sandy has traveled to more than 40 countries. Her belief that the success of design is rooted in exposure inspires her to continue traveling to see the beautiful designs of man and nature.

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