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Interior Design - You Can Do That, Here!

by LeVesha Jones

R9 Alena Paulionak
Alena Paulionak - Interior Designer/Project Manager for GSA Public Buildings Service, Region 9

The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) is often regarded as the nation’s landlord, while the agency’s scope of work extends far beyond real estate. GSA is one of the most unique, innovative and dynamic agencies in the federal workspace providing innovative solutions to other federal agencies through its mission to build a more efficient, sustainable and transparent government for the American public.

To date, there are nearly 12,000 employees across 11 regional offices located throughout the nation (some overseas), and that number continues to grow as more jobs become available. With positions as diverse as the services offered, GSA is an excellent place to begin, build and expand your career, making it one of the most desired places to work in the federal government. Not to mention, it is consistently ranked highly amongst the top departments and agencies nationwide in categories such as employee engagement or diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility efforts, scoring 81%. Just last year, GSA introduced an equity team committed to prioritizing DEIA throughout all levels of the agency’s work. 

What does this all mean? GSA offers the opportunity to do the work that matters to you, as a federal employee.

During Women’s History Month, we caught up with Alena Paulionak, Interior Designer and Project Manager in the Pacific Rim Region’s Public Buildings Service Design and Construction Division. She joined Region 9 in 2017 as a transplant from Region 2 which services the Northeast and Caribbean regions. It was there, she began her career with GSA as an interior designer.

Paulionak’s love for art and design was recognized early in her life. “It all started back in my country, Belarus,” she recalls. “I began studying engineering and not long after, I knew I wanted to do something more creative, like architectural and interior design work.” Drawing and painting have always been hobbies she’s most enjoyed, and she found excitement in starting a career that she was passionate about, as well as equally making her happy. As she recalled this season in her life, Paulionak was reminded of a quote she once heard:

"Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do." - Steve Jobs

Discovering her passion for interior design, she attended and completed Parsons School of Design - Interior Design School NYC. At the beginning of her career, her primary focus was on the residential aspect of interior design. Once familiar and comfortable she continued to branch out taking projects in other focus areas such as hospitality and corporate. “Working as a corporate designer allowed me to learn and gain experience designing office spaces which eventually led me to join GSA,” she explained.

R9 Workstations
Renovated work stations at the San Diego Service Center. The concept was inspired by the Californian mountainscape and forestry.

Nearly six and a half years later, she continues to be a force in the federal workspace while exercising her passion and expanding her career. “Joining the Design and Construction team here in Region 9 allowed me to continue further advancing my interior design skills while taking on a new role in project management. This is something that feels like a dream come true.”

In this unique new role as a project manager, Paulionak is responsible for overseeing and managing day-to-day operations and execution for all phases within a project’s lifespan. “Although interior design is my first love, I enjoy and appreciate the importance of a project manager’s role and the opportunities I have to learn as I continue my career with GSA.”

There’s a great amount of detail that goes into managing projects at the federal level. On an average day, Paulionak can be involved with and oversee between 5-11 projects simultaneously. Leaning on her organizational, time management, and collaboration skills, she manages her workload accordingly and keeps an open line of communication with colleagues, supervisors, client agencies, and stakeholders to complete projects in a timely, efficient and sustainable manner.

So, what are some of the differences between working for the public sector vs. the federal space? In Paulionak’s experience, the project’s scope, level of complexity and lifespan are just a few factors that have such significant outcomes. “In the public sector, you can see your project completed in about six months,” said Paulionak. “Because we are the federal government, there are specific protocols and requirements that must be met, which can take additional time. In some instances, it could be years before a project is completed.” 

In these circumstances, completing a project from development to execution would seem like a gratifying experience. At the height of a post-pandemic era, workplace efficiency is constantly redefined and there’s an increased need to evolve workspaces, making them more suitable to accommodate the hybrid work environment.

R9 Collaborate Station
Blue was the color chosen for the San Diego Service Center seating areas, adding a level of complexity and depth to conversations.

It goes without saying that she felt a particularly rich sense of pride to find the concept she designed was selected and chosen as the final product. “As we move forward in this new era of the hybrid work environment, we have the opportunity to create more unique and interesting spaces for employees in government,” added Paulionak.

When looking at her experience with GSA thus far, she couldn’t be more satisfied. “Coming to this country with the dreams I had and having the opportunity to work for the government using the skills within my ability is truly incredible and makes the work I do every day that much better,” she said. In close, Paulionak shared that the best piece of advice learned during her time with GSA is to always stay honest, open and respectful towards others in your working community, because it’s nice to have and be supported while working on large-scale projects.

GSA is committed to the advancement of equity throughout everything we do, and continues taking strides to become the leading employer throughout both public and private sectors.

Learn more about unique career opportunities with GSA and apply to become an employee of one of “The Best Places to Work in the Federal Government!"