5 IIDA Student Members Share Their Memorable Moments from the IIDA Student Conference

Last year, the Trustees of the IIDA Foundation added a new initiative to the Designing for the Future Campaign: A portion of the funds raised from the campaign sponsored five IIDA Student Members for an all-expenses paid trip to the 2018 IIDA Texas Oklahoma Chapter’s Student Conference. The annual Student Conference brings together an array of top students, educators, and design industry professionals for a multi-day professional enrichment experience that includes project and firm tours, mock interviews, and a variety of other networking opportunities. Here, these five students talk about what they took away from the experience, the value of portfolio reviews, and what getting outside of your comfort zone can do for yourself and your career.

Making Fast Friends

With my sponsorship from IIDA, I was able to attend the 18th annual IIDA Texas Oklahoma Chapter Student Conference, an opportunity I otherwise wouldn’t have financially been able to do. I was the only student from my school and from the state of Utah to attend the conference — I was pretty nervous. However, on the first day, I rode the bus from the hotel to the pep rally at the Haworth showroom. I randomly sat by another student who was also there by herself from Kansas. We realized that we were both recipients of the same sponsorship from IIDA. That evening we met another student from California who had been sponsored to attend the conference and we all quickly became friends.

I participated in the portfolio review and mock interviews. I was nervous but I was paired with incredible designers who were very genuine, talented, and eager to help me. They gave me great feedback and comments on my portfolio and how to interview with ease.

Allison Newell, Student IIDA, Utah State University, Inter Mountain Chapter

Realizing What You Want to Focus On 

I’ve always been told that to be the best designer, you have to walk out on a limb, make that extra effort, and step out of your comfort zone. Well, in my two years of traveling from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, to Houston and Dallas, I can say that this conference has taught me some of the most valuable and interesting lessons about being the best designer I can be!

This year my experience was nothing short of amazing. Each year the Texas/Oklahoma Chapter make us Alabama students feel so welcome with their generosity and hospitality. Seriously, these volunteers who put together this conference give their hearts and souls to making this the most educational and rewarding experience for students. I have always known that I wanted to be a commercial designer, however, it was at last year’s student conference that I realized I wanted to focus on corporate and office design and create spaces that make work environments enjoyable.

Carmen Jenkins, Student IIDA, University of Alabama, Alabama Chapter

Surrounding Yourself with Passionate People

This was my first time ever attending the IIDA Student Conference. I’ll admit that I had no idea what to expect but the whole time being there was such a learning experience because I got to meet so many students that were just like me who knew what it was like to stay late in the studio to complete projects. It was so inspiring to see how passionate other people are about interior design, why they chose this career path, and what they are striving to be. There was so much to take in and I enjoyed every minute of it.

Nicolle Soriano, Student IIDA, Chaminade University of Honolulu, Hawaii Pacific Chapter

Learning How to Stand Up for Your Design

Any professional that I met, I made sure to grab their business cards. If they didn’t have one, I took a picture of their name tag. I now have a phone full of name tags and business cards. Each one of the professionals encouraged us to tap into their resources, ask them questions, email them about products, ideas, resumes, portfolios, etc. They wanted to help us succeed.

Our keynote speaker for the event, Primo Orpilla, co-founder of the firm Studio O+A, left all of us with some very wise words. He told us to find our voice, define our narrative, leverage space types to building flexibility, and to customize and curate success. We need to be in control of the design. Stand up for our design. We need to understand the things that make the space a memorable experience. Have empathy for the client and the space, not sympathy. He concluded his talk by reminding us that our design can change attitudes and how the users treat one another. Your designs have an impact!

Kellie DeVries, Student IIDA, Michigan State University, Michigan Chapter

The Power of a Portfolio Review

Our final day was loaded with panels and speakers, filling my head with very valuable information about stepping out into the world after school successfully. The best part of my day, however, was the portfolio review. After two conversations with a very kind Susan Bellson from JSI she pulled me over and set me up to do my review with Elizabeth Trupiano from Corgan and I got very lucky with that. Elizabeth asked great questions of me, listened intently and gave helpful critiques, and then sat and answered all of my questions until we ran out of time. I loved making friends and connections that I’m sure will last me years.

Chelsea Bainbridge, Student IIDA, Kansas State University, Mid America Chapter


To learn more about IIDA student membership, including professional development and leadership opportunities, visit iida.org.

The Power of Mentorship: 3 IIDA Student Members Share Their Experiences

Research shows that mentoring can help ensure the academic and professional success of students and protégés. Mentorship is especially crucial now as employers recognize the need to engage and retain millennials. Every year, IIDA pairs thousands of students and mentors for a day of job shadowing through the annual IIDA Student Mentoring Program. Networking opportunities and career insights are expected, but bridging the gap between generations has become an added and significant benefit of the program. After last year’s Student Mentoring Program, we caught up with three students to get their take on how the program impacted them and what lessons they’ll be taking as they embark on their professional design careers.

Mentoring Motivated Me to Build My Professional Network

Student: Krista Neerdaels, interior architecture student, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Mentor: Jamie Carley, Flad Architects, Madison, Wisconsin

There were three of us who attended the mentoring day together. [Our mentor Jamie] spent time showing us the types of projects she was working on, walked us through the programs they use, and gave us insight on what a typical day is like for her.  We then went out for lunch, and afterwards she set up a few meetings with people who work in different departments at Flad. Later, we discussed specifics on how to move into the professional world—advice on resumes, interview etiquette, and portfolios.

An important aspect about Flad that I appreciated was that the designers, architects, and engineers all work in the same space, so all departments are involved when a project begins. I believe it is very important to have integration of design and architecture as soon as possible for the benefit of the final product. The mentorship experience also motivated me to continue building my professional network to gain even more confidence about my future. It was an inspiring day that encouraged me to find a company that is the perfect fit for me.

Mentoring Intensified My Passion for Design

Student: Heba Toulan Pennington, interior design student, Houston Community College

Mentor: Catrina Wyrick, Abel Design Group, Houston, Texas

I signed up for the [Student Mentoring Program] to gather a full understanding of how interior design/architecture functions on a daily basis. My mentor and I spent time discussing what a typical work day is. Then, we went to a construction site to see how the contractor works with the architect. My favorite part of the day was the session where we covered building codes in elevations and plans.

The program intensified my passion for design. I came away inspired and intrigued by the process of designing.

Mentoring Solidified My Career Path as a Designer

Student: Jonathan Butler-Knutson, interior design student, University of Minnesota

Mentor: Maren Idso, NELSON Upper Midwest, Minneapolis, Minnesota

My favorite part of the [Student Mentoring Program] was being able to see what it is like to visit a site and let the space help inform design solutions. After receiving a quick overview of her project work, Maren and I, along with her coworker Matt, walked to Gaviidae, a five-story geometric art deco style structure that is part of the Minneapolis downtown skyways system. Upon arrival, we noted that there was very little foot traffic on the first floor. The second floor, bustling with traffic, drew its occupants from the skyway system to the retail and restaurants that are present in the space. There was a complete lack of business presence on the third and fourth floor, and only about 25 percent occupancy on the fifth floor.

After recognizing some of the issues that had been amplifying the issue of low tenant occupancy, the three of us sat down and worked through a plan of a potential tenant space. The best part of the experience was how willing Maren was to let me assist her. After arriving back at the office, she let me sit down and rework the plan in Revit based on my suggestions.

My mentorship experience solidified my belief that design is the field for me and sparked excitement about the work I will get to do.


The 2017 IIDA Student Mentoring Program is currently underway. If you are a student participating in this year’s program, apply for the Wilsonart Essay Competition for a chance to $1,000 and a trip to Chicago during NeoCon 2017. Search #IIDAsmp on Facebook and Instagram to see the Student Mentoring Program in action. 

How To Be a Better Mentee

Every year, IIDA pairs two students with an interior designer for a one-day crash course on a day in the life of a designer. Student Mentoring Week, one of IIDA’s most dynamic program offerings, is the catalyst for many IIDA student members who wish to begin a mentoring relationship with a professional interior designer. By the time this column is published, nearly 500 IIDA student members will have made meaningful connections with the best in the interior design industry. The goal is for the students and their mentors to continue buildings connections like these after the
day is over.

There is no doubt that a strong mentoring relationship can play a huge role in a student’s academic and professional success. Numerous studies support the positive effects of mentoring relationships. Many companies like Boeing and Deloitte implement professional mentoring programs to develop and retain younger employees. But if you think mentoring is simply weekly Starbucks dates with a senior-level professional or a quick way to score professional success—including a job—think again.

The reality is that mentoring relationships require a serious investment of time, patience, and effort for both the mentor and mentee. While a mentor’s role is to guide, a mentee’s role holds just as much weight, if not more. Ultimately, you—the mentee—have primary say in your mentoring relationship. You initiate the mentoring relationship, you are responsible for nurturing it, and you can end it. Here are some tips to help you in your quest to find a mentor and be the mentee that mentors want.

Define the Relationship
Mentorship is a word that conjures many notions and expectations.

Some students come into a mentoring relationship expecting their mentor to offer them a job or provide them lifelong coaching without first determining if the partnership is a good one. Have a strong definition of what mentorship means to you and use that when seeking teachers, designers, peers, and work colleagues you admire and pursue. If you’re having trouble identifying what you want from your relationship, ask yourself:

  • Do I want to emulate my mentor’s career or am I looking for someone who will act like a trusted friend?
  • Do I want someone who will help me search for educational and life opportunities in addition to career opportunities?
  • How long do I want my mentor in my life? Do I want someone who knows me enough to write a sufficient letter of reference or do I want someone who will be a guiding figure throughout my entire career?

Be proactive in your search for a mentor, considering goals for the relationship and how long it will last. Understand why you need mentorship and how it can help you succeed professionally.

Gain Agreement
Once you have your mentorship goals in mind, communicate them clearly to your potential mentor and ask what expectations the mentor has. Discuss and decide upon the relationship you want to build together in advance. The most successful mentoring relationships are those founded on clear goals and ground rules. Be upfront—your mentor will thank you.

Seek Multiple Mentors
Traditionally, mentoring relationships are characterized by a two-person model with a senior person discussing a student’s goals, needs, weaknesses, and accomplishments. In a perfect world, one person is enough to help you tackle all your concerns. But can you really have just one mentor? You will most likely need multiple mentors of various ages, skills, and traits to guide you with each of your needs.

Research on mentoring relationships and programs shows that mentoring is most effective when the mentee has a diverse constellation of mentors, from a traditional primary mentor to peer and short-term ones as well. Do you aspire to be an interior designer with your own firm? Consider reaching out to both an interior designer and a business owner. Each person brings different perspectives and wisdom. Take your search further—explore outside your boundaries and tap into the networks of your friends and colleagues.

Do Your Homework and Invest
Prepare for each meeting with your mentor as if it’s a task for your job. Dress professionally. Show up on time with a notebook and pen, ready to listen and take notes. Research your mentor’s interests, ask questions, and talk about the why behind the answers. Share your portfolio.

Mentoring is a two-way street. Go beyond “checking in” and give your mentor opportunities to offer insight and advice. As you get to know your mentor, think of ways you can add value to the relationship. Bring up a recent news story or study that you think would be of interest or provide your mentor a new networking connection.

Be Open
Your mentor will challenge you. Giving you honest feedback is his or her job. Come into the relationship appreciating that there is a chance you will reexamine your goals and consider new ideas. While setting clear goals and objectives at the beginning of the relationship is crucial, also realize that these goals and objectives may change as the relationship progresses.

Be Honest
Do you get along with your mentor? If the fit doesn’t feel right, bow out. Mentoring should be established as no-fault relationship where either you or your mentor can end it for good reason at any time without risk of harm to your respective careers.

When done right, mentoring is a powerful tool that can change careers and lives. So be fearless in what you want and humble when someone agrees to be your mentor. You’ll be surprised by how much people want to help you if you just ask for it.


This post was originally published in Interiors & Sources.

Envisioning the Future of the Interior Design Industry

What were you doing 20 years ago? IIDA Executive Vice President and CEO Cheryl S. Durst, Hon. FIIDA, LEED AP, opened Industry Roundtable 20, held January 6-8, 2017, with that simple question.

“Twenty years ago, commercial interior design was experiencing a transformative shift,” said Durst, who moderated the annual roundtable. “We began asking, ‘How do people work?’ instead of, ‘Where do people sit?’ We started to think beyond the job title and consider how people relate to one another in the workplace. We saw that work and life were overlapping in new ways. And, we recognized that good design is the solution for optimizing work and productivity in this new era.”

It was a fitting question to kick off the event: For two decades, Industry Roundtable has welcomed distinguished design leaders for a two-day, thought-provoking discussion about topics relevant to the Interior Design industry. This year’s topic, “Design Then, Design Now, Design Next: A 20-year Retrospective,” offered participants the rare opportunity to reflect on the history of the profession and assess the emerging economic, cultural, and social trends that are shaping the next generation of commercial interior design.

Eileen Jones, IIDA, SEGD, AIGA, LEED AP, principal and global practice leader, Perkins+Will, opened the event with her keynote presentation, “A 20-year Retrospective of the Commercial Interior Design Industry,” which provided an overview of how technology, sustainability, and the evolving purview of design have shaped the profession.

Her message was forward-looking, setting the tone for the remainder of the event. “Standing here at the end of the Information Age, we are in a unique position to figure out what is next and how we can change the world with design,” said Jones.

The group of 30 interior designers, manufacturer representatives, and thought leaders then participated in sessions focused on the future of people, place, and work, featuring speakers Julie B. Cummings, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, director of human resources, BKD, LLP; Jim Young, co-founder, Realcomm Conference Group; and Jim Ware, Ph.D., founder and executive director, Future of Work….unlimited. Much of the conversation focused on the multi-generational workforce and how to transition design leadership to younger generations.

“When I first started, I never would have imagined that human resources would be sitting at the table with design teams to talk about space,” mused Cummings who presented on The Future of People, “We need designers to guide us, consult with us on how space can meet the needs as the Boomers transition out and Millennials become even more of a force in the workplace. This is something all of my peers are wrestling with.”

Young and Ware, who spoke on the Future of Place and the Future of Work, respectively, echoed this sentiment during their presentations: Designing for the future will mean accommodating five generations, a growing population, and rising life expectancies while reckoning with a decrease in available space, a critical need for sustainable building practices, and ever-evolving technology.

“Design has the unique ability to bring together allied professions, solve problems from multiple points of view, and put society’s well-being at the forefront. This notion of the convergence of people, place, and work, and how we think about design in the context of these things is critical to what’s next for our industry,” said Durst.

An executive report, to be released in March 2017, will provide a summary of key insights from IIDA Industry Roundtable 20.


Read past Industry Roundtable executive reports online at iida.org.

Translating Architecture through Radio

Frances Anderton’s background reads like a plot of a summer novel. Early childhood in England, renovating a casa colonica in Florence, studying the Haveli in Jaipur, writing for magazines in Los Angeles – and, it all leads to one of today’s most influential architectural radio shows. Anderton is this year’s recipient of the Leadership Award of Excellence at the IIDA Leaders Breakfast Los Angeles. As executive producer and host of radio show and blog DnA: Design and Architecture, Anderton’s path to the award stems from a meaningful past that has led her to becoming a preeminent voice on exploring what matters in our designed world.

Growing up in Bath, England, where her childhood backdrop was that of a Jane Austin drama, Anderton lived in Georgian houses that her father would purchase and remodel, creating interiors as modern of a style as possible in neoclassical houses. It was this way of living that sparked her love for design, giving her a strong sense of how one’s environment can shape the quality of life.

During her early years, Anderton spent a year in Florence, Italy, renovating a farmhouse. Later, she studied at the University College London and soon transferred to the Bartlett School of Architecture. She concluded that while she loved architecture, she “did not have the personality or requisite skill set to be an architect.”

Drawn to communications, Anderton found her way to becoming an editor at the London-based Architectural Review magazine. In 1987, her first assignment was to travel to Los Angeles, California, to produce a special issue on emerging architecture on the West Coast. In 1991, she moved to L.A. to become editor-in-chief of LA Architect.

On arriving, the region was shaken up by the 1992 Rodney King riots, which lead to the founding of Which Way, L.A.?, a public radio show hosted by the esteemed journalist Warren Olney. Anderton felt there was much to learn about how cities work from this show and went on to become the show’s producer while continuing her design journalism. In 2002, the two tracks merged when DnA: Design And Architecture was launched. She believes her knowledge of politics and current affairs gives her a unique vantage point on architecture and design.

Anderton credits her late father for her interest in architectural landscape and her success in the media sector of the architectural world. She believes that due to his lack of a formal architectural education, he would speak about architecture and buildings in a language one could understand. She feels she owes her “desire to ‘translate’ architecture and design to the public — through DnA and other archi-writing — to this exposure to very different ways of talking about buildings.”

In addition to offering her voice on air, Anderton writes for many publications and has served as L.A. correspondent for Dwell and The New York Times. Her most recent book is Grand Illusion: A Story of Ambition, and Its Limits, on L.A.’s Bunker Hill, based on a studio she co-taught at USC School of Architecture with Frank Gehry and partners, the architects of numerous landmarks including the Walt Disney Concert Hall.  Most recently, she curated “Sink or Swim: Designing for a Sea Change,” an exhibition of photographs about resilient architecture.


Learn more about Leaders Breakfast, the annual IIDA series event that celebrates design’s importance in the global marketplace. Upcoming speakers include writer Cheryl Strayed and Jonathan Perelman, vice president of BuzzFeed Motion Pictures.

Wrapping Up Student Mentoring Week 2015

The ability to create inspiring, functional spaces with respect to well-being, safety, building codes, and more is a skill set necessary for interior design students. Just as important is the ability to connect, communicate, and gain valuable experience with established professionals in the industry. As one of the most dynamic mentoring programs in the Interior Design industry, IIDA Student Mentoring Week provides students with the opportunity to make this connection.

“I joined IIDA when I heard about the mentoring program for students. The idea of being able to spend a whole day at a real firm and see professionals in their work environment was thrilling,” said Diana Dambaeva, Student IIDA. “I learned a lot about the value of networking and the various niches existing within the industry.”

Student Mentoring Week was established as a platform to provide meaningful networking experience for both mentors and students. This year saw over 800 mentors and students paired, with participation levels rivaling some of the highest in the history of the annual program. Current design professionals, manufacturer representatives, dealers, and anyone with a career in the Interior Design industry are encouraged to volunteer as a mentor. All active IIDA Student Members are encouraged to sign up for a day of job-shadowing experience. Participating firms have included Gensler, Perkins+Will, IA Interior Architects, among others. Companies including Herman Miller, Kimball Office, Steelcase, and AIS have also hosted students throughout the program’s long history.

Though the program revolves around one day of job-shadowing and networking, a number of relationships forged in this experience have resulted in internships and employment for many students—a fact not lost on potential participants.

While students benefit from the experience and advice as they navigate the waters of the professional world of Interior Design, mentors are also afforded the opportunity to inspire the next generation of designers by exposing students to techniques and technology not available in the classroom.

“Students at that age are eager to learn and experience,” said Patricia Rotondo, IIDA, Principal at Chipman Design Architecture. “We design branded environments using 3-D visualization and prototype design techniques in multiple markets that students couldn’t experience otherwise.”

Many students who have participated in the program in previous years have given back to the interior design community by volunteering as mentors in their later professional years. The cyclical nature of the event inspires today’s students to do the same. “It was a very precious moment for me as a student to meet mentors in the professional field,” said Aidan Han, Student IIDA. “That encourages me a lot to become a good mentor in the future.”


Want to be part of the Student Mentoring Program? Registration for next year begins in November for mentors and students! For more information about the Student Mentoring Program, visit the program page or contact Beatrice Brittan, Student Outreach Coordinator, at bbrittan@iida.org.