Onisha Walker, Assoc. IIDA, shares her experiences as both a mentee and a mentor with the IIDA Student Mentoring program.
I participated in the IIDA Student Mentoring Program as both a mentor and a mentee. I was a mentee during my undergraduate and graduate student years, and I’ve been a mentor for the past two years. Being a mentee in the program really helped to inform my education, and I saw it as a valuable part of my overall curriculum. I mentored under a few designers as an undergraduate and with an industry rep during my graduate program. It was an opportunity to get out of the classroom and get experience interacting with real-world professionals and being involved in their day-to-day.
I feel that both designers and design professionals across many different roles can benefit from mentorship. Networking is a huge part of our industry, and mentoring is an easy way to meet up-and-coming designers—and potentially, the people you’re going to work with someday. It can be just as important to connect with students as it is with principals at major design firms.
“It’s very important for me to be a mentor because design students need to see designers of color with varying backgrounds in the industry—representation is important!”
As a mentor, I love learning about the new classes that design students are taking, and what their goals are for when they graduate. It’s a great way to start a dialogue about the realities of life after college, and the “what now” scenarios that almost everyone goes through at some point. I also believe it’s important for me to be a mentor because design students need to see designers of color with varying backgrounds in the industry—representation is important!
I have worked in multiple sectors in New York and North Carolina at A&D firms, and I am now at a furniture dealer and have completed graduate school on top of all of that, which is not something you hear very often when learning about the industry. When I was a student, I did not know of or see any designers that looked like me or took that path that I wanted to take. I decided to use all of my experiences to encourage students as much as I can to make their own path, especially because this industry thrives on new, fresh, and innovative perspectives and ideas.
On a typical day of mentorship, I like to start the day by introducing my students to my colleagues and helping to make them feel welcome. I then usually sit down them down for an informal chat to get to know the students and give them a chance to ask me questions related to design, my job, or anything else they are curious about.
Then I will bring them in on a project that I am working on and talk them through my process. At this point, the questions start to flow and we get a great dialogue going. Input is important, and it matters to make the mentee feel like they are truly living a “day in the life of a designer.”
One of my last mentees was a student that was an IIDA Campus Center President and a part of our local IIDA chapter. We really got to know each other and had some great discussions. She remained a part of the chapter, serving on the board of directors, and is now part of the Communications team of which I currently serve as VP. We work together all the time! It came around full circle, which was really nice to see and reinforced to me just how important nurturing students is to our industry.
Registration for the IIDA Student Mentoring Program is open through January 31, 2020. Learn more about participating.