Students in the undergraduate and graduate programs in the Interior Architecture and Design Department at FSU gain consistent hands-on training and experience as well as plentiful opportunities to network in a variety of potential niche fields in the design industry. As part of the goals of the program to help students become industry-ready, well-rounded designers, students are required to take a minimum of 3 credit hours of internship prior to graduating. Through this applied experience, students gain experience in preparing preliminary planning, design and construction details, product specifications and selections, and presentation production. What may seem like ordinary tasks such as greeting clients, answering the firm’s phone, and working with products in a firm’s library are important ways students learn interaction skills, develop their knowledge of interior materials and generally get calibrated to the procedures of a working firm. Most importantly, students are given the opportunity to observe the business activities in a well-established design firm or organization while learning as much as they can about interior design in the real world.
Student Curran Conklin has been interning with STRANG Design for the summer of 2021. STRANG specializes in high-end residential architecture, interior, and landscape design, and Cocklin was able to find an internship with a firm he personally related to. “I instantly connected with their style and philosophy of environmental modernism and localized design,” said Conklin.
Conklin also expressed that the IAD undergraduate program had thoroughly prepared him to begin working as an intern with STRANG. “The experience of working at a firm participating in real projects is beyond what we’re able to learn and understand in school, but there hasn’t been a point yet where I’ve felt unprepared for the work that I’m doing,” he said.
Associate professors Jim Dawkins, Amy Huber and Steve Webber provide the faculty guidance that helps keep the internship program running smoothly. “The internship program is a vital component of our student’s education and their path toward practice,” said associate professor Amy Huber, Internship Coordinator. “These initiatives were continued this summer, and regardless of their location, our students will learn more about their transition to practice, the role of public service in the field, and the evolution of design in a post-COVID-19 world.”
In the summer of 2021, IAD has 46 students enrolled in the internship program working onsite or remotely with firms. COVID-19 restrictions in 2020 resulted in many firms canceling or modifying their internship programs, and Huber and other faculty implemented initiatives that brought practitioner knowledge to the students through virtual guest speaker sessions, student-generated interviews, and a firm profile project. The goals of this innovative and redesigned internship program were to help develop students’ professional networks and communication prowess, while offering them practical insights that move beyond the classroom.
“I must be honest, the process of securing an internship this summer was not easy,” said student Kyrsten Chen. “Many firms were unsure if they were taking on interns because they had to let some of their employees go due to COVID, while others were still in the process of transitioning back into the office after being remote for some time.” Chen stated that despite the difficult professional landscape, she was able to utilize her connections within the industry, established during her time at FSU, to inquire about internship opportunities. Chen is currently interning in-person at TJNG Partners, an independent commercial interior design firm in Orlando, FL. “With a huge thank you to Ashleigh Pfluger and all the other wonderful designers at TJNG, I am gaining a lot of knowledge and skills that will carry over into my educational experience, and eventually help me succeed in my own career as an interior designer,” said Chen.
Chen said working in the office has provided her with insight into how collaboration works, not only between designers, but with clients, architects, and manufacturer’s sales representatives. “I think one of the most enjoyable parts of my internship so far are the installation visits that I am allowed to go on. Walking through the parts of the hospital that are actively under construction and seeing furniture and finishes going up teaches skills and allows you to gain experience that cannot be taught in a traditional classroom setting.”
Recent data shows that IAD students are uniquely qualified and prepared for the workforce, and faculty and students alike attribute the internship program as a component in this success. In a 2021 graduating student exit survey, 16 of 19 responding students felt prepared or very prepared to enter the profession based on their FSU experience. Tracking of alumni employment revealed that from 2015-2019, 96-100% of students were employed within 1 year of graduation or entered graduate school.
“From our perspective, when it comes to the practical application of studio and classroom learning, student internships are invaluable prerequisites to full-time employment,” said associate professor and Internship Coordinator Jim Dawkins.