Savannah College of Art and Design is celebrating its 40th anniversary this month—which means that the school's interior design program is also celebrating the big four-oh. As the industry has grown, so has SCAD’s program, with over 800 enrolled students currently working towards their interior design degrees—when the school was first founded, that number was two. By the 1999–2000 school year, enrollment had grown to 192 students. Given the exponential growth, what does it take to equip burgeoning designers with the skills and know-how to thrive in an increasingly competitive profession? This is the underlying question, and challenge, that is driving the school’s pedagogical approach—one that weaves together different disciplines and ideas, technology and historical research, and creative and business-minded thinking.
“Our students come out and they are practice-ready,” says Ryan Hansen, professor and chair of the department of interior design at SCAD. “They have the professional experience, they have the professional communication skills, they have the knowledge of the business side, and they are able to really enter into design firms and function at a really high level. And that’s the feedback that we get all the time from the design firms.”
Collaboration with leading brands and industry figures plays a key role in this professional preparation, from mentorship with industry leaders to interdisciplinary coursework. A recent competition sponsored by Kravet, for example, called on fiber and interior design students to work in teams of two to create mockup collections inspired by historic and contemporary Savannah. “What we started doing this year is finding those collaborative partners both within the School of Building Arts as well as with other academic departments in SCAD to foster greater critical thinking by the students,” explains Geoffrey Taylor, the dean of the School of Building Arts at SCAD, which oversees the department of interior design. “It develops the students’ acumen for presenting their designs and the arguments for why their designs solve their clients’ needs.”
One way the school is prioritizing teamwork is through its initiative SCADPro, a design shop and innovation studio that pairs students with top brands and Fortune 500 companies—including Airbnb, NASA, and Google—to come up with original design solutions. The experience of working on such high-level projects left a lasting impression on Vivien Chen, a 2015 SCAD alum, who now works as an interior designer in HOK’s Atlanta Studio. “It truly prepares students for their professional careers by enhancing their collaboration, management, and adaptive thinking skills,” says Chen.
For Margaret Daniel, a senior in the interior design department, these experiences working with industry partners at SCAD have already been beneficial in her first forays into the workplace. “As an intern at Cheatham Fletcher Scott Architects in Augusta, Georgia, and Pencil and Paper Co., located in Nashville, my classroom knowledge was tested professionally, and I felt well prepared for each role I was given at those companies,” explains Daniel.
While this partnership with industry players is an important component of the program, Hansen underscores that the curriculum is structured to lay a foundation in interior design through a sequence of focused studios, from residential to hospitality to mixed-use: “I think what we are really trying to accomplish is exposing our students to a wide variety of market sectors.” The department is also harnessing the latest technology for its students’ creative work. “We are looking into the future. Just this quarter in Atlanta, we are teaching an AR/VR class. . . . The idea there is, the students are able to really immerse potential clients and interviewers into their design process.”
With graduation just around the corner, students have numerous resources at their disposal to aid them in their job search, between resume and portfolio reviews with the school’s CAS representatives (Career and Alumni Success) to the career fair hosting over 150 employers. The objective, Dean Taylor emphasizes, is on "How do we make sure the way you present your work—your professional identity—is the best representation of all of your attributes?”
Daniel, who is getting ready to graduate this month, can attest to how the school achieves the task. “Aware that professionals could drop by on any given day, I’ve been encouraged to make sure my work is always presentation-ready. I’ve had an elevator pitch ready since freshman year."
Originally Appeared on Architectural Digest