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Feb 13, 2023 By Jessica Jones
Chapter Spotlight: IIDA Alabama Student Day
IIDA Alabama Chapter hosts Student Day with keynote speaker Cheryl S Durst, Hon. FIIDA
By Jessica Jones Feb 13, 2023
Published in Articles

Students are the next generation of designers, and investing in them enhances the design community. Helping students realize the different opportunities they have in the interior design field allows them to utilize the full potential of their degrees, invoking a positive change in the industry and the communities we serve. The IIDA Alabama Chapter hosts an annual IIDA Student Day event, where student members and design professionals come together to learn, network and grow in both their educational and career journey.

The event featured keynote speaker IIDA Executive Vice President and CEO, Cheryl S. Durst Hon. FIIDA who spoke to student members about the importance of their brand. During this presentation students learned what employers are expecting from and encouraging their future employees to do and what clients expect from designers.

“We live in a world that consumes design. People are fascinated by it and mystified by it. Why? Because design is a force. A creative force and an economic force.” - Cheryl S. Durst

Whether it's a physical space, community space, or social space, our chapter leaders support and enhance our community through programming and experience. Chapter President-elect Sammi Woronoff, IIDA, Director of Student Affairs My Luu, Assoc. IIDA and Past Chapter President Laura Harris, IIDA share the importance of Student Day and the goals they set to help support students.


Tell us about IIDA Student Day and how it came to be?

Sammi Woronoff:
IIDA Alabama’s Student Day has been occurring since before I was on the Board, and even before I was a student member of IIDA. I first attended Student Day in Birmingham, AL, in 2017 when I was a new sophomore in the Interior Design program at the University of Alabama. I was looking to make connections as a midwestern transplant. Since I first attended Student Day, the event has transformed, mostly due to the global pandemic and a new generation of incoming students. However, the original intent remains the same: to facilitate opportunities for our students to learn, network, and grow in their educational journey from student members to design professionals.

What is the goal of the event—both for students and the greater design community?

One of the goals of Student Day is for all students attending, whether they are freshmen, sophomores, juniors, or seniors, to find something memorable, useful, or powerful from the event. Some students travel several hours to attend, so the committee tries to program events to ensure some part of the day is relatable to each portion of the student population. Another goal is to facilitate networking and relationship building between students and programs, since this is often the only opportunity for design students to interact with their peers from other universities. The intention is to bring the Alabama design community together to celebrate our people, our network, and our future.

My Luu:
My personal goal for this year’s Student Day was for students to understand the different professional avenues available to them with an interior design degree, whether that might be employment at a furniture dealership, an architecture or design firm, manufacturing or sales, or others. Many students feel pressure to seek employment at a design firm upon graduation, and they do not realize they can utilize their education and skills in other interior design fields. The emerging professional panel discussion and vendor/career fair were two events that helped the students realize the different employment opportunities available to them. The panel discussion involved five designers in different interior design fields in the Birmingham area. The vendor/career fair included twenty-six vendors and nine architecture/design firms. Between these two events, students were able to see the various occupations they can enter as interns and upon graduation.


How does supporting students and emerging designers benefit the chapter?

Laura Harris:
The local design community should always be thinking about the next generation of designers. The students are our future—our future chief executive officers, co-workers, sales representatives, and IIDA local chapter presidents. By investing in them, we ultimately invest in our entire design community. Through our dedication to the development of our local students, we can create positive change for our city, state and hopefully even the nation.

What aspect of the event are you most excited about?

I was very excited about the emerging professional panel discussion. This was a new addition to the Student Day program and is a direct result of students requesting to hear about the transition from college to working professional. This allowed us to incorporate the viewpoints of multiple emerging professionals instead of one keynote speaker. We were also able to highlight multiple sponsors through our moderator, our stage furniture sponsor, and our decor. However, nothing competes with having the opportunity to host Cheryl Durst as our keynote speaker. Hearing from her in-person was an incredible opportunity for both our students and the design community. Her attendance increased excitement for the event and helped us market the event to students, professors, and even sponsors!

I was most excited about the event speakers for this year's Student Day. The theme for Student Day was "Grow Your Brand," with the venue being the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. The two event speakers were Cheryl S. Durst, and Dr. Bre Mertz, DBA. Both speakers discussed personal branding, but their angles and applications of the topic were very different. Cheryl was inspirational, encouraging students to find their inner voice and authentically engage with clients and employers. Dr. Mertz helped students pragmatically apply their branding through virtual business cards, social media, and various marketing efforts. Together, Cheryl and Dr. Mertz helped students of all ages understand the importance of personal branding.


Have you had any feedback from students that participated?

We have received positive feedback from several of the professors, students, event speakers, and design professionals who attended Student Day. Many students have reached out to us directly or posted their reflections on the event on social media. One University of Alabama student posted that Cheryl was “incredible, inspiring, and knowledgeable.” Students have commented that they loved meeting the different sales representatives, seeing different design products, and networking with firms. Others commented that they learned more about the opportunities in the design industry from the panel conversation and have already downloaded the virtual business card app that Dr. Mertz recommended. Hearing this positive feedback always makes those on the committee feel like the event was worth the effort!

What is the best thing about working with students for you personally?

: The best thing about working with students is seeing the student transition into the interior design community after graduation. As a recent graduate, I understand the importance of getting involved with their local IIDA chapters by attending events and connecting with other professionals, but many students don’t yet realize the benefit of their local design community. Through Student Day, the local design community shows their support for the next generation of designers, and in doing so, when students graduate, they know they have a place that accepts them as they make the difficult transition into a full-time design professional.

Do you have any advice for other chapters that are interested in pursuing something similar?

SW: I think it's important to determine what the students in each chapter are looking to gain from the event. Our board members polled students to determine what they would be most interested in learning about (keynote speakers, product fair, portfolio reviews, career fair, project tours, interactive panels). Over the years, the event has varied depending on the size of the group attending, the number of speakers participating, and how many interactive activities are being offered, such as portfolio reviews or product fairs. Each student body has varied interests, and polling participating students far enough in advance to incorporate their opinions is crucial to a successful event. Furthermore, this type of event has many moving parts and involves many people and activities the day of the event. I encourage anyone interested in creating a Student Day to have a strong event planning committee, plenty of time in advance to plan the event, and a clearly defined budget to achieve the best possible event for the students.

All images courtesy of the IIDA Alabama Chapter.

Find your local IIDA Chapter, City Center, or Campus Center to learn how to be involved, and support your local interior design community here.

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