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Feb 05, 2021 By IIDA HQ
IIDA Student Members Reflect on Their 2020 Mentorship Experience
The Student Mentoring program goes virtual in 2021—hear from students on the importance of establishing professional relationships while building their careers.
By IIDA HQ Feb 05, 2021
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Last year as our mentors and students were preparing for the annual IIDA Student Mentoring Program, the world around us was quickly changing. Designers and students everywhere were faced with something that they are well-equipped for—sudden changes to well-laid plans and quick thinking and reorganizing to conform to new public safety protocols.

State-to-state and firm-to-firm many mentors and mentees pivoted to virtual mentoring sessions. As we’ve spent the past year in various states of working from home and reflecting on the future of the workplace, offering our program virtually this year feels like a natural evolution—after all, the state of the workplace is now virtual and home-based. As we gear up for another round of matching students to professional mentors, this revised program allows us to extend our geographic reach to make matches that are a good fit but not necessarily close enough for a day trip.

In addition to the workplace changing, many in the industry have found their roles and responsibilities changing which can be an incredibly valuable experience to share with young and future designers. IIDA Student members and current design professionals, manufacturer representatives, dealers, and educators who want to elevate the education of students with real-world experience are encouraged to apply. For reflections on the most recent mentorship program as it straddled in-person and virtual events, we’ve gathered insight from student members’ essays submitted to the 2020 Wilsonart Essay Competiton discussing their participation in the program.

Cailey Wingate, Student IIDA of Indiana University was matched with Unispace in Chicago and had a completely virtual experience led by Project Architect Carl Sergio, AIA. She shared that while she was no longer able to physically be in the space, Carl set up a week of virtual meetings for her with his design team. “Each day, I was able to talk to a different team member, getting different perspectives of Unispace and the Interior Design Industry,” explains Wingate.

“My expectations of where the conversations would lead had included an education of the company, an average day in the workplace, and any advice that they had for me as an aspiring Interior Designer. While I did walk away from this experience having gained these insights, it was the additional advice that had exceeded my expectations—each member had enriched our conversation with such enthusiasm, ending each day with a different lesson that I was inspired to incorporate into my own life.”

Of the importance of creating these professional networks, Cailey notes that “Carl continues to connect me with design professionals that he feels can support me in my journey. He turned out to truly be a mentor for me and for this I will always be grateful to The IIDA Student Mentoring Program.”

These experiences often make such an impact on our student members that they themselves become passionate about continuing their involvement but as mentors. Cailey herself offered herself as a resource for prospective design students through her school advisor and, “A week later, I spoke to a high school senior interested in the IU Interior Design program. I shared

with her my experience, just as the Unispace team had done with me. She is now officially going to Indiana to study Interior Design...I realize that while a simple conversation may seem like no big deal to one person, it can inspire and change the life of another.”

Yvonne Yip, Student IIDA of the University of California, Berkeley Extension, last year’s Wilsonart Essay Competition winner joined Lorraine Rowan, NCIDQ, Associate at Taylor Design in San Francisco where she was exposed for the first time to healthcare design. She says of her experience, “This experience was invaluable in exposing me to the world of institutional design, meeting inspirational mentors including Lorraine, and introducing me to a more user-centered design perspective. It exposed me to issues and conditions tied to being an interior designer in a direct way, rather than as abstract issues and ideas.”

Of the timeliness of her experience, she notes “Before this mentorship experience at Taylor Design I only had first-hand exposure to commercial and residential interior design. The COVID- 19 pandemic has brought the importance of healthcare to the forefront of my mind, and it is inspiring to know how much of a difference an interior designer can have within the field and how this will reshape our thinking about many if not all environments.”

“IIDA’s Student Mentoring Program is a wonderful way for aspiring interior designers to experience and learn what it is like to work in the field of interior design.”

In response to experiencing the realities of the COVID- 19 pandemic and Black Lives Matter movement following her menteeship, she asks, “How can I help create a safer and better world that stands up for equality and embraces diversity and inclusiveness as an interior designer? How will these issues shape the way people use spaces and places, and how will I as a designer deal with these changed conditions?” Read the full essay here.


Amanda Sutanto, Student IIDA, of ArtCenter College of Design was paired with Natalie Rios, ASID, Associate at Gensler Los Angeles. At the time of writing her essay, Amanda notes that only three months had passed since her visit to the Gensler office, the world looked completely different.

Natalie introduced her to designers at all stages of their careers, and instilled in Amanda the importance of staying inspired by the world and city around her, “great design comes from the most unexpected connections and inspirations.”

“Alan, a fellow ArtCenter alum who is now Design Director at Gensler, gave me the most profound advice: “Life after graduation may come with surprises, but trust the process, and take every opportunity that comes your way.” He mentioned how valuable it was to engage in activities like this program for my career—two weeks later, his advice could not have been more true!”

“Through the hardship and struggles of an uncertain time, I am taking every opportunity that comes my way, being authentic and eager to learn.” Amanda notes her gratitude for IIDA and Gensler for the opportunity.“

This experience taught me to find inspiration from all of my surroundings, the importance of being flexible and resilient, and trusting in the process while embracing the unknown. Although the road ahead is filled with many uncertainties, I am excited, encouraged, and inspired by what I learned and who I met that day. This experience helped me transition from being a student to a rising professional in the industry.”

Register today, visit the Student Mentoring Program FAQ, or for more information contact Ryan Ben at rben@iida.org.

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