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Aug 14, 2023 By Jessica Jones
Perspective Future of Work: A Day in the Life
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Follow Naomi Mekonnen for an inside look at the Design Your World Program in Chicago
By Jessica Jones Aug 14, 2023
Published in

The Design Your World program (DYW) has introduced the practice of commercial interior design to many students across the country since its launch in 2021, now expanded to three cities—Chicago, Miami, and St. Louis. Through education and outreach the DYW program is creating more diversity in the industry. Each year the program brings together junior high and high school students to learn about the foundation of interior design and cultivate a curiosity and confidence. For many of these students, the program creates a sense of belonging and highlights a career pathway to design accessible for those who are underrepresented in the industry.

Naomi Mekonnen, Student IIDA
, Indiana University Bloomington, was a participant in the very first DYW program as a high school student in 2021 which was held virtually. Because of her experience Mekonnen learned about the power of design and creativity and it sparked a confidence in herself and her work—it inspired her to pursue a career in interior design. She was also able to help her parents understand the importance of interior design as a career path and is enrolled in an Interior Design program with mentoring from IIDA. To give back, Mekonnen decided to become a teachers assistant for this year’s Chicago DYW program. Join us as Mekonnen takes us through a week in her life working for DYW.

How has the Design Your World program inspired you in your daily life?


Naomi Mekonnen:
The values I was taught in the DYW program are applied in my everyday life. I learned core lessons that I apply in my school work and outside of class time. I was taught to be comfortable with presenting my work and organizing my thoughts in a way that is easy to understand to whomever I’m presenting to. Seeing successful, black designers teaching and speaking for the program inspired me to work hard. At first, I wasn't sure if interior design was a realistic field for me due to it being a white dominated field. After being exposed to many successful, black designers; I wanted to pursue it full time.

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Mekonnnen starts her day by journaling and setting intentions for the day. She likes to make a checklist of everything she has to do to hold herself accountable. Next step is her matcha or coffee to start the day energized.
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To stay motivated throughout the day, Mekonnen reminds herself of her goals. She has great aspirations for her future so she keeps the image of where she wants to see herself at the forefront of her mind. For her the future is now.
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During the DYW program, Mekonnen’s first task is going over the daily schedule with Chicago Instructor Kenzie and the other teaching assistant Lena. She does this to make sure the students are set for the day and their projects are scheduled on time.

What motivated you to join the first DYW program?

NM:
I knew I wanted to go into interior design, and began to consider this as a major I wanted to pursue during my junior year of high school. I was on the hunt for a program made for prospective high school students wanting to go into the field. All of them were either expensive or out of state, but I stumbled across DYW through After School Matters; and signed up the second I found it.

What lessons from DYW do you apply to your school work?

NM:
DYW introduced me to the core subjects of interior design. I learned about the basic elements, and principles of design, and other aspects such as color theory. The work I completed during my time in the program allowed me to show a more advanced understanding of interior design in my portfolio. Going into college I felt more prepared than my peers due to my prior knowledge and it gave me a greater understanding of those elements and principles entering my program. Doing things like pin-ups, although they were virtual, made me feel more confident when it came to things like public speaking for presentations in class.

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Mekonnen was inspired to come back as a teacher’s assistant for the program because of IIDA and their partners, and the support she's been given as she starts her career. The program did so much for her, so she wanted to give back and help kids who are in the same position she was once in.
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Throughout the week, Mekonnen assists Kenzie in making interactive assignments for the students which are inspired by assignments she did while in the program. She also contributes to lesson plans and connecting with the students.
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Being a former student of the program, Mekonnen’s presence helps the students see how they can accomplish anything in the field as long as they are passionate about it. The program has truly helped her grow as a designer.

What's the most important lesson DYW has taught you?

NM:
The most important thing that DYW taught me was to be confident in your work no matter what you think of it. You are your worst critic and as a perfectionist, I struggled in being fully confident in my work because I felt it wasn't as good as others. Being taught by an uplifting instructor, all of the positive feedback I received from the work I thought was mediocre made me feel more confident in my skills. I’ve also learned to not be afraid of asking for constructive criticism on assignments, communicating with your professor during the creative process is helpful when stuck on projects.

How has DYW affected your future?

NM:
DYW has been an amazing way for me to network with individuals in my field going down different career paths. All the guest speakers that were invited showed me all of the different things I could do with my major, which was one of the main reasons why I chose to pursue Interior Design full time. If it weren't for the program, I would most likely be majoring in something I didn't love. I’ve met so many people through the program and learned valuable lessons that I wouldn't have known otherwise.

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Mekonnen’s position has given her the opportunity to look at design from the teaching perspective. The DYW program exposes her to all the young and hopeful talent that’ll be coming into the field.
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Mekonnen loves how the program is taught by black designers. Her biggest fear before deciding to go into the field was diversity. When she saw black instructors leading the program, their presence made her feel like her dreams were more of a reality.
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After a long day, Mekonnen likes to go by the Riverwalk and sit in the sun for a bit with friends. She always feels recharged after soaking up the sun for a bit.

What is a piece of advice you would give to students participating in the DYW program?

NM:
The best piece of advice I would give to the students in the DYW program is to stay curious. As someone who was previously afraid of asking questions, I believe my curiosity has made me a better designer and student. Leaving questions unasked only leads to more confusion. Asking questions is essential to getting the most out of your experience as a student.

Learn more about the DYW program here

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