By: Kyle Niblett
For the first time in its history, the University of Florida College of Design, Construction and Planning Department of Interior Design held a multi-day Pro Day event, featuring nine former interior design graduates before culminating with keynote speaker Gary Wheeler.
“Gary is truly one of the giants in our field,” Department of Interior Design Chair Roberto Rengel said. “For more than three decades, his name has been synonymous with the field of interior design, and we were delighted to have him speak to our students and faculty. Gary has consistently been present, visible and engaged with our industry, which to me are hallmarks of a committed and true professional.”
Hosted by 1999 DCP graduate and Interior Design Advocacy Board member Juli Catlin, the Feb. 11 question-and-answer with Wheeler was one of the many highlights of the event. A member of the Interior Design Hall of Fame as well as a recipient of the Senior Fellow Award from the Design Future Council, Wheeler is currently the CEO of the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID).
“Connecting and networking are the core of how you advance your profession,” Wheeler explained to students. “Interior design is a wonderful profession that people do because they love it, not because they have to do it to make a living. I do it because I do not want to do anything else.”
In addition to stressing the importance of networking, Wheeler shared his vision on leadership with the group and what to look for when seeking work in the industry. He is one of the few people in the world with Fellow distinction in the ASID and the International Interior Design Association (IIDA), giving UF students a chance to learn from one of the most respected professionals in the field.
“Gary has a stunning ability to shift the culture when he explains from his heart what he sees as the future of interior design,” Catlin said. “I learned a lot of my leadership skills from Gary just by watching him. He is not only one of the brightest people in any room, but he’s also someone who cares deeply about people and how we live and work every day.”
Intended for IND students to learn, network and interact with design professionals who graduated from UF and have found success in their careers, the event began with two roundtables Feb. 5 and Feb. 8. Hosted and organized by Steelcase Regional Application Consultant Pamela Driza, roundtable guests included: Jackie Maslan, Senior Interior Designer at Group 4 Design; Rebecca Nychyk Fernandez, Independent Interior Design Consultant for CFZ Design; Jaclyn Szerdi Morrison, Partner + Managing Design Director of Jewel Toned Interiors; Meghan Taylor-Steshyn, Mission Real Estate Development at Trinity Wall Street; Julie Emminger, Ph.D. Student at the University of Florida; Danielle Everette, Designer at SmithGroup; Lesa Lorusso, Healthcare Director of Research & Innovation at Gresham Smith and Joy Lynskey, Founder + Creative Director of Jewel Toned Interiors.
“Pro Day was an exceptional opportunity for all of our students to learn from the very best in the business,” Rengel said. “The amount of successful graduates who participated in Pro Day is a testament to the support our program has from alumni across the globe as well as how much they value their time spent at UF.”
What Graduates Are Saying About the UF Interior Design Program
“My education at University of Florida taught me integral skills that have aided in my professional success, including critical thinking, problem solving and the ability to be nimble under pressure. These life skills, paired with UF’s rigorous curriculum, honed my innate design talent and prepared me to be a thought leader, which has made me an asset to clients and industry peers.” – Smita Sahoo, Founder & Creative Director of āśaya DESIGN
“I believe that my experience within DCP’s program has propelled me within the interior design industry. My business partner and I met through UF although we graduated several years apart! I appreciate that our understanding of interior design is architecturally based and that collaboration with architecture and construction students was a requirement of the program.” – Joy Lynskey, Founder & Creative Director of Jewel Toned Interiors
“From the first day of studio, UF flipped my understanding of our spatial environment upside down and built it back up again. Gaining that perspective changed how I see the world and therefore approach problem solving, which has allowed me to shape my career outside of the typical trajectory of the A&D industry. I was able to enter the workforce with a technical design skillset but was later able to apply this new way of thinking when pivoting into new roles.” – Meghan Taylor-Steshyn, Program Officer for Mission Real Estate Development with Trinity Church Wall Street.
“The IND program at UF created an architectural-based foundation that enhanced my skill set along with collaboration with other design industries. Through my professor, I was able to connect with alumni for career opportunities after graduation, propelling my path to become business partners with a fellow UF IND alum.” – Jaclyn Szerdi Morrison, Partner + Design Director for Jewel Toned Interiors
“DCP’s interdisciplinary doctoral program played a pivotal role in my career. It provided the opportunity to foster lifelong friendships and collaborations, translate professional practice into rigorous research and work with world-renowned faculty.” – Lesa Lorusso, Healthcare Director of Research & Innovation at Gresham Smith
“DCP’s integration of design and construction prepared me with a well-rounded skill set and understanding of the built environment, which has made me an asset to any team.” – Jackie Maslan, Senior Interior Designer for Group 4 Design, Inc.
“The UF Interior Design program taught me foundational technical and interpersonal skills needed to be successful in my various roles over the years.” – Danielle Everette, Interior Designer III at NCIDQ