Interior Design Students Network with Industry Leaders During 2022 Pro Days

By: Kyle Niblett

Featuring a who’s who of thriving professional alumni from the University of Florida Department of Interior Design, the University of Florida College of Design, Construction and Planning hosted its annual Pro Days in February 2022. The networking event, which connects industry giants with current students, was held in person for the first time since February 2020.

“Having it in person means everything,” Department of Interior Design Instructional Assistant Professor Genesis Okken explained. “When the pandemic happened in March 2020, these seniors were in their sophomore studio, so everything they’ve done pin-up wise was shifted virtually. This is the first time they have had one-on-one experience in person when it comes to reviews.”

Highlighting the event was a speech Feb. 14 by Trisha Poole (BDES ’87), who spoke to juniors and seniors about a compelling career journey in hospitality interior design. The president and founder of Design Poole, Inc. shared her education at UF led unfolded into exceptional growth opportunities that led to an award-winning international design firm. The 1987 interior design graduate gave advice on how to navigate next steps to a successful interior design career after graduation and provided a source of financial support for students in need pursuing careers in hospitality.

“Today was an amazing opportunity to give back,” Poole said. “I love giving the students a perspective, which is something I would have liked to have (when I attended UF). To share my career path and give them a little bit of inspiration on how to choose theirs was really rewarding today.” 

Based out of Winter Park, Fla., and recently opening a studio in Toronto, Poole preached the OneDCP mantra thanks to her experience in architecture, interior design and graphic design. As a business owner, her 20-plus years of balancing the creation of unexpected design with her passion for her profession inspired the entire room of DCP students.

“The thing I took away the most was just how passionate she is about hospitality design,” said Madison Mannarino, a senior interior design major. “As a senior, it made me excited to enter the workforce after graduation to see what I can do.”

Interior design junior Lauren Miller agreed.

“Mrs. Poole had a very informative speech,” Miller explained. “A lot of interior design students aspire to be business owners after graduation, and she provided a ton of insight on that.”

Earlier in the day before the speech, students in the junior and senior studios presented their midpoint reviews to six design professionals from around the state:

“It is a testament to the program that six design professionals from around the state of Florida were willing to generously donate a portion of their time today,” Okken said. “It speaks to their love for mentorship, and we are so grateful for what they did for our students today.”

The student project was to work on a Marriott Autograph Collection resort hotel in Nashville, Tenn. After developing their hotel’s brand, they were asked to come up with a business plan, such as thinking about who their targeted audience was and how they were going to create an experience unlike anything else. Some of the questions they were forced to ask were:

  • What is going in the hotel?
  • Why does it make business sense?
  • How does it connect with this branch that they developed?
  • Are there special restaurant experiences?
  • Are there special retail experiences?
  • What type of guestrooms are in this resort?

The midpoint review is a critical stopping point in the semester because it connects the students with those currently practicing in the field and gives them real-time feedback on how to strengthen their portfolios before their final review.

The first two weeks of the event were reserved for students to schedule and conduct extensive mock interviews with industry leaders. Students received feedback on their portfolios from more than a dozen practicing professionals, while also receiving advice on their interview skills, negotiation tactics and more. Practitioners donating their free time to help UF students included:

Pro Days concluded Feb. 16 with upperclassmen being given a chance to talk to professionals that work outside of the traditional architecture and design firm experience. This gave those attending the opportunity to explore their own futures as they near graduation. Panelists for the final session included:

“All of the visiting professionals were really encouraging and provided great feedback on what to work on,” Mannarino said. “It was a really great experience which only enhanced our design skills.”

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