contributed by Kylie Akins [junior journalism student in the College of Communication / student worker in the Office of Public Relations]
It’s possible that there is no other city in Arkansas with an international community quite as rich as Searcy’s. It is home to Harding University, a school that attracts students from all 50 U.S. states and more than 45 foreign countries. Located in central Arkansas , the community of more than 20,000 provides convenient access to economic and cultural centers such as Little Rock, Dallas, Memphis, Nashville and St. Louis. Harding also provides its students with the opportunity to travel the world through the university’s campuses located in Australia, Chile, England, France, Greece, Italy and Zambia.
Harding’s CIDA-accredited interior design program specifically offers several national and global travel options, such as a semester studying abroad in Florence, Italy, with a group of interior design students and faculty; an art major-specific semester abroad at the international campuses located in London and France; an architecturally focused trip to Chicago; and a trip for juniors in the residential studio course to Dallas.
Most important to the mission of Harding University, a private Christian college, is the faculty and students’ commitment to service and faith integrated with education and career. As a result, the interior design program has specifically dedicated itself to shaping students to better understand the importance of putting others before themselves in their personal and professional relationships.
“What I think makes our program special, and what in turn makes our students special when they go out in the workforce, is what their character is like: professionalism, just a sense of caring, caring about the people you’re designing for, caring about the environment, caring about your employer and wanting to do your very best,” says Amy Cox, director of Harding’s interior design program.
The interior design program at Harding began in the 1980s as a small section of the art department located in what is now the Stevens Building. Over the years, it has grown to accommodate more students and offer many more interior design-specific classes, and a new section of the building was added in 1999 to include more studio space and a large gallery.
The program has undergone significant change since its creation, adding more practicing professional adjuncts and a full-time staff with experience in the profession, considerable course improvements, and recently receiving accreditation from the Council of Interior Design Accreditation.
Students in the interior design program enjoy a personal relationship with other students in the major and, more importantly, their professors. The average student to faculty ratio remains at approximately 10 to 1 each year.
Director of the program is former practicing interior designer Amy Cox. She has experience in commercial design for several architecture firms and as a facility designer at a large state medical center, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. Sarah Wilhoit is also part of the full-time interior design faculty and is an experienced interior designer who has practiced residential design in Tennessee. Both are National Council for Interior Design Qualification certificate holders and members of the American Society of Interior Designers [ASID] and the Interior Design Educators Council [IDEC].
Barry Hoffman, a frequent adjunct teacher in the program, owns his own architectural firm in Searcy. Over the years, many other practicing professionals have served and continue to serve as adjunct teachers as well.
The interior design program is very much a student-focused curriculum, with flexibility allowing growth to meet individual needs. In addition to an extensive working knowledge of design fundamentals learned in nearly 70 hours of major-specific courses, values such as professionalism, environmental sensitivity, and a deep care for others are emphasized throughout the student’s education.
First- and second-year level classes focus on basic knowledge and skills like design principles, drafting, rendering, drawing and construction. Projects that build strong communication skills and ethical foundations begin immediately.Third- and fourth-year classes mainly focus on studio work, both commercial and residential. The program includes focus on problem solving, real world experience and service application.
The key junior year project that has gained popularity among students is a collaboration between interior design and graphic design majors to develop a brand for a company. The team designs everything for the company from the actual workspace and uniforms to the Web sites and advertisements.
The final project an interior design student completes is his or her senior capstone. This assignment utilizes all the student’s skills as an interior designer under the guidance of several practicing architects and designers. Upon completion, the final result is presented by the student to a board of professionals and put up for display in Harding’s public gallery.
Social justice projects are also featured in the program’s curriculum to reinforce the university’s focus on mission and service. Students are asked to research Habitat for Humanity, interview company employees, and design a Habitat house. In 2009 HFH used a Harding student’s design to actually build the two-bedroom Habitat houses for that year. Another project encourages the student to choose a social justice cause to design for, such as a homeless shelter, battered women’s shelter or children’s facility.
“This exposure to an important social need has a profound impact on the students’ attitude,” Cox says.
An internship during the student’s junior year is also required, giving the interior design major a chance to utilize and improve his or her skills in a real-life work environment.
Harding University is the largest private university in Arkansas and attracts more National Merit Scholars than any other private university in the state. Of those accepted into Harding’s 2009 freshman class, 28 percent graduated in the top 10 percent of their high school class, and 50 percent graduated in the top quarter of their high school class.
The university employs a full-time faculty of nearly 250, 67 percent of whom hold a Ph.D. or other terminal degree.
Harding’s interior design program is not limited to a small number of students; rather the program accepts and keeps all qualified students dedicated to completing the major.
The campus maintains an active chapter of the American Society of Interior Designers, and students attend an annual career day hosted by the South Central Chapter of ASID. The event provides opportunities to enter work to be judged by professionals, network among practicing interior designers, and keep up to date in the work field.
In 2012, the interior design program plans to take a group of students to Florence for a major-specific semester abroad. Students will have the opportunity to study in their area of interest while experiencing an international city rich in design.
Annual trips to Chicago and Dallas allow students to enrich their understanding of principles learned in the classroom by encountering real-life examples of expert design.
A Professional Education Integrated With a Spirit of Service
As the interior design program strives to provide students with a rich knowledge of principles, design skills, and real world experience, the faculty believes it is preparing each student to be equipped for success in the interior design workplace. Graduates from the program have gone on to work in several avenues of interior design including architectural firms, contract furniture dealerships, residential interior design firms, facility management and other areas within the industry. Many graduates have also passed the NCIDQ Exam and are admitted to graduate school.
The program has future plans for expansion, each year striving to continue to meet the CIDA requirements with a focus on mission and improvement.
Visit harding.edu for more information about attending Harding University.