Two Mississippi State undergraduates were given the experience of a lifetime in October, thanks to a foundation with a goal of providing equity, access and opportunity to design students.
The Design Leadership Foundation, part of the Design Leadership Network, has been supporting students studying architecture, landscape architecture, and interior design at Mississippi State for three years as part of a pilot program started with the help of School of Architecture Professor Hans Herrmann, a DLF founding member. So far, the partnership has provided more than 100 technology and materials grants to students in need, facilitated over 471 mentorship sessions, and has provided scholarships for 36 students to attend the Professional Horizons Summer Work Experience in New York City the past two summers.
“With architecture, interior design, and landscape architecture having such distinctive professional contexts with educational underpinnings rooted in problem-based studio learning, I felt we needed an enhanced means for relating what we ask them to do in class with what they will be asked to do in the office,” said Herrmann. “Words are not enough when it comes to one’s preparation for entering the profession. With students’ professional capabilities ranging from seating areas to skyscrapers, we need to do all we can to inform them of what their options are. The DLF opens up the world of design, and I’m proud of the way our students have embraced these opportunities to help put their education into perspective.”
Senior interior design major Tyler Rutland of Jackson was a recipient of one of the scholarships for the Professional Horizons Summer Work Experience in New York City last summer, where she and a group of her peers from MSU spent their mornings studying under Herrmann and their afternoons working paid internships throughout the city.
Rutland originally signed up for opportunity in itself but was hoping to use the experience to determine if she wanted to pursue residential design in her future.
Her wish came to fruition, as she was placed in a firm she described as “the best job in the world.”
“This is high-end residential; you’re working on multi-million dollar penthouse apartments in New York City. So, it’s definitely an experience to be able to do that,” she said. “That was one of the biggest takeaways was just being able to be hands-on in a job like that and really see what it was like.”
The group became close over the summer and was treated to several exclusive events, such as dinner at the New York Yacht Club and book signings.
At the end of the summer, two of the students in the group – Rutland and junior architecture student Elvis Scott of Greenville – were invited to attend the October 2023 DLN Summit in Mexico City to give a presentation about their experience.
Rutland, a single mom of two, said she’s very introverted and was nervous about getting up in front of the group but put that aside for the opportunity.
Neither she, nor Scott, had ever traveled out of the country and didn’t have passports.
“They handled all of that; they handled everything,” Rutland said, including helping them prep for their speeches with a coach.
They also had a contact at the DLF, Ruth Mauldin, who helped coordinate everything, as she had also done for the New York experience.
“Ruth is amazing; she is so good at her job. She made us both detailed lists of exactly what we needed on each day; she helped us out a lot.”
When they arrived at the conference, they were treated to four full, planned-out days of tours, artist talks, museum visits, cocktail parties, dinners, and lots of networking opportunities.
“We were with the top people in the design industry – owners of companies we use for projects and some of the biggest firms in the world,” said Rutland. “It was definitely a culture shock; Elvis and I just weren’t expecting that. We felt very taken care of and special, and I think that was the most beautiful part. Even though we were student interns everyone there treated us as if we were just as important.”
Though she was nervous, Rutland made it through her speech on the last day, which highlighted how the DLF and the DLF changed so much for her.
“I have never done anything like that,” she said, saying she practiced every day before and as a result had memorized her three-page long speech. “We had a lady come up to us after who said, ‘You just did a job interview in front of 400 people because if you can get up and speak for three minutes about your life, then anyone is going to hire you.’”
When asked what was the best part of the experience, Rutland didn’t hesitate.
“Being treated like royalty was really nice, but it was really the connections. Before this whole opportunity, being a mom, I just didn’t see myself having many opportunities or didn’t know how to go about them. The work world is kind of scary. You know, things come up with kids. I always thought that people wouldn’t want to hire me. But, it was kind of the opposite of that. Everyone there has made me feel like being a mom is truly is an asset.”
She said she had other mothers come up to her after her speech crying and who told her that their companies value moms, offering perks such as daycare and work-from-home opportunities.
“I am about to graduate, and I feel like doors are opening and connections were made that I really didn’t think I would ever have,” she said.
Learn more about the Design Leadership Foundation at https://www.designleadershipnetwork.org/foundation/
The MSU College of Architecture, Art and Design houses the School of Architecture, Department of Art, Department of Building Construction Science and Department of Interior Design. Learn more at www.caad.msstate.edu.
Mississippi State University is taking care of what matters. Learn more at www.msstate.edu.