This semester, we will be highlighting alumni from each of our seven disciplines. This week, we talked to Avery Smith! Avery graduated from the Gibbs College of Architecture in 2018 with a degree in Interior Design and was a former communications intern for the college. Now, she is a designer at Gensler in Dallas. We picked her brain to learn more about her experience as a GCA student and what she has been up to since graduating.

What is your current role at Gensler?  

I’m a workplace designer so I’m primarily designing workplace interiors. My role can vary, and I feel like I get to touch on all phases of the design process. Right now, I’m working closely with one of our project architects to get technical drawings completed for one project and working on a ‘look and feel’ presentation to communicate our team’s design intent to the client for a different project.

What is your favorite thing about your job?  

My favorite thing about my job right now is learning. I’m not even a year out of college so there’s a lot to familiarize myself with, especially the technical side. I’m embracing that and taking advantage of being able to ask lots of questions during this first year so that I’m more knowledgeable and can better communicate my design ideas.  

What does your day-to-day look like?

It’s usually not the same every day. My role and day to day changes as project need shifts, which is typically quite frequently. I come to work every day at around 8:30 and grab a cup of coffee and put my lunch in the fridge. I head to my desk and check and respond to all of my e-mails and then usually get to work.   

What are some projects you are working on right now or have worked on in the past?

Most are confidential projects, but one I can share is Berkley Research Group’s corporate office in Dallas.  

What made you want to go in to Interior Design?  

I started as a public relations major and quickly realized that I wouldn’t make it long in a typical classroom setting. I started exploring my options and quickly landed on architecture. It was always something I had been interested in but hadn’t even considered it being a career path. I spoke with an advisor and the reality of being in college for 6 years didn’t really appeal to me, since I was already going to be a year behind. She mentioned the interior design program and I looked more into it, realized how similar the two fields were, and thought it’d be a perfect fit! 

What is something that inspired you as a student or early on in your career?  

I was always inspired by the students in the year above me. I loved looking at their work and wondering what they had learned that I hadn’t yet got to. Same with the architecture students. I took every opportunity to check out their pin ups and see what they were working on.  

What experiences at the Gibbs College of Architecture contributed to your success? 

All of it! One big take away for me was taking on the position as President of the OU chapter of Interior Design Student Association and my internship in the dean’s office my senior year. It really kind of brought me back to life and helped me find a different purpose in the college outside of just being a design student, which can be really taxing at times. It’s now a priority for me to find things I can contribute to outside of just being a designer in my firm, so that I can also have find purpose in something that is lighter. Balance? Maybe that’s a better way to put it. I’ll take that with me wherever, forever.  

What is one of your favorite memories from being a student in the College of Architecture? 

My favorite memories, in hindsight, were always camping out with my best friends in the basement, eating awful, awful food. Enjoy it –I know it seems miserable right now but you’re creating space! Not a bad gig.   

What is the biggest piece of advice you would give to Interior Design students or recent grads?  

Find balance now so that it comes more easily later. Find something outside of design that gives you purpose and make it a priority. I don’t think the design field is a light one to go into but that’s a great thing, it means what you do serves great purpose but might come with longer evenings or less weekends. If you are someone who throws yourself into your work, creating a balance might not come naturally but I think it’s super important. 

Questions submitted by students:

What’s it like working for a company like Gensler?

It’s really great. I was worried it would be very corporate and I couldn’t implement my design style or be myself, but it has been such the opposite. I’m around some of the most creative people and truly feel like I can express my ideas and be heard. I couldn’t imagine a better place to have started my career.

What work are you typically assigned to?

What I’ve found is that there are typically designers and technical designers. I’ve had my hand in a little of both roles since I’ve been here. Right now, I’ve been more on the design side: look and feel presentations, design concept and intention, and finish selections.

How did you get your job?

I first approached Gensler at our career fair in February. And now here we are!

What do you miss about OU?

The people! I miss my professors and friends. The COA really is a second home at OU and you really miss the familial aspect after graduating.

How do you find inspiration now that you aren’t a student?

Design blogs! Dezeen is my favorite that I try to browse every morning. I’m also inspired by my office! Other studios have their work pinned up and it’s a great source of inspiration. A creative work environment was super important to me when looking for a job.

Advice for freshmen in the COA?

Keep going. Soak it all in. I know it’s such a shock come from high school or another major into the COA. The workload is a lot. But if you enjoy design, keep your eye on the prize and take it as an opportunity to figure out what kind of designer you are before starting your career.

Editor’s Note: We would like to give a big thank you to Avery for taking the time to answer our questions and give us a look into her life post-GCA. For a behind-the-scenes look into Avery’s life, check out her story takeover in the highlights on our Instagram!