GCA communications intern, Haley Sandell (H), sat down with Christa Woods (C), a senior Interior Design student. We talked about her academic adventure and how she ended up in the Interior Design program at Gibbs!

H: Hey, Christa. 

C: Hi. How’s it going? 

H: Not too bad. How are you?  

C: Great.  

H: So, can you start off by telling us a little about yourself and your life leading up to Gibbs? 

C: Yes, so I’m actually from Central Oklahoma. Born in Norman, but I’ve lived most of my life in Shawnee and graduated at a much smaller school, Bethel High School, before coming into OU. I had originally thought that I wanted to do meteorology, so I came to this school for the meteorology program. Of course, there is no other option, but I would be lying if I said that was the only reason just because the schools always been near and dear to my heart. It wasn’t long after doing the meteorology program that I started getting a gut feeling that I wanted to go into interior design. But it wasn’t really until I met my roommate on the Disney College Program who was a graduate of the SCAD program in interior design. I got to look at her portfolio and see what she was really doing. That’s when I noticed that interior design wasn’t just picking curtains, or paint colors, it was a lot more to that. It was technical; it was creative. And so that’s when I really decided that this was something that would really work with me. And so I went ahead and finished my bachelor’s degree in human relations, but then that’s when I’ve decided to come back to continue my education, getting my master’s program and getting that degree in interior design that I’ve always wanted. 

H: That’s really cool. What a wild twist of fate to have an interior designer roommate when you think you’re interested in this. 

C: It’s almost, yeah, like it was meant to be. 

H: Yeah, definitely. So how did you choose to go from meteorology to human relations to interior design? That’s a, an interesting batch of degrees. 

C: It really is. And a lot of it, I can say, relates to my experience of working at Disney. I noticed that I really do like interacting with people, that I can be a bit introverted. I do like having the interaction with people. And you know, come to find out, you know, my bachelor’s degree will work really well with my interior design degree later on in life. Um, because that’s what you do. You’re always working with clients, and I’m helping them out with their design solutions. And I love human relations, but I love that I’ll be able to apply it to something practical that’s more meaningful for me. And so it was a long roundabout way to get to where I wanted to be, but it will certainly be useful. 

H: Yeah, definitely. Talk about being well rounded. So it sounds like there are different types of master’s degrees. So like, you’re first professional, so how does a first professional master’s differ from other master’s programs like post-professional? 

C: Right, so I’m coming in without a bachelor’s degree in interior design. And the program is geared a little bit different for me. It’s a combination of those masters, graduate-level courses, and leveling courses. So those leveling courses are getting me up to speed in drafting skills and technologies, so that way I can have that basis of design skills, but then also understand interior design at a graduate level and some of the research topics that are available. And with my program, it’s either a six to seven-semester program; I’m electing to do the six-semester program, which means there’s a little bit more workload on my plate semester to semester. So that extra year helps with me qualifying for the NCIDQ  exam. At the end of all of this, I believe you have to have 60 hours in courses. Yeah. It’s just a lot to learn in just three years’ time. But it’s very rewarding, and unlike other master’s degree programs, I’m not completing a thesis; I’m actually going to be completing a final project which is to-be-determined for me. That’s coming up this last year. 

H: Dang. Well, congrats. You’ve made it through a lot. 

C: It’s been a lot. 

H: So what type of career do you plan on pursuing after you graduate? Obviously, interior design, but 

C: Right, I would really like to go into commercial design. I’ve especially found a few firms in the area that are really exciting to me and that I’d like to pursue a career with when I graduate. 

H: Gotcha. What, what do those firms do in particular that makes them more exciting to you. 

C: The firm’s that I really enjoyed interviewing with the most were the firms that took on several different types of projects. I know a lot of times you talked about finding a specialty in interior design, but since I am still kind of new to this, I love the opportunity of getting to dabble into different types of projects and to be more of a well rounded interior designer. And I believe that the things that I learn from those different types of projects will make me a better designer, overall. And also getting that experience from, you know, being able to be part of the design project from beginning to end. I think that’s really important to be able to do all the parts of the design. So there’s definitely been a few firms in the area that I think that just really fit well, with that firm organization. Yes, really looking forward to that. 

H: That’s really cool. Well, good for you. So how did you decide that you wanted to come to OU specifically? like there are many other schools out there, why OU? 

C: Right, I feel like I went into this a little bit earlier. But OU has just, I’ve been around central Oklahoma my whole life. I mean, it’s always just been a goal of mine even though I knew there were other options. I’ve always been happy with Norman and with OU and when you tour the campus so beautiful one. you know that on its own is very inviting. I’ve always loved OU; I loved OU in my bachelor’s program, so I knew he was going to be in good hands when I came back for a master’s degree. It’s always been the easiest choice. 

H: Gotcha. That’s really cool. So what current projects are you working on? 

C: I’m not working on a current project, but I could talk about my project from the studio last semester. It’s probably the one I’m most proud of so far. Our professors, Rick and Maya, were able to partner up with an actual organization that is looking to implement a museum In Oklahoma City. So this is the National African American Jazz Legacy Museum. Being able to work with an actual client with this project has just been the best experience. We met with them in person before the Coronavirus, and we were able to do some research with them to see what they were looking for in this project. We did receive their feedback at a few key points throughout the semester that really tailored the design, spurred some revisions, and it was just, you know, practical to get that experience while in school. So compared to the other projects that we’ve taken, and in my program, I just felt like that was very valuable. In addition to that, we did present our projects to the clients via zoom. So, it might have been a wild semester, but it worked out in the end. 

H: Yeah, and being able to meet with them in person and see your clients–it just makes it so much more real. What was it like going from, like in person with Interior Design, to going to zoom calls? Is that a big difference? Is there a lot that changes? 

C: I mean, it’s wild because in studio, having feedback with the professors and having those critiques is very important along the way to stay the stay on top of your project, you’re always making revisions. And so it was definitely an adjustment and, as anybody would admit, it happened fast. You know, it was a fast change. I don’t think the instructors were expecting the end of the semester to be that way, but I have to give credit to our professors, Rick and Maya, for being excellent instructors through and through. I know that it was a lot for them to be able to keep up with the feedback via zoom and being able to control the screens. It was fantastic how they handled the transition. 

H: Yeah. Yeah, it’s big for everyone. It’s really cool to see how professors adapted to that new setting. So can you tell me a little bit about the materials resource library and your experience with that? 

C: Right. So I, in my graduate program, work in the materials resource library for the students. Really funny story, and before I started the program started my time there. Just a couple weeks before that, the basement flooded. So everything that was in there was actually thrown out of the room and into dry space. So when I took over, I did a lot of organizing, and so it was the first time I really was looking at Interior products. Finding out the system to organize them, I was really just thrown in there, but it turned out to be a great learning experience. Now that I am two years in and I’ve had several people help me out in there as well, we’re able to bring in, we bring in probably upwards of 40–some reps choose to send things and some of them will visit in person–material manufacturers sending us samples to update our library a semester. So this means that we have, up to date, current materials for the students to come and check out, so they know what’s out there on the market and they know what they can use for their interior design projects. They know where they might be able to look for something if they’ve got something and you know, an idea in their head. And so it’s become such a great resource I highly recommend for all students to make use of it, even if it’s just coming in and just seeing, you know, well who’s the manufacturer that I don’t know of, and then looking them up and seeing what kind of products they have, because I guarantee you, just knowing that practical knowledge is going to be so helpful when you’re in the workforce. And some of the reps that also come visit to bring samples, they also host lunch-and-learns with the students, so it’s really fun that you know, you kind of get to build those relationships with the people you’ll be working with later on. And, again, I highly recommend visiting the materials library. We’ve put a lot of work into it, and it’s really come a long way. 

Image credit: Christa Woods, the materials library.

H: That sounds like an excellent resource, a really good hands-on opportunity. Where is the library located? 

C: It’s just located underneath the Dean’s Suite in the basement. We do have hours that are determined by myself and the students that would work there. But the hours are usually posted on the door, they’re usually sent out via email. And so definitely reach out or visit you know, it’s again worth a stop. 

H: Yeah, absolutely. That’s really awesome. Uh, so what’s your favorite thing about Gibbs? 

C: You know, I have to say, especially since I’ve had a bachelor’s degree from another college on campus, but the faculty in this college is just the best. It’s not an easy thing to achieve any of the degrees that are part of this college; it’s definitely a lot of time and hard work spent, but having the great faculty support has just been life saving and really nice knowing that I can have that great feedback from them have that great partnership with them. I can definitely attribute my success in this program to everyone that has been a part of my journey through this program. And so if you know, they’re listening to this, you know, you guys are amazing, and you definitely get all the credit and all the success of the students.  

H: Oh, that’s fantastic. All the faculty that I’ve ever spoken to at Gibbs, they’re just such warm and inviting people, which is really reassuring.  

C: They really are. And I mean, there are definitely the high points and there are always low points, but they’re always there to help you out through whatever it might be. So it’s definitely been, even more so than the human relations program, not to dog them when you know how their programming is, but it’s just incredible the faculty in this program, it’s unbelievable. 

H: That’s awesome. They’re a fantastic resource. And they help even more with like networking and stuff like what’s been your experience with networking via Gibbs? 

C: I have found in my time, and not just with the reps that come visit and host lunch-and-learns, there have been several networking opportunities that they provide. Of course, you have career fairs, but they also had a mentor day just last semester or the semester before, where they brought a lot of professionals in and we had the whole day to interview them, have them review portfolios, have them look at resumes. We take a lot of trips and visit firms, visit construction sites. There’s just a lot of opportunities to meet with the professionals out in the world, and I highly recommend any student that’s looking into the program or any current student to make use of all the networking opportunities. Even if you’re not looking for an internship or you’re not looking for a job at the moment, it does not hurt to make those connections. And again, I’m very introverted, networking is not my strong suit, but it has been very rewarding just to talk to the professionals. I definitely received some tips from that mentor day that helped me just recently; I was able to win a portfolio competition for ASID in Oklahoma City. Those tips really contributed to that, so it never hurts to start early with making those connections. 

H: Yeah, and it’s a fantastic way to get a job once you graduate, it’s reassuring to go into the workforce and know people 

C: Right! And even if it’s just meeting with your material representatives, you might think they, they may just only help you out with them finding a carpet, but I’ve also had a lot of them that are like, hey, we’ll send out your portfolio to a few firms that we know are hiring, you know, just you never know who you’re going to talk to who might be able to help you out and finding a job or finding an internship or finding what you need. 

H: Yeah, absolutely. That’s really awesome. So, kind of just something that you touched on very briefly at the beginning that I’m just curious about, what is the Disney College Program? How did you get into that? 

C: Yeah, so the Disney College Program is something I jumped into. When I found out I didn’t want to do meteorology was kind of just like, well what do I do now? And so I actually met somebody on campus that was a representative of that internship. And I mean, she had me sold, you know, at Disney. So I did the Disney College Program actually a couple of times in my undergraduate. It is an internship. So it’s kind of a general internship, but it’s offered to all majors. And with that internship, you move to either the Florida or the California location, you work in the parks, and then you can also take educational courses. So I was able to take marketing, which was a career development course and a few other courses with it. That’s also where I met my roommate. So of course, you meet a lot of fantastic people. I was able to work with people from all over the world; I had roommates from all over the world. It’s just an experience you don’t get in Oklahoma so I highly recommend doing something like that, especially if studying abroad might not be your cup of tea. This is a way to get that experience without going too far. 

H: Absolutely. That’s a really cool concept. I honestly did not know that it existed.  

C: And it never hurts to have a fortune 50 company on your resume, I always get asked about it because it’s fair. And it’s an experience I would never take back and I still talk about it today. And there’s still a little part of me that’s thinking, Well, hey, maybe I’ll apply for that interior design internship at Disney, or maybe I’ll move back and work there one day. 

H: Yeah. Oh, that sounds really awesome. Being an interior designer for Disney. That’s so cool. Well, sweet. I think that’s all I have for you today. Is there anything else you’d like to talk about? 

C: No, I think that’s good. 

H: Perfect. Well, thank you for talking with us today, Christa. Thanks again for listening to the Gibbs spotlight. Tune in next time to hear more stories from the Gibbs College of Architecture. 

Editor’s note: This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.