GCA communications intern, Haley Sandell (H), spoke to senior Interior Design student, Liz Romero (L), about how she became interested in ID and what she plans to do after graduating next Spring!

H: Hey Liz! 

L: Hey! 

H: So, where are you from? Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your life leading up to Gibbs? 

L: Yeah! I’m from Tulsa, Oklahoma; I was born in Georgia, but I was raised in Tulsa for most of my life. So, I grew up there and attended Booker T. Washington High School! Since college, I’ve been living in Norman and staying here, and I hope to stay in Oklahoma City (OKC) afterward! 

H: Nice! Have you found any firms that interest you in OKC? 

L: I have, yes! I have been able to interview with my top choices for who I’d like to work with after college for internships, however, they were canceled due to quarantine. Hopefully, I’ll be able to re-apply for a job after graduation. 

H: That’s awesome that you already got to interview; you have your foot in the door! 

L: Exactly! It’s been a great experience getting to learn a little bit more about these firms and fostering those personal connections within them. 

H: Awesome! So, how did you decide you wanted to come to OU? 

L: Basically, when I was in high school, my mind was torn between OU and OSU because I had my mind set on staying in-state and I thought those two schools would be the best fit for me in Interior Design. It wasn’t until my senior year of high school that I was able to get in contact with the Interior Design program director and she was able to help me with connecting to a designer in the Tulsa area to shadow for the day. I told her I really loved Interior Design, but I wasn’t sure if it was what I wanted to go to college to study. I shadowed her for a day and fell in love with the industry! Because of how willing OU and its faculty were to help me, even as a high school student, I thought the best decision would be to go to a school that already cared about its future students. 

H: Yeah, Gibbs is fantastic at setting up networking opportunities! 

L: It’s really wonderful! 

H: What was it like shadowing a designer for a day? Was it intimidating at all? 

L: In the beginning, it was very intimidating because I didn’t know any of the software they were using and I didn’t know enough about the profession to have conversations about it, but because I was able to shadow the head interior designer and some other designers, it was eye-opening to see how they’re all different within their design processes and how they each specialize in something different. Because of that, I realized that it’s okay if I’m not good at sketching because I’m good at other aspects of the profession; it gave me reassurance that I don’t have to be perfect all-around to succeed in this industry. 

H: Definitely! It gives you room for improvement, and you get to see how different designers do different things. 

L: Yeah, that is one thing I really liked. I got to see all their different styles and their different design processes, so it was very eye-opening and an experience that stayed with me as I went into college. 

H: What was one of the coolest things that you shadowed from them? 

L: There was this one guy (and I can’t remember his name) who was one of the older Interior Designers. He specialized in hand renderings of different buildings, and I was able to see his process and how he sketched. I knew he had done some work for the Better Homes and Gardens show in Tulsa, and all of his renderings were absolutely wonderful—I wish I could sketch like that one day—and I loved that he took those skills and applied them to his everyday life. It encouraged me to find something like that that I wanted to do as well. 

H: That’s cool! So, what current projects are you working on (I know everything is up-in-the-air right now)? 

L: I currently don’t have an internship, so I don’t have any official projects going on right now. My roommate (who is also an Interior Design major) and I, however, are working on a Northwest OKC house that’s being renovated. A lot of the interior spaces have been demo-ed, so the owner reached out to us with her vision and asked us to put it in some renderings for her to better see what she wants for the space. So, we agreed and went over to take some measurements, pictures, and videos of the house. So, we’ve been working on that, and we’ll hopefully be finished by the end of this month and send them over to her to hopefully see her dream house come alive! It’s great to get to see everything in person; really, this is my first residential project because I typically work on commercial projects, but it’s been a great change of pace to take a step back from that to work on residential. I really like it! 

H: Yeah! And it’ll be really cool to design somebody’s house for them! It’s really exciting! 

L: Yeah, to actually go over there and see the whole process is so eye-opening. 

H: Definitely! Speaking of projects, what is a project that you’ve worked on at GCA that you’re most proud of? 

L: Last semester, so this spring, I worked on a project for the Griffin Memorial Hospital located in Norman. This project was a group project, so I worked with my friend, Tia Thorson, for the entire semester. We were able to go to the hospital and see two of the buildings that they have on-site and how they wanted to renovate it because those spaces were for their consumers as well as their employees and residents who go there to study. So, we were able to tour it and see everything that was wrong, that they wanted to fix because they wanted people to be drawn to it, whether they were employers, residents, or consumers to get the help that they need. It was eye-opening to see what the site was about and see the different spaces and, also, having a budget. We had to consider all the different things they could do, but also all the things that needed to be done compared to what they wanted to be done. We were able to present to several of their board members and receive their feedback, what they liked, what they didn’t like, and answer any questions they had. It was really cool getting to present to them rather than a table full of our professors like we’ve done in the past; I think it really helps you later on in the industry because you are speaking to your clients and catering to their needs and wants when it comes to the design.  

H: Absolutely, and Griffin Memorial has so much history! 

L: Yes. There’s a lot of history; we were able to view the original floorplans and all the architectural documents from the original building plans. Getting to see that and have access to them was amazing considering they are such a big part of Norman and Oklahoma history. It was really an honor to get to work on this project and have them come to OU, to the Gibbs College of Architecture, to get that help. 

H: Definitely! Did you get to choose this project? Or were you placed? 

L: We were all placed—my entire studio class—on this project, and we all got into groups of two to come up with designs. So, each group had the opportunity to present to Griffin Memorial, show them their ideas, and Griffin was able to see what they liked from each different project. That way, when they do have the money and funds to go on with renovation, they can pull their ideas from what we were able to present to them. 

H: Gotcha, congrats! That sounds like such a huge project! 

L: Thank you! Yeah, it was an entire semester worth of work, but it was worth it; I enjoyed it a lot. 

H: Definitely! What’s your favorite thing about Gibbs (in general)? 

L: There are so many different things that I enjoy about it! I think one of my favorites is the community within each of the divisions and within the whole college. All of my courses have been with the same small sizes and have allowed us to grow together as a graduating class. But I also feel the college, in general, is a community; I remember one night, we were in the basement computer lab, there were tons of students from different majors, all working on their project deadlines, pulling all-nighters. The dean, Hans Butzer, came down to check in on us and told us not to stay up too late and to get some sleep. Seeing the dean of the college come in and check on everyone shows how much of a community there is, not only between the students but the faculty as well. 

H: That’s cool. Hans is great, especially as a professor for my methods I class. He does a great job! 

L: Yes, I took his class my freshman year! He was teaching Cultures of Collaboration and it was great to hear what he had to say and listen to the advice he gave. Everything about him: he’s wonderful! 

H: When did you first become interested in Interior Design? And your Architecture minor? 

L: Yeah, so I’ve always had an interest in design, but I didn’t really know it at the time. Growing up, I would always have like wrapping paper and I would come up with different floor plans and space planning of like my dream bedroom and dream house. And I may think anything of it at the time because I was a child, but getting older, I went through different blocks with what I wanted my career to be in. It wasn’t until high school that I thought, I think I want to study architecture. And the more I thought about it, the more I looked into it, I was just like, well, I don’t know if this is exactly for me, but like something along the lines of it that is within that same industry. And so my dad actually was the one who suggested to me interior design. He knows some interior designers that I’ve worked with in the past. He was like seeing how creative you use your brain; you use the creative side of it a lot. And just seeing you grow up, he said, I think this is something that would interest you. And you work along with architects. I had never thought about that, so I looked into it. And that’s when I was able to contact Maya, who was the director of Interior Design at the time, and speak with her. And after shadowing, I was like, okay, this is actually something I think I can do and am interested in so wasn’t until high school, basically.  

Image credit: Liz Romero, American Society of Interior Designers Student Day 2020

H: Yeah. I think it’s funny how, like, there are things you do as a kid, like designing floor plans, and like looking at stuff like that, like, how that like ends up being your major later in life. And you’re like, wow, I was destined to be here since the beginning.  

L: Exactly Yeah, and I’ve stuck with interior design since my freshman year too. So being able to just see myself not have a change and what I want to do in my future, it’s definitely helped and kind of just an all-around circle since what I was doing as a child 

H: Yeah. And that’s definitely reassuring that you are where you’re meant to be. That’s awesome. So, what advice would you give prospective students of the interior design program?  

L: The number one advice I would give would be to time manage. Manage your time well. It’s going to take some time to adjust, not only to the college life but also being an interior design student; your schedule is not like many other majors, you have studio courses that last a couple of hours sometimes and you pull all-nighters especially close to project deadlines and just to be able to give that time that you need to your major is going to help you in the long run and it’s going to show in the projects you complete as well how much time you dedicate to it compared to rushing to finish something last minute. I would also give the advice to join organizations within the College of Architecture immediately your freshman year, they always tell you that and I know it can be intimidating. And I wish I would have done it. I regret not joining some of the organizations I’m in now sooner than I could have. But being part of organizations like the Interior Design Student Association and several others that are national organizations, they help you so much in the long run, but also as a student, like you are able to get that advice and the help you need from those who have been in your shoes. And I feel like you’re more connected to getting that help when you’re part of these organizations. Any and all students, incoming or current, should become invested in your time at Gibbs through your major and outside of it. Take courses that are in the other fields of study and connect with students and faculty around the college. You’ll learn and adapt skills from others if you step out of your comfort zone and become acquainted with the talented students and professors in Gibbs. 

H: Yeah, definitely. And then you have that whole network of people around you.  

L: Exactly. My network has grown tremendously since I was able to join these different organizations and just the different events, I’ve been able to go to the reps I’ve been able to meet; it’s the networking is what gets you to become a better designer, as well as connect you to get that job you want in the future.  

Image credit: Liz Romero, International Interior Design Association Conference in Dallas, TX

H: Yeah. And when else will you have this chance to join Student Associations if not in college?  

L: Exactly. Yes. And I know colleges have tons of organizations to choose from but having an organization that’s specific to your major that’s going to help you once you graduate as well as throughout your college career. It’s very beneficial. Like I can’t even explain how much it’s helped me in the past. Like, it’s the reason I was able to get my previous internship is because I was in this organization and had the connections and was able to reach out to those that could help me get there.  

H: Nice. That’s fantastic. It’s a great use of resources. So you graduate in the Spring of 2021. Right? So, what plans do you have for after graduation? And are you preparing to enter the industry or?  

L: Yes, so right after graduation, I plan to hopefully have a job. I’m going to start applying next spring to different firms within Oklahoma City as well as Dallas, Texas. I’d like to work for a medium-sized firm, I’m not too picky, but I want to work for an architectural firm that specializes in corporate as well as higher education projects. And so a lot of those firms specialize in different sections of interior design, so I want something that has multi-use within their projects. There are several in Oklahoma City as well as Dallas I’m interested in so I will most likely be applying to those once the time gets closer and I want to enter the industry as soon as I can after graduation.  

H: Gotcha. So what are some of your top firms? And like, what are some of the projects that they’ve worked on?  

L: Yeah, so some of the top firms that I am interested in are Rees Associates, as well as Bleck Design Group, and GH2. Those are several of my top three as well as SmithGroup, which is in Dallas, actually. And so those are some different ones that I’d like to. I’ve been able to interview with people from each of those firms, so being able to have that connection already and learning more about those firms has helped reassure me that okay, I actually could see myself interning here, I could see myself working here. So I’m really excited to take that next step forward with applying for a full-time position.  

H: Yeah, time to get into the real world. 

L: Exactly, I’m ready.  

H: Yeah, it’ll all pay off.  

L: Exactly. Yeah, that’s what I’m excited about too. all the hard work the past several years. It’s it’s all going to pay off.  

H: Definitely. Well, I think that is all I have for you today. Do you have any closing comments?  

L: No, not at all. Just enjoy your time in college and I highly recommend being part of the Gibbs College of Architecture to any future students. 

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