GCA communications intern Haley Sandell (H) spoke with third-year Interior Design student Paxton Little (P)! She talked about the ID program at Gibbs and juggling her academic, social, and Greek life at college!

H: Hey everyone, and welcome back to the Gibbs Spotlight! My name is Hayley Sandell and I am a visual communications intern here at the Gibbs College of Architecture. Today, I’ll be speaking with Paxton Little. She’ll be starting her third year of the interior design program this August. Hey, Paxton, how’s it going? 

P: It’s going well. How are you? 

H: Not too bad. So, can you start us off by telling us a little about yourself and your life leading up to Gibbs? 

P: Yes! I am going to be a senior at OU, but I will actually be in my third year of the Interior Design program. So whenever I first started at OU I thought I wanted to be a nurse, so I did that for a full year–all my science classes–then I got into anatomy and I was like, no, I don’t think this is for me. I switched my sophomore year to interior design. So, I’ll be in the third year of the program. I have two more years and I’ll graduate in May of 2022.  

H: Awesome. So how did you decide to go from nursing to interior design? 

P: That’s kind of crazy. I honestly didn’t think much about interior design whenever I came to OU, but growing up, my mom always loved decorating our house and rearranging furniture, and just loved like home goods stores and looking at home magazines. And so, I’ve always really liked interior design or decorating and when I came to OU, I loved science and math and so I was really set on being a nurse. I thought it would be a good lifestyle, and then, as I said, whenever I got into anatomy class, I just was really anxious and did not like it at all. I had taken the foundation of interior design as just an extra credit class because I needed three extra hours that semester. And Professor Pober, who’s the director of the program was the teacher and she had talked about how she was dental before she switched or had maybe like been interested in dental school or something like that. I felt like I resonated with her. And so I set up a meeting with her and I was like, hey, like, I don’t know if I want to switch but I’m really interested in this and I really don’t like what I’m doing right now. And she was really helpful and kind and just made all the calls and emails to be able to get me into the classes. So, I dropped anatomy right before the last date to drop was and then started interior design that next week. 

H: Dang, that’s a wild turnaround.  

P: I know. It was really crazy. I asked. The first day of class I call my mom was like, I don’t know if I made the right decision, so overwhelmed, kind of crazy. But honestly, looking back, I’m so happy. And I can’t imagine myself being a nurse or doing anything else. And it’s fun to sit around and talk with friends about it too because I’m doing an internship this summer. And everyone’s like, oh my gosh, like, I can’t imagine you being in nursing school or at of hospital. So, it’s been really good. 

H: Yeah, definitely. You quickly found where you’re supposed to be, which is good. 

P: Yes, for sure. 

H: Nice. So, it says here that you’re also serving as the president of your sorority, which is awesome. How, how do you juggle that with interior design, which is a really rigorous program? 

P: Yes, it’s honestly hard at times. But it’s been really fun and a really good year. I love being busy. I’ve always had a lot going on, I would say even since high school and so, I love having all on my plate. I think I do better at managing my time when I am busy. I don’t feel like I’m super overwhelmed or how a lot going on until I sit down and then I’m like, okay, like, yeah, I do have a lot going on. But I really just try to work on school all day and then spend time with friends and doing sorority stuff in the evenings. And then a lot of times, I’ll go back to the studio late at night and be there until two or three in the morning, which, as everyone in the College of Architecture knows that’s really common. So, honestly, it’s worked out for me because I feel like I am able to do both and still see my friends still be present in my sorority and be president, but also work hard at school and do that. 

H: Gotcha. Yeah, I resonate with that. It’s easier to be busy and stay busy than to sit down and think about how busy you are and then psych yourself out. 

P: Yes, exactly. I definitely love checklists. So, I’ll make a checklist every week to have everything that needs to get done and mark everything off as I go. I think that helps me to just focus on the one or two things that day that need to get done instead of looking and saying okay, I have a lot that I have on my plate right now. So yeah, really good. 

H: Good. So, a big decision for a lot of incoming freshmen is whether to go Greek or not like how to make friends. Is this what I want to do? Is it not so like, has being involved in Greek life positively affected your college experience? Would you recommend it? 

P: Yes, most definitely. I think Greek Life has definitely been the biggest part of my college experience as far as how I’ve made all my friends, all my roommates, and just one of my favorite parts of college. I have been in my sorority for three years now. And most of my memories from college are from either events that have been at the sorority or my friends that I’ve made through the sorority. I think going Greek is a great way to get involved right off the bat and I’m from Ardmore, Oklahoma so I really didn’t know a ton of people going to college at OU. I think this was a great way for me to be able to meet people from all over and really make friends fast. And Kappa has just been such a great place for me, but there are so many great sororities and fraternities out there that I think anyone from any state or city should definitely look into. It’s so much fun and such a great experience. 

H: Yeah. And it’s a great way to network too. 

P: Yes, for sure. And sororities and fraternities I know sometimes get like a bad rap for being party crazier, whatever it might be. But honestly, I think the accountability that comes with a sorority or fraternity is really good. Just having to maintain a GPA and, you know, your friends are studying, so you’re more likely to study. So, it’s a great way to keep yourself accountable for what you’re doing in college and how you’re spending your time. 

H: Yeah, and you can build each other up. You’re around each other all the time. 

P: Yes, for sure. 

H: So, kind of off of that point. What does the studio culture mean to you? You mentioned that like being in the studio at 1 am, 2 am, 3 am is such a big thing. Gibbs so what does that mean to you? 

P: Yes, the studio is very unique and different from all of the other parts of campus, I would say. All of my friends that are not in architecture school quite don’t understand why I’m there late at night. But studio culture is just very communicative and collaborative. Everyone really does work together to get the projects done on time and make the best design that they can or just help each other with different things that you might be facing in a design project. The studio is also like, one of the places that I have so many memories, like I said, being there until two or 3 am, even pulling all-nighters. It’s so fun and it can be really stressful and time-demanding, and intimidating, but they’re the classes are really small. I think there’s probably like 25 in my class, which is all of the people going into third-year, interior design, and so I’ve become such good friends with all of those people and made great relationships with them. And also, just feel comfortable going to them with Hey, like, I need help with this. Can you help me and everyone just so helpful and wants to be there for you because everyone’s kind of going through the same thing. So, it’s really fun and definitely something that I cherish that I think not a lot of people in college experience if you’re not part of the College of Architecture. 

H: Yeah, definitely. And what a great way to build community than literally going from sunset to sunrise with them. 

P: Yes, we always joke like when we get here in the morning, it’s dark and then we leave and it’s still dark outside. Which is so funny, but it really is such a great community. 

H: So, what exactly is the interior design program like? I know there are a lot of misconceptions about it. So how is it different from what you expected? 

P: It’s very different from what I expected. Whenever I switched to interior design, I was like, oh, this will be so fun. This will be way easier than nursing. I’ll just learn about how to pick the right sofa or rearrange the furniture in a room. And I was very misled and uneducated about what interior design was. I honestly didn’t even know that commercial design existed. So it is so much more than just decorating a house but the interior design program at OU is very rigorous and time-demanding. Like I’ve said many times, I spend a lot of time up at the studio until 2 am or even pulling all-nighters. But it really is one of the most rewarding parts of college, I think. I have seen how after projects over I’m like, wow, you know, this was really hard and took a lot of my time, but I really am learning a lot. And I think the interior design program is structured to provide us with an education that really will set us up for the real world really well. I think, with the construction, architecture, and other aspects of design, outside of interior design, we’ll be able to get a job pretty much wherever we want and be well educated and know a lot about the design field which will serve us really well later on in life. So, it’s definitely a great education, even though is a lot at times. 

H: Yeah, absolutely. You’re still getting a lot out of it. 

P: Yes, for sure. 

H: So–I mean, I know, corona and everything and it’s summer, but–what current projects are you working on? 

P: So, this past semester, I worked on the National African American Jazz Museum. And this summer I am working for Katie Davis Design, an interior designer in Houston. She’s a registered residential designer, so I’ve been helping her with different residential projects throughout the Houston area. 

H: That’s really cool. So, what’s it like to work with a residential designer while still being a student? What are you learning from her? 

P: I’ve learned a lot honestly. It’s very different than school because at school we mostly focus on commercial design. So There’s a lot more freedom in residential design as far as fabrics you can use, and just, there’s not as many codes and standards in residential design. But I’ve also really learned a lot about the business side of design and running a business, how to communicate with vendors, and how to communicate with the people that you’re working with. I’ve really enjoyed my internship, my boss has really been very helpful and just has wanted to show me as much as she can and teach me as much as she can while I’m in Houston this summer, so it’s been a really good experience, but it definitely is very different than my schoolwork. 

H: Yeah, definitely. That sounds fantastic, though. 

P: Yes, it’s been really fun. I’m very thankful for this experience and especially a lot of internships, a lot of my friends’ internships have been canceled because of corona, so I’m really glad that I’ve been able to still do something this summer. 

H: Yeah. So, what kind of projects are you working on with her? Like, do you go to people’s houses or? 

P: Yeah, I’ve really been, since it’s such a small interior design firm, I’ve been able to kind of be a part of all different parts of the design process. And so, I’ve done everything from going to pick up fabric samples with a desk center or make upholstery work orders or make proposals. And then I’ve also gotten to go to clients’ houses for presentations of the design that Katie’s designed or go to their house and measure for new drapes or new bench, whatever it might be. I’ve had client interaction. I’ve had a lot of office work and then also Katie’s been really good about trying to get my insight on design and my opinion, which has been really fun for me to see how she designs and then how I can also contribute to her design. 

H: Gotcha. That’s really cool like real-world experience; you know what you’re getting yourself into. 

P: Yes, it’s definitely very different than school. But it’s been really good for me to see how my schoolwork is going to evolve into real-life experience and a job one day. 

H: Yeah, absolutely. So, what is a project that you’ve created or worked on at GCA that you’re most proud of? 

P: I would say I’m probably most proud of the most recent project this past spring semester, the National African American Jazz History Museum. It was a project that was all semester, which was new to us. We’d previously done four projects a semester or two projects a semester. So, this project was very time consuming and lengthy, but it was pretty much the whole Jazz History Museum. And so at the end of it, it was really cool to see how we started from interviewing the client and researching about African American history and jazz music and then building a museum that was going to best suit the client and user. The project was also a group project, so I had a partner. Her name is Savannah Pollock, and it was so fun to work with her and kind of bounce ideas off of each other through the design process and then also be able to split up some of the work as far as researching and space programming and layout design and all the different parts of the design process. We got to work together and use each other as helpful tools to better our design and better each other. So, it was really good. It was really fun. And it’s the first semester that we’ve used the program called Revit, so that was also really fun to learn Revit and see our 3d model at the end of the semester. 

H: Yeah, that’s, that’s really rewarding. 

P: Yes, it’s so fun getting to see in real life, kind of what your design is looking like and how it’s all coming together instead of just being on 2d and piece of paper and you’re like, Okay, I hope this looks good. So that was really cool. It was really fun. 

H: Yeah. So, since COVID struck around spring break and cut the whole semester in half. What did you learn about working in teams and doing research and presenting projects over Zoom? Especially such a big, like large scale project. 

P: Yes, Zoom has become quite my friend, I guess. I definitely was on it every single day for the last few months of school, but I think the biggest thing I just learned was communication and teamwork, really. Savvy and I were a really good team because we had a good relationship outside of interior design as well. And so, we were close to each other and could text all the time and communicate that way. But it was challenging to have to send our Revit files back and forth through email and kind of work together from different cities and states. But Zoom was very different presenting. We had the client on the zoom call. Our whole class was on the zoom call and then some of the professors in the interior design program. And so, we just shared our screen with them and presented our end product, the museum. It was less intimidating because we weren’t standing in front of them, but it’s also hard because sometimes they wouldn’t be able to see what we were talking about or understand because we weren’t right in front of them getting to point it out; it was on a small computer screen that’s kind of hard to see and follow along. But it was definitely very helpful and learning how to communicate over the phone over email. I know that’s something that everyone will need to know how to do later on in business life. So that was good, but I’m definitely ready to be back at school and back in person with everybody. 

H: Yeah, it’ll be weird. To shift back to in-person classes, which is such a weird statement like it’s, it should be normal to be in person. 

P: I know it is so weird. 

H: So, what exactly brought you to OU in the first place? 

P: Honestly, I was kind of 50/50 between Auburn and OU. I, growing up, went to a camp called Kanikuk Camps in Missouri, and some of my camp counselors were from Auburn. So, I went and visited and fell in love and loved it. And for the longest time, I was like, yeah, I really want to go far away from home. It’s probably like 12 hours from Ardmore, where I’m from. And so, I thought I was going to go there. And then as I got older, and college came closer and closer, I was like, okay, maybe I don’t want to go far away. I didn’t really know. But my brother is two years older and he was at OU. And then one of my very best friends that I’ve been close to since I was four years old, she was going to OU and she’s like, please like you have to come, I want you to run with me. And so I think that’s ultimately what drew me there was my friend and my brother because I knew I was going to have family and friends there that I could lean on and always go to, but I think OU has been perfect for me because it’s an hour away from home so I’m able to get home if I need to, but I really don’t go home that much. I stay at school and I’ve built a whole different world up in Norman than I have here at home. So, it’s been really good for me a really good fit and I feel like OU, even though it’s such a big school, it’s such a small-town feel. I feel like I know a lot of people there because everyone’s so friendly and wants to connect with you and learn more about you and where you’re from. So, it’s been a really good experience for me, and I definitely can’t imagine myself anywhere else. 

H: Yeah, definitely. And Norman itself is just such a cozy place to be in. It’s such a perfect college town. 

P: It really is. It’s the perfect size. It’s close enough to Oklahoma City where there’s more to do, but it’s not too big where you feel like you’re swamped in traffic or you don’t really know anybody. 

H: Yeah, definitely. And it’s always so much easier to start a new school with friends and people who, like you said, your roommate, it’s much easier to do that than to go off somewhere else and have to make those connections. 

P: Yes, I think having that one friend was really good for me because it allowed me to make completely new friends and make those connections but I also had someone to kind of lean back on if I was homesick or didn’t feel comfortable in the situation. I could always go to her and be like, okay, I don’t know what’s going on. So that was really good and pushed me outside of my comfort zone. But I also had her as kind of a security blanket whenever I needed it. 

H: Definitely. So, what is some advice that you would give to a prospective student looking into the interior design program? 

P: I think my biggest piece of advice would be to make sure this is really what you’re passionate about and want to do as a career later on down the road. Interior Design program is extremely time demanding and rigorous. But if you truly love what you’re doing, it’s such a great place to learn and grow. I think it’s easy for my friends on the outside to be like, Oh my gosh, you spend so much time at the studio, but it really is what I’m passionate about and love doing. And know, I want to do later on as a career and so it’s easy for me to spend time there and want to excel in my design work. So, I’m really thankful for the studio and all the relationships I’ve made through it. It really is such a fun place and such a great place to learn and grow. But it is very time demanding. So, I think you really have to make sure that’s what you want to do. 

H: Good. Yeah. So, and then, last question. What is your favorite thing about GCA? 

P: I think my favorite thing about GCA is the collaboration between students and faculty. Since I was a science major before, I was in most classes of probably 200-300 people and I never knew my professors. I never felt comfortable going to office hours or asking them questions if I was confused or didn’t know something. GCA is such a close-knit community of faculty and students. I see my professors pretty much every day and feel 100% safe and comfortable going to them and asking them for any design questions or even just life questions. The professors really invest in us and invest in our work and they spend so much time helping us and just challenging us to be better designers. So, I think that’s probably my favorite thing is just the relationships that I’ve made and the communication and collaboration between the students and the professors. 

H: Gotcha. Yeah, it’s definitely a really welcoming environment for everyone. 

P: Yes, it really is. Since the day I was part of the College of Architecture, everyone’s been so welcoming and just so kind and really wants to make sure that you’re doing well and excelling in what you’re doing. 

H: That’s awesome. It’s a nice little community. 

P: Yes. 

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

P: I don’t think so. I’m so glad I got to talk to you and talk about the College of Architecture. 

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