Q&A: Denise Guerin

Denise Guerin at the IDEC’s annual conference, photo: Sarah R. Donahue.

I recently sat down with Denise Guerin, 2010-2011 president of the Interior Design Education Council (IDEC), after the organization’s annual meeting. She shared her concerns and optimism for the education of young designers, the need for more qualified instructors, and how practitioners can make the transition into teaching. While many interior design programs require educators to hold at least a master’s degree in order to teach, IDEC is suggesting that practitioners with years of practical experience should have the opportunity to share their knowledge with college students. Much of our conversation stemmed from IDEC’s white paper, Path from Practitioner to Professor, which makes formal recommendations to directors of interior design programs.

Georgy Olivieri: Why did IDEC find it important to make formal recommendations regarding the teaching of interior design?

Denise Guerin: There is a shortage of qualified interior design instructors, and in order to address and solve this problem we must first ask ourselves how we got to this point. From our perspective, there are three reasons that explain how this shortage came about:

  • First, the interior design profession has grown in popularity; therefore, we are seeing more applicants for interior design programs in schools and universities.
  • Second, the business world is recognizing the importance of syncing design with company goals and objectives.
  • Third, as many Baby Boomers begin to retire, the number of qualified professionals, those with a master’s degree, is shrinking, yet the number of programs is growing. Additionally, many institutions are shifting interior design from two-year to four-year programs, which have increased the need for teachers in both public and private institutions.

GO: How can this void be filled?

DG: The recent economy has actually allowed us to gain an edge on filling the gap. There seems to be a decline in student enrollment at many colleges and universities, and an increase in the number of practitioners applying for graduate programs. In many cases, out of work professionals are focusing attention on their education and testing their hands at teaching.

However, although practitioners are going back to school to earn their master’s, it takes time for these students to complete their degree and become instructors. Many institutions require a master’s degree to teach at least part-time, and in most cases, interior designers do not have an advanced degree beyond a bachelor’s. Because of this disparity, it is not uncommon for architects to teach interior design programs, since their first degree is often a master’s, but that experience may not be fitting for certain, higher-level interior design courses.

GO: How long does it take to earn a master’s degree?

DG: Most graduate programs are around 30 credit hours. If someone can go full time, it would take about three full semesters to complete; part-time students could take up to three or more years. Fortunately, some institutions will hire graduate students, or give them an assistantship, to teach one course related to their field each semester, which helps place a qualified professional into the classroom, but it can also provide for a sizeable deduction in tuition.

GO: The white paper recommends two paths to teaching accreditation. Describe these two paths.

DG: Many institutions require at least a graduate degree for part-time teaching, and for more than 10 years, IDEC has been trying to work with accreditation programs to accept extensive design experience as an acceptable credential to teach young designers. A practitioner with eight or more years of experience should be considered qualified to teach in a professional program. This path says that according to the Southern Accreditation of Colleges and Schools (SACS), you can make the case that a faculty member does not need a graduate degree, but significant experience to teach, especially in the studio.

The other path shows how practitioners can earn their master’s degree and then move into teaching.

GO: How do these recommendations to institutions affect practitioners and students?

DG: Our hope is that our research gives the leaders of interior design programs the documentation and rationale they need to meet with provosts and chancellors, in order to make the case interior design practitioners, with significant experience, can make a contribution in the classroom.

GO: What are IDEC’s recommendations for improving the teaching environment for interior design?

DG: About a year ago we created a document, graduate programs in interior design, that outlines all available graduate programs for practitioners seeking to further their education. Now we’re adding information to that document, about any particular program(s) or course(s) available online. Additionally, each year at NeoCon, we offer three or four courses through our IDEA Line (Interior Design Education Assistance Line) about becoming an educator. IDEA connects practitioners with an IDEC advisor who helps answer questions about graduate programs, identify interests and direction, and teaching opportunities.

Practitioners interested in learning more about IDEC’s teaching recommendations, and the IDEA Line program can visit www.idec.org

Georgy Olivieri, MBA, LEED AP, is director of architecture and design strategies for Kimball Office.

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