Paradigm shift: Opportunity abounds for FACS design students

Author: Cal Powell


Barron Wallace spent his first two years of college at another institution in the early days of the pandemic. Like a lot of students, he felt isolated and wasn’t sure what to pursue.

“I was undecided for a while,” he said. “They kind of made you pick something, so I chose media and entertainment, which is as general of a thing I could find.”

When he transferred to the University of Georgia, that changed dramatically. His knack for fixing things up – “mostly just little pieces of junk here and there,” he said – led him to a furnishings and interiors class in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences.

“After the first week, I pretty much knew this was going to be my thing,” he said. “I realized all the assignments were things I enjoyed. It was an awesome transition, going from things that might be busywork to something I have a passion for.”

A bright future

Wallace was one of 17 students in the furnishings and interiors major this academic year. With enrollment trending upward – 34 students are enrolled for the fall 2024 cohort – the program recently added a new lecturer, Catherine Trugman, and is welcoming Ronnie Rama this fall.

Trugman is an experienced commercial and residential interior designer with a joint appointment in UGA’s Lamar Dodd School of Art.

Rama most recently served as the director of interior design and architecture at Abilene Christian University. He will teach history of architecture and a design course and also has a dual appointment in the interior design program in the School of Art.

While focusing on residential design, students in the program are prepared for careers in commercial design, kitchen and bath design, historic preservation, teaching, hospitality and working with architects.

It turns out one of the driving forces behind the spike in interest in design programs is the pandemic.

“People spent an unprecedented amount of time in isolation and many reimagined and adapted their spaces,” Trugman said. “People worked from home, restaurants needed too adapt their spaces, etc. Many of these changes shifted our paradigm, becoming permanent changes. All of these changes require design to be successful.”

The variety of career options available to graduates is likely another driving force behind the growth of the major, said faculty member Kim Rich Meister, who teaches courses ranging from design fundamentals, computer-aided residential design, space planning and visual merchandising.

“Between all the talent among our faculty, we help prepare students to pursue a variety of careers under the interior design umbrella,” she said.

Faculty member Thea Ellenberg, whose courses focus on creativity, drafting and universal design, has seen the program evolve since she began teaching in 1993.

“No college program prepares you for everything, and a lot of the learning happens in the first job,” she said. “But our goal is to give them a really good foundation and get them to be well-rounded.”

‘I knew this was the program for me’

Wallace is an example. One of the many highlights of his time in FACS was a project involving well-known UGA graduate Maria Taylor, a sportscaster with NBC. Taylor enlisted the help of FACS students in designing her new Atlanta home.

“Getting to work with an actual person and talk to them about their needs and what they’re looking for, that’s the most educational part for me,” Wallace said. “Getting that feedback is a big, big part of it and gives us a lot of experience for when we’re out in the world where we’ll always be working with real clients.”

Graduates of the program often go on to receive the National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ) certification, the industry’s recognized indicator of proficiency in interior design principles.

Furnishings and interiors alumni include noted designers Charlotte Lucas of Charlotte Lucas Design, which has studios in Charlotte, N.C., and New York, Maggie Griffin of Gainesville-based Maggie Griffin Design and David Estes, vice-president of Studio Four in New York.

While at UGA, Wallace interned with the Office of University Architects, which he said was initially out of his comfort zone since the focus was more on commercial institution of design rather than the residential projects he typically undertook.

Over time, he said the experience gave him a more well-rounded view of the opportunities within the field.

After completing his senior capstone project that involved designing a boutique hotel, Wallace was hired full-time as an interior designer with the same office.

As he reflected on his time in the program, Wallace said his experience set him up perfectly for life after graduation.

“I like to make something better than when I found it, and this program gave me that opportunity,” he said. “I remember constantly calling my parents to tell them what I did in class that day because I was so excited about it. That’s how I knew this was the program for me.”

 <p>FACS faculty member Kim Rich Meister checks the progress of student Gabby Martin's project in a professional practices in interior design course.</p>

FACS faculty member Kim Rich Meister checks the progress of student Gabby Martin's project in a professional practices in interior design course.