IIDA Student Mentoring Program Opens Career Paths

Posted 8/02/19 by Deborah Breunig in A&D

shutterstock_1246077505A couple hours into her one-day mentorship, Susan DeForrest was packed and ready to leave. But her departure from the KI showroom in Boston was anything but unexpected. DeForrest joined a pair of our sales representatives as they traveled to a nearby school to take field dimensions as part of IIDA's Student Mentoring Program.

The program takes students out of the classroom and pairs them with working professionals for a day. While DeForrest experienced field work, other students enjoyed attending sales meetings with KI clients in Chicago and working on CAD design projects in our San Francisco office.

Familiar with taking residential dimensions, DeForrest faced a new experience as she worked with her mentors measuring irregularly-shaped rooms and around built-in fixtures and office equipment. Her mentors helped her though the process, eager to pass on valuable instruction and tips to efficiently collect data needed to create an accurate CAD floor plan.

“It was so exciting to go out into the field,” said DeForrest, a returning adult student working toward an interior design degree at Endicott College. “It was the highlight of my semester.”

The day reinforced her desire to work on the contract side of the business - a path she continues to pursue with online summer classes, including healthcare and lighting design. A junior, she will begin applying for internships with architecture and design firms early next year.

“It’s exactly the field I want to enter,” she said. “After this mentorship, I feel like I’m on the right track.”

Students and mentors say with careful planning a lot of ground can be covered in just one day. DeForrest also attended a CEU at Elkus Manfredi Architects and had conversations with team members about our market strategy, products and our design process.

“It was like a one-day internship,” said DeForrest, who is balancing school, life and her job as a sales designer at a Boston-area home furnishings retailer.

IIDA works to make the mentorship program as seamless as possible, pairing 1,300 mentors and students. IIDA also offers guidelines for ways to make the day successful. The program is intended to spotlight the breadth of available careers - from manufacturer’s representatives to interior and CAD designers.

Ashley Walters was in the final months of her college career when she traveled to Chicago from her school in western Michigan to work side-by-side with Beth Ann Faber, a Chicago-based sales specialist, as she met with clients and firms in the bustle of the city.

Nearing graduation, Walters was interested in learning as much as she could about the people and jobs in her chosen field.

“I wanted to keep all my options open as to where I might end up in my career. It gave me a better perspective of what the industry is like outside of school. Getting that real-life experience with people who have been in the field for so many years is just a different ball game,” she said.

Interior Design Immersion

Beth Ann Faber is a great example of the flexibility offered by an interior design degree. She initially joined KI as an interior designer before transferring her skills to sales where she works closely with clients, an aspect of the job she loves.


That adaptability isn’t lost on Walters.

“There are so many different careers you can pursue with your degree. It was really eye-opening and exciting to see I had so many options,” Walters said.

Walters, who graduated from Western Michigan University at the end of April 2019, entered the next phase of her career this summer with an internship as a designer at Perkins Eastman in Chicago. She’s optimistic that opportunity, and two IIDA mentorships, will help her secure a full-time job with the firm.

On the west coast, Emily Goldstein spent time with Jeana Brunscher, a senior CAD design coordinator in KI’s San Francisco showroom. Goldstein, a second-year student in the interior design and architecture program at the University of California Berkeley Extension, has a strong interest in residential, workplace and hospitality design. The program gave her a better understanding of the contract furniture business.

“It was helpful exploring one aspect of the interior design ecosystem and learning how manufacturers, dealers, designers and clients all interface. Even if I end up in a different work environment, it’s helpful to know how other types of organizations operate within the industry,” Goldstein said.

Corporate Mentorship Benefits

After speaking with the students and mentors, I’m excited for the future of our industry and IIDA's program. Students get a close-up look at the industry while we as mentors are excited by the opportunity to welcome new people into design careers.


“It’s nice to know there are different opportunities and there are people in the industry who care about mentoring and helping people grow,” Goldstein said.

There are benefits for business like KI, too. Working with students keeps us in touch with the expectations of future professionals, including how, and where, they prefer to work. That can help us create work environments that make the transition from college to corporate a positive experience and bolster attraction and retention rates.

Providing educational programs is good for students, good for businesses and good for the overall design profession. We’re exploring ways we can increase the number of KI mentors involved in the program and expanding opportunities for students to experience careers offered throughout the industry.

IIDA's Student Mentoring Program also sets the tone for the future.

“Someone helping me makes me want to help others,” Walters said.

Click to learn more about the IIDA Student Mentoring Program.

Deborah Breunig

About the author: Deborah Breunig

Vice President of A&D Marketing As Vice President of A&D Marketing, Deborah is responsible for building and nurturing relationships with significant influencers and decision-makers throughout the Architectural and Design community. Deborah has been a key marketing contributor to KI for more than 20 years. She most recently served as Vice President of Sales and Marketing – Healthcare. She is responsible for all aspects of A&D strategy; including business development and execution of strategic business and marketing plans. Deborah holds a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN) from Bellin College of Nursing and an EMBA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is a licensed registered nurse in the state of Wisconsin and an Evidence-Based Design Accredited Professional (EDAC) with the Center for Health Design.

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