Studying abroad, however, is not the only way to leverage global learning into a successful career. Students in Appalachian State University’s Interior Design Program are well prepared to enter the global workforce, here in North Carolina as well as abroad. Each year, Interior Design Studio 3005 (affectionately nicknamed the “Skype Studio”) focuses on completing a project design in a particular country. The choice in 2014–2015 was Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; the previous year’s class focused on Nairobi, Kenya. Next year’s focus will be on Iran with new professor Hessam Ghamari, who practiced in Tehran before coming to the United States.
The Interior Design program’s philosophy is a concrete example of what the Global Learning QEP means to accomplish. “The program places particular emphasis on community service, environmental responsibility, global issues, and universal design in order to prepare students for the challenges of the ever-changing profession.”
In this and many other fields, it’s not enough to approach a project with shallow understanding, Associate Professor Jeanne Mercer-Ballard explains. Clients are seeking facilities that demonstrate a deeper understanding of cultures. Successful projects take into consideration customer preferences that would not have occurred to unprepared designers. Restaurant table spacing and different views on dining room privacy, for example, vary widely according to culture. Students immerse themselves in this learning; it can take many forms, from cultural understanding activities to real-time interactions with students on the other side of the world.
In 2013–2014, before beginning the process of developing a concept, students did extensive background research into Kenya’s many diverse cultures. Dr. Mercer-Ballard invited Dr. Jeremiah Kitunda, a native Kenyan who is a history professor here at Appalachian, to make a presentation on Kenyan culture to the class. Students did further research on cultural differences and completed activities that demonstrated understanding of those differences. They learned, at a deep level, that they needed to adjust their assumptions and practices to create effective designs.
Likewise, in 2014–2015 the class connected to expertise we already have locally. Several individuals consulted on the project and the cultures involved: student Hazel Chang, a native of Kuala Lumpur; Dr. T. Johnson Sampathkumar, a visiting professor from Madras, India; Kevin Coulter, an architect in Charlotte who lived in Kuala Lumpur and worked on the development where the project was located; and Ruth Beals, a professor at Converse College who lived in Qatar for several years.
Students developed relationships with interior design students at Raffles University in Johor Bahru, Johor, Malaysia, and their professor, Ghinlon Wang. The class used Skype and Facebook to initiate and maintain a design dialogue to better understand each other’s cultures and the implications for interior design.
This kind of deeper global understanding is having a great effect on graduates’ employment prospects. One of the first students to take the class, Michelle McMillan, is now back in Charlotte after working for four years at PIL, a prestigious international interior design firm in Nairobi. Michelle was instrumental in the selection of Kenya for the class focus in 2013–2014. Unlike many such projects, where students develop proposals for fictitious locations, the designs that students submitted were for a real restaurant—the famous Carnivore, which has specialized in exotic barbecued meat since 1980.
For two years in a row—2014 and 2015—Appalachian Interior Design students have won prestigious CooperSOURCE Lighting awards. These winners—2015 graduate Hazel Chang and seniors Megan Everhart and Kaitlyn Hutchens—are on a fast track to successful careers in interior design. Hazel’s 2014 design for Carnivore in Nairobi, Kenya, and Megan’s and Kaitlyn’s 2015 designs for restaurants in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, are culturally authentic and internationally upscale, catering to a local as well as a visiting clientele.
Making local-to-global connections, as this class does, is something that the Global Learning QEP encourages and supports. Plans are underway to develop a faculty questionnaire on international expertise and interest, and to distribute the results to the Appalachian community. This will facilitate interactions between internationally experienced faculty and those who are eager to infuse global content into their classes.
Global knowledge, competency, and citizenship will be central to our students’ careers and lives in the 21st century. The QEP supports these outcomes by providing funding to create and enhance study-abroad or service-abroad experiences, to infuse global content into courses, and to introduce students to global issues while on campus. This class is exemplary in its goals and accomplishments: students’ career prospects are better, and their lives are enriched.