years Susan lived the life of a dental hygienist in Appleton, Wisconsin,
where she resides with her husband. When she decided it was time for a
change of professional direction, she did some serious soul-searching to
determine what to do with the next phase of her life. Luckily, everything
came together at just the right time to make her dream a reality.
[found] myself looking at homes, restaurants, and many spaces throughout
the day and imagining what changes I would make to improve the feel of the
space. I knew I had the natural talent and desire for a career in interior
design, and the next step was a degree.”
took a leap of faith, quit her job, and began work on a two-year AAS
degree in Interior Design at
Fox Valley Technical College
in Appleton. Set to graduate this May, Susan will also earn a Certificate
in Commercial Design.
Apparently Susan’s seeing the value in her education because she’s already
considering earning a BA in Business Administration with a major in
Marketing. This dynamo is researching schools that would allow her to
complete that degree while working full-time as an interior designer. Rock
Valley Technical College, like many schools, requires students to
participate in internships to graduate. Susan’s first internship
experience was with
Bassett Furniture Direct,
where she worked under an interior designer who was in charge of creating
store displays and ordering all the merchandise for the store. She learned
the operations side as well as the responsibilities of the store’s other
interior designer staff. The high point for Susan, though, was getting the
opportunity to create some of the store’s visual displays on her own. With
a little direction from the interior designer, Susan was let loose to
create her own displays. Feedback from the designer enhanced not only her
displays, but also her confidence.
Designing The Friendly Skies
on the internship rotation for Susan was a spot with
company that manufactures private and charter jets. This was a departure
from the residential arena that Susan had originally been set on when she
started school. But when Gulfstream’s name jumped out at Susan from the
school’s internship list, she saw it as an opportunity not to be missed.
with the design coordinator gave Susan access to the senior designer, who
has designed jets for 18 years. With such a complex product to develop,
Susan saw how it takes a village to build a jet. Not until the last part
of her internship was she able to really see all the pieces coming
together. The customer has to sign off on every fabric (an average of 14
for a new jet!), surface, and custom item that will be used on the plane.
Then there’s the wood selection, countertops, window shades, blankets,
custom china, and even flatware.
to make color boards for customers gave Susan the chance to call vendors
memo samples of the
various fabrics and surfaces. These kinds of experiences and networking
opportunities are what make internships so valuable to students. Besides,
of course, figuring out that you love designing jets and aren’t as
interested in residential as you thought you were, or vice versa.
cherry on top for Susan? She got a private tour of a completed plane just
prior to its dedication ceremony for a customer. Having loved her
Gulfstream internship, she’s now keeping her eyes open for any full-time
opportunities there — something she never would have considered had she
not followed her gut instinct when she saw “Gulfstream” on the internship
Visualizing Her Future
working at her internships, Susan branched out by taking a Visual
Merchandising class last semester. Over the course of the semester, this
busy lady completed seven different assignments, including displays with
contemporary, traditional, or product themes; one using products in the
school bookstore; another in a small window display; and a large
department-store style window display. The class gave Susan skills that
she can use far beyond the retail visual merchandising arena. Consider how
these lessons can be applied when arranging a collection of accessories in
a client’s home or commercial office space, for example.
what direction Susan decides to take in her career, these skills will take
her far. Although she was originally set on residential design, her
coursework and internships have opened her mind to the diverse
opportunities available to interior designers. Her next two internships
may make her direction more clear. Or not. Like we said, that’s the beauty
of internships. And sometimes it helps just knowing what you don’t like.
At least it narrows the field of choices a bit. Regardless, we know that
Susan has the confidence and drive to make her dream happen: “By 2010 I
want to be working full-time in an interior design position that I feel
comfortable with, and I can confidently complete a project without
second-guessing myself.” Go for it, Susan!
Who Is Susan?
born in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, 20 miles east of Cleveland. There must be
some creative magic in that village’s natural waterfall — it is the
hometown of comedian
Tim Conway of
The Carol Burnett Show
fame (he voices Barnacle Boy); cartoonist
creator of the beloved
Calvin and Hobbes
strip, who grew up and still resides here; and
Lee Unkrich, a
longtime member of the
Pixar creative team
was also born here.
growing up in Marinette, Wisconsin, she moved to Green Bay (Go
attended Dental Hygiene school. Nowadays, Susan and her husband are
settled into Appleton, Wisconsin, where they’ve been since 1990.
do you feel the most creative?
Mornings and when I’m home alone.
would you refuse to travel without?
are your three favorite movies of all time?
For a bit of inspiration from this go-getter, you can email Susan at