Design major attracts students to Mount Vernon

Some students attend GW for its setting in the home of power politics. Others are attracted by its School of Business and proximity to Fortune 500 companies.

But 40 undergraduates are attending GW to participate in a small program, not even housed on the University’s main campus: interior design.

“I did not want to go to an all-arts college,” said Abby Karow, a freshman who plans to major in interior design. “I wanted a liberal arts education, and there are not many schools that offer a liberal arts education and a major in interior design.”

While they may have trouble finding the right college for their major, some students found that learning how to design homes and offices may come at a pretty penny.

“It was more expensive than a lot of schools, but the program looked interesting and also offered the liberal arts education I wanted,” Karow said.

The area of study is a relatively new addition to the GW curriculum; it was introduced when GW acquired the Mount Vernon Campus from a small women’s college in 1999. Since then, the program has been offered exclusively at the satellite campus.

“I sometimes have to wait a while for the shuttle in the morning, but it’s not a big deal,” said Felecia Ball, a sophomore who transferred to GW from Northeastern University to major in interior design.

Erin Speck, acting head of the interior design program, said the program, which is sequestered from the hustle and bustle of downtown Washington, is well known in her profession and is one of 131 programs accredited by the Foundation for Interior Design Education and Research.

“I think that being located in D.C. also affects many students’ decision to come to D.C.,” Speck said. “Anyone who is interested in design knows that D.C. is a very vibrant design community. There are a lot of opportunities for students here.”

“I think it is beneficial for the students to be living in such a rich design environment. For example, the students have access to the Washington Design Center, among many other local professionals,” said Betty Fernandes, a graduate teaching assistant in the program.

Fernandes added that her students who did not necessarily come to GW to become beltway insiders enjoy a very close relationship studying their field.

“The ratio of professors to students is very beneficial, while being on the Mount Vernon Campus creates a close knit community between professors and students,” she said.

Sarah Purdy teaches Fine Arts 108, an introductory interior design class that teaches architectural drawing. She describes her class, which meets twice a week for three hours, as necessary for “building a foundation for any student who wishes to study interior design.”

Students in the class learn basic elements of architecture and design, and take part in a number of projects, drawing floor and ceiling plans on multiple elevations.

“It is a lot more intense than I thought it would be,” said Jacqui Connors, a sophomore majoring in interior design and one of eight girls in the class of 11.

Despite facing the same challenging coursework as GW’s plethora of Foggy Bottom-based students, some of the aspiring design students said they enjoy their spot in the District.

“I love the classes, the professors are great and it’s such a small program that you get to know everyone in it,” said Juli Freeman, a sophomore taking architectural drawing who plans to minor in interior design.

Fernandes said she is not worried that the program will be shut down like a similar area of study at the University of Maryland or suffer the same fate as some other smaller departments at GW. The Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, which runs interior design, is eliminating the geology department and incorporating its courses into other disciplines. CCAS officials are looking to merge several other departments.

Fernandes said, “As one of the biggest programs in the fine arts department, we do not consider ourselves a small program.”

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