We Can Work It Out: A Gentle Immersion Framework

Presented by: Rebekah Radtke, Lindsey Fay, Patrick Lee Lucas

Interior design practitioners and faculty authors of the 2014 CIDA Future Vision Report agreed that “a more diverse range of mentorship models will define interaction between entry-level and more senior designers in the future” (p. 5). In most schools, exposure to the profession occurs in a single internship experience or through occasional classroom visits by professionals and opportunities to observe designers in the field. In higher education, this scattershot approach might be countered by a scaffolded curriculum, with each experience building on the last culminating in a capstone project (Kuh, 2008). In this presentation we discuss the implications of a scaffolded approach to design education that focuses on intentionally embedded professional experiences across the breadth of the program. By explicitly setting forth this strategy, students in our program recognize the value of their emerging professional network inside and outside the school, where “everyone becomes a resource to each other and we all learn from each other on a daily basis.” (Mason, 2015). This approach emulates the innovative, multi-faceted, and nuanced ways in which designers work in school and in the profession (CIDA Future Vision Report, 2014). Carefully examining our curriculum, we re-shaped how we approached pathways to the profession through a gentle immersion framework. Within this framework, we connect and integrate experiences throughout a curriculum organized around a seminal experience in each year nested within curricular and co-curricular opportunities (see appendix). Of the 22 required courses in the CIDA-accredited program, 17 now intentionally embed aspects of professional development, a significant change in approach resulting from the implementation of the framework. Immersed in experiences within the school and outside of it, first-year students learn about divergent pathways for design in introductory courses, design chats and workshops, culminating with a professional interview. In second year, students activate their design voice during a design charrette weekend with working professionals. Third-year students leap into the field with a shadowing experience over spring break, leveraging their personal brand as developed in a branded identities course. During fourth year, students bring professional experience from internships to a professional practice course and a thesis of their own devising. This innovative framework results in a connected curriculum, meaningful mentorships, experiential education, and a strong sense of community. To better understand the effectiveness of the framework we collected qualitative measures including personal narratives, analytical reflections, and testimonials from practitioners, students, and faculty to analyze the totality of the impact. Quantitative data collection encompassed surveys, job placement data, and course evidence with evaluations. Through rigorous analysis, this mixed methods approach yielded tremendous results. Young alumni indicated connections between these experiences and success in the profession, including the acquisition of entry-level positions with firms where they shadowed or interned. Because of our gentle immersion framework piloted in 2014, our students have been able to effectively link academic experiences to the profession while transforming the culture of design. Based on data collected, retention rates from first to second year increased 16.1% after the roll out of the framework as an early indicator of success. The totality of these experiences are carefully structured with intention to maximize impact and to realize connection, balance, and community. The impact of this model has impacted a broader population by linking together a vast array of alumni and friends of the 40+ year old program to shape the professional network which will enable our students to transition from school to work.


  • Council for Interior Design Accreditation. (2014). CIDA future vision 2014 [Press release]. Retrieved from http://accredit-id.org/2015/01/envisioning-the-future-cida-future-vision-results-published/
  • Kuh, G. D. (2008). High-impact educational practices: What they are, who has access to them, and why they matter. Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities.