Episode 24

ID4-ME: After School Interior Design Program for High School Students

Putting their equity and diversity intentions into action, AP+I designers developed and implemented an afterschool Introduction to Interior Design program for low income, underserved high school students of color. You’ll hear how the joy in learning was experienced by students and instructors alike, and how to access the program curriculum if your firm is interested in replicating in your community.

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We did do one thing throughout the curriculum, we realized, when we did our first introduction, that some of the students had these amazing ideas of what interior design was. They actually knew that color impacted how they would feel. They knew that environment played a role. And so, in our first introduction, we were incredibly inspired by them and decided to introduce an experience question in every class. Cindy Mallay, Associate | Senior Project Manager


CCB: [00:00:00] Greetings and welcome to the ONEder podcast, this is your host, CCB, and today's guest is one of our 2020 ONEder Grant Award winning teams. But before I introduce our guest, I want to explain a little bit about the ONEder Grant itself. At One Workplace, we believe that design transforms environments in ways that improve the human experience and the ONEder Grant supports exploration and research that impacts environments where work, innovation, healing and learning take place. We have given out nine ONEder Grants over the past two years, and today's guest, Cindy Mallay, is from AP+I. Welcome, Cindy, and I'd love you to introduce yourself.

Cindy Mallay: [00:00:54] Hi CCB, thank you so much for having me today. And yes, AP+I is an interior design firm. We've been in the Bay Area for over 27 years doing commercial interior design and we're also a woman owned business, which we are quite proud of.

CCB: [00:01:18] Well, we enjoy all the work that we get to do with you all, and it was interesting to note that the ONEder Grant started in 2019 and we awarded three ONEder Grants, AP+I had submitted an application in 2019. And unfortunately, we did not, API was not awarded a grant. But your grant submission for 2020 was pretty spectacular and the judges all felt very, very strongly about it. So I'm also going to let you explain your topic. But first I want to say why did you choose your research topic? Focus? What made you, what drew you to that particular topic?

Cindy Mallay: [00:01:59] Well, the particular topic and thank you for pointing out that we didn't get the grant in 2019, and that made us pursue it even more in 2020. So we had to come up with a really great idea and it really was a target of what our nation was going through at the time. You know, we were all challenged again last year to create more equity and diversity in our community. And so, we really decided to look within our interior design community and ask, what can we do? And so the idea of trying to increase diversity in the interior design profession really sparked our interest. And we further defined it as in terms of education and really wanting to focus on educating high school students. So we then decided to create what we call the ID4-ME, it's an after school program for high school students and is really targeted on helping them get exposure to what interior design could be and how it might be a career for them in the future. So we focused on a Title One School, which is comprised mostly of students that are of low-income, disadvantaged, and students of color. And we searched for a high school that could embrace or would embrace our after-school program and introduce interior design to them.

CCB: [00:03:57] So in reading through your research, and I will let our audience know that on the One Workplace website under the ONEder Grant, each one of the firms has their abstract, a single page abstract, but as well as their more full research package. So you can go through and learn more about this particular program in your research. I saw that there was some documentation there saying, from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, saying that 79% of the interior design community is white, which pretty much screams. It also said 84% were women, which is another interesting statistic.

Cindy Mallay: [00:04:40] Yes.

CCB: [00:04:42] So and so first, it makes me wonder and I know that I've been to visit your firm, how does your demographic breakdown within AP+I?

Cindy Mallay: [00:04:52] Yes, so we recently did some studies on that, and we probably still fall into the category of probably 78% of women in our organization, but we actually do have quite a few people of color, a lot of Asian Pacific and definitely various, different age groups as well. So. You know, I think we have all tried very hard to actually increase the diversity in our own organization, but the reality is people aren't getting educated in interior design within communities of color, so it's like you have to reach out to them, you have to show them that it's an opportunity, that a creative field can be successful and, you know, support and inspire. And so, you know, I think that's what we really wanted to do, was to try to reach out and let them know this is an opportunity, go for it.

CCB: [00:06:15] So walk us through what you've been talking about, what you hope to accomplish with the project in exposing young folks, young students who still have the opportunity to make some choices about what direction they want to take from a career path. Expose them to the interior design profession and some of the opportunities that are that are inherent in our profession. When you chose the school, tell us how you got to the school.

Cindy Mallay: [00:06:48] Yeah, so, finding the school was obviously critical in the success of the program, and we wanted to first look in our own backyard. So, our firm is located in Mountain View and so we looked nearby, and East Palo Alto has a school called East Palo Alto Academy that we thought would be a good school for us to target. We also looked in the Newark area because of our, really our focus was a Title One type high school. And so we reached out to East Palo Alto Academy just because they were first on the list and discovered a principal that was just so excited about this opportunity that, quite frankly, we didn't need to look any further. Her name is Amika, and she is passionate about design and she's also quite passionate about her students and really wanting to give them every possible opportunity that she can as a principal. And she was instrumental in getting us in front of teachers and students and liaisoned with us throughout the whole process. And she participated in several of the classes as well and, quite frankly, made our community outreach story very easy.

CCB: [00:08:29] So you identify a school, you identify the process that you'd like to roll out, but how did you design the actual curriculum?

Cindy Mallay: [00:08:45] That was a challenge, we had no idea that, you know, had this idea of, OK, we're going to educate and we're going to reach out to high school students. Then you thought, oh, my goodness, we have to create a curriculum. And we're not teachers. We're not educators. We are interior designers. We're going to have to remember, you know, remember back to when we were in college and try to figure out how to create a curriculum for high school. To then do it in eight classes, each class being approximately an hour and a half each and then really accomplish the most important goal, which was, to really just have the students get excited and delight them in a creative field. So, you go through all of this effort to create this curriculum that talks about design principles, and balance, and furniture and color theory, and in the end, you realize that you really just need to get them excited about creating something. So it was a fun process and quite challenging, I would say. We did do one thing throughout the curriculum, we realized, and we did our first introduction, that some of the students had these amazing ideas of what interior design was. They actually knew that color impacted how they would feel. They knew that environment played a role. And so in our first introduction, we were incredibly inspired by them and decided to introduce this experience question in every class. And it gave them each an opportunity to share with the rest of the students and us, what did get them happy about a place or excited or energized, so that they were really participating in the process of the class and not just listening to us speak.

CCB: [00:11:38] So that whole nature of the experience and the, I'm going to say, the learning experience, but also that engagement had a little snafu last year by virtue of our, oh, I don't know, global pandemic, which obviously kept us all away from one another. So how did that impact the class, but also your feeling about it and their feeling?

Cindy Mallay: [00:12:09] Yeah, we learned a lot about how to do things. Virtually when we had started this program, we were hopeful that we would actually be able to do it in person. We also had no idea the complexities that were in front of us about not only doing a virtual class but doing it in a Title One School environment. There are a lot of regulations and processes that one needs to adhere to when communicating with high school students. So it's an age and a government funded environment. And so there were background checks and approval processes and we also had to be very sensitive to the students’ environments. So virtual also meant that we were not able to request that they turn on their video. So, every student participated in every class without their video on. And at first it was, unfortunate, I suppose, but it then turned into a comfortable place for them to share. They were able to use the chat boxes to communicate, and they certainly were available via audio, and we were very encouraged that they actually did participate in every class and share their thoughts and ideas and ask questions. So it turned out to be quite inspiring. And I will say, everyone wanted to do it in person. And if we do it again, hopefully that will happen. But it was good to be able to connect with them in a very safe and comfortable way as well.

CCB: [00:14:29] Oh, so you were your project report, obviously outlines the entire curriculum and then there are the results that that you witnessed and also the student reported results, if you will, through final projects. And you did a number of surveys. Was there anything that was completely surprising to you?

Cindy Mallay: [00:15:02] Well, I think I touched on that a little bit in the beginning, but one of the things that was completely surprising was their awareness of how environment affects and plays a role. And they would always ask questions about how the environment and or color could support mental health, which was quite touching to me that, you know, a 16-year-old could communicate that and want to learn about it. We also had a few students that were very excited about pursuing landscape architecture when they got into college and through the project, there was one student who is absolutely going to college, which is fantastic, and had put down his major as a landscape architect. And he has now changed it to be an interior design major. And we were quite honored by that.

CCB: [00:16:25] That certainly has to make you feel that, see an actual response, an actual immediate response.

Cindy Mallay: [00:16:38] Immediate response. Yes, I mean. I you know, we went into this thinking that we were going to inspire them, and I think what ended up happening is they actually inspired us. It's helpful to see young people so excited about a creative field and respond in such a quite frankly, a very short period of time and have these very positive results.

CCB: [00:17:18] Yeah, OK. So, I want to ask a question about why did you choose their final project to design a restaurant. Why did you why did you choose restaurant as the space?

Cindy Mallay: [00:17:30] Mostly because I don't think any of us can participate in going to a restaurant at the moment. So, we were all just like, oh, please, what might this ideal restaurant look like for us? Well, we wanted it to be something that they could relate to. So everyone's been in a coffee shop or a sandwich shop or something and so it was a type of project that they could relate to. We knew that giving them a technology office option was probably not a good idea. And we wanted to have it be also something they could dream about a little bit too, you know, not a library within their school that they see on a daily basis, but something that could allow them to dream a little bit. So, yes, we gave them a template for a small restaurant. It was meant to be something more like a coffee shop or a sandwich shop. Although one of the students did choose to do a full down sit-down restaurant design and which you're going to have to definitely check out, she did an amazing job on hers. They all did, actually.

So, yeah, we gave them a template and of a space and then we actually took separate time with each of them to go through what their vision was. They needed to find inspiration either online or in magazines of design and color and texture of what they wanted their space to be and to feel like. And then we also gave them a series of imagery for materials and furniture and lighting and allowed them to kind of pick and choose what they wanted for their space. And then we would sit down separately with each one of them and go through that kind of helped them define that a little bit because remember, they only had five classes in interior design and now they are asked to design a restaurant, quite a quite a large feat. But they were up to it for sure.

CCB: [00:20:10] They actually are fantastic projects, and I would highly encourage folks to login and check those things out and they also might well, you can't do any recruiting from this group of students at this moment in time. But to see the creativity and the, yeah, the unique approach that each one of them took is pretty exciting, especially when you consider they've had X number of hours of time thinking about interior design. What did your firm hope to accomplish? You had an outcome that you that you were kind of shooting for. And then what do you think you're going to do with the results that you have recognized?

Cindy Mallay: [00:21:07] Well, what we wanted to accomplish was community outreach, and we absolutely did that, we also wanted to inspire, and we were successful with that. The other pieces that are kind of in progress is one that we want to do a summer internship. So we have accepted applications from all of the students that participated in the program. And it looks like we'll be able to do a limited summer internship this year and actually are going to reach out to all the students. Some of them were juniors, and so they'll be in high school for another year and see if they want to participate in another program, as well as maybe summer internship next year. We're going to keep in touch with all of them because they were quite inspiring, but the most important piece is that I really want to encourage everyone in the interior design community to reach out. The curriculum that we developed, it's available for everyone. And we really would encourage people to just ask for it. I'll walk you through it. I'll share everything that we did and really hope that other interior design firms in other communities, dare I say, even beyond the Bay Area, reach out and try to make this happen in your own community.

CCB: [00:22:57] You also did some interesting guest speakers to that, and I know part of that was part of that was topic related. Part of that was keeping the students engaged in introducing yet another perspective. How did you approach them, determine who they might be? And I'm asking the question because if we're encouraging other design firm to think about this, there's going to be the people in your community that might participate in this way. The other thing that I'm going to ask is ultimately, how many hours did you think the whole thing takes if people were going to put to work towards that? But first off, what about the speakers?

Cindy Mallay: [00:23:42] So we did ask Laura Guido-Clark to speak. We had, we had wanted several speakers to actually participate in the curriculum. But due to overall timing and virtual, I think it made it harder to do that. But we did reach out to Laura. We know that she is a philanthropist at heart and would have a hard time saying no to our request. So that was key in terms of who we were going to reach out to. And we also knew that she shared the story that really spoke to what we were trying to do and how color can impact environment and really make also an impact on schools, because she has done that quite a bit in her career. So she was a natural and she said yes, so we didn't need to reach out too much further. We were hoping to get some other, quite frankly, interior design community people of color and other ethnic backgrounds to participate. We know it's important for the students to see that they can emulate and be an interior designer if they see someone that looks like them and set up is also an important note to make.

CCB: [00:25:27] OK, the nuts and bolts, how many hours of time did it take you all? In the ballpark?

Cindy Mallay: [00:25:37] I'm very afraid to look. We are grateful for the grant money; I can tell you that much. And it helped significantly. But I would, you know, I actually never did the math, but it was all done for the love of what we do. I think we would all agree that we would do it again and that the next time would be easier, because a lot of our homework is done. So, for those of you out there who want to reach out, we've done all the background for you. It's going to be super simple.

CCB: [00:26:33] Right! If you want if someone wanted to add one or two different modules, they could switch and change. But you've already done so much of the work. And we're delighted that you are, as you know, generous in your sharing as much as you can be, because there's so much opportunity as we all recognize, there's so much opportunity to make shifts in the way that we work together. The one last thing that that I would love you to speak about was when you talked about in the very beginning of putting this all together, understanding that the creativity that comes from diverse perspectives, that enhanced, and that was something that was very clear in your kind of project statement, that recognizing that, how much can we. If you just add a little bit of time on that?

Cindy Mallay: [00:27:30] Absolutely. Yeah, I think we all know inherently that we are all individually better and we are definitely better as a group when we embrace all aspects of various perspectives in life and certainly how we where we live, how we live, and what our environment is definitely impacts our opinions and. We are creating spaces for our communities to live and thrive in and what better way to create a growing and prosperous community than to have it be comprised of various different perspectives. And it certainly, you know, I knew it, but when you see it actually happen in these students' minds and in their thoughts that their perspective is refreshing as well, and it makes us all take note and remember that what's important is that creating an environment we can all be proud of and all live, hopefully harmoniously in.

CCB: [00:29:20] All right, Cindy Mallay, I want to say thank you so much for spending time representing your team, representing AP+I, and the ONEder Grant 2020. Excellent job. Thank you.