EDUCATION: Building Interiors – MSU students design spaces for adult learning

By Leah Barbour/Mississippi State University

STARKVILLE – What does interior design have to do with literacy centers for adults?
Several Mississippi State University interior design students spent their fall semester answering that very question.
Assistant professor William Riehm’s sophomore design class already knew the art of creating great interiors is more than choosing attractive lamps, but thanks to a field trip to New Orleans early in the semester, students learned to design interiors that meet learners’ needs.
“I was approached by the director of the New Orleans YMCA Adult Literacy Program, Shannan Cvitanovic, to help her with some ideas for her space,” Riehm said. “This led to a conversation about having interior design students consider all of the possibilities that a learning center could be. I asked Shannan to act as a hypothetical ‘client’ for a drop-in center, and she agreed.”
Riehm, since he first arrived at MSU in 2011, has been exploring how language connects to design, he said. He formed a partnership with English assistant professor Lyn Fogle, director of the Teaching English as a Second Language, TESOL, program at MSU.
“We’ve often discussed the relationship of design and language and when this New Orleans project was being developed, it seemed like a natural link,” Riehm said.
Fogle suggested English master’s degree candidate Caroline L. Baker of Leland work with the interior design students, and she accompanied the class when it visited the adult literacy center soon after the fall semester began.
“Design is often considered a language, and making that connection in school is a good way for young designers to develop their design skills,” Riehm said.
While students did not get to develop plans for an actual local adult literacy center, they used a local downtown building, 205 Lafayette St. in Starkville, to create design plans as if an adult literacy center were to be located there.
As part of their final exam, 19 students offered different visions of what an adult learning and training environment could be.
From multi-level classrooms for multi-level adult learners to private counseling areas and discreet yet inviting signage, students developed a myriad of poster presentations and miniature models reflecting their visions for the building.
Students focused on ways to design interior rooms that foster learning in a literacy-focused environment, and many of them included the kinds of amenities adults need, like a kitchenette with a stove, sink and refrigerator. Among participating students was Northeast Mississippi resident Emily Hardin of Calhoun City. Hardin, a sophomore, is the daughter of Anthony and Susan Hardin.
Riehm emphasized that his students used forward-thinking ways to develop inventive solutions for dealing with the problem of adult illiteracy, and students’ work allowed them to improve both their verbal and graphic presentation skills.
“I feel this project reveals our students’ strengths in innovative thinking in design,” he said. “I believe the project reveals the importance of interior design and its relationship to creating better, more effective environments for the greater good.
“I believe this reveals that the interior design program at Mississippi State is a top-caliber program addressing contemporary issues and educating for innovation in design.”