Faculty Spotlight: Interior design professor champions universal design

Wednesday, December 4, 2019
Written by: Emily Hollingshead

“The design of an interior space can heavily influence your experience, in either a positive or negative way,” said Kathryn Rivera, Seminole State College of Florida interior design professor. “Interior design stuck out to me because it involved people in their interior environment. We spend much of our time inside, and I thought it would be really rewarding to shape those spaces.”

People’s focus, their productivity and even their mental health can be impacted by their environment, and this influence inspired Rivera. These impacts become especially important to those who process their surroundings differently, such as those with disabilities. Rivera says when people think of disabilities they often think about those bound to wheelchairs, but there are many more disabilities to consider such as those who are blind, deaf or who may fall onto the autism spectrum. 

In fact, the College’s Autism for the Built Environment course was started by Rivera, who helped design a specialty school for those on the spectrum when she worked in the industry and is now working towards her Ph.D. in architectural studies, focusing on autism in the education environment. “People with autism tend to experience the environment a little differently, because they are impacted by environmental factors, like sound or smell, and they tend to have sensory issues,” Rivera said. The Seminole State course gives students a hands-on look at spaces built or refurbished for individuals on the spectrum and dives into what works and where designs can improve. 

Rivera and her interior design class at a job site of a future Publix Super Market. 

Providing this larger context is a major reason Rivera switched to teaching. She enjoys taking students on job site visits to bring their classwork to life and so they get comfortable in the field talking to contractors and those in the industry. “I believe our program does a great job of preparing students for the workforce,” Rivera said. “Over the course of their education here at Seminole State they are exposed to many different project types, and we work hard to connect them with the local design industry.” 

To make sure their students had access to every opportunity, Rivera and the interior design faculty spent over three years getting the program fully accredited from the Council for Interior Design Accreditation (CIDA), an award they received in 2018. Ultimately, for Rivera, it always comes back to student growth. 

“It is really rewarding to me to watch my students grow from drawing their first line to developing these very beautiful, realistic renderings and solving complex design solutions at the end of their fourth year,” Rivera said.

To learn more about the Interior Design program, visit seminolestate.edu/interior-design and complete the information request form.

About the Foundation for Seminole State College

The Foundation for Seminole State College, founded in 1968, is a not-for-profit, 501(c)(3) corporation that enhances the College's programs and services through the development and management of private contributions, public grants and community partnerships. For more information, visit www.seminolestate.edu/foundation or email the Foundation directly at foundation@seminolestate.edu

About the School of Engineering, Design and Construction

Seminole State College of Florida's School of Engineering, Design and Construction offers more than 50 degrees and certificates, including bachelor's degrees in construction, engineering technology, information systems technology and interior design. The programs prepare students for a wide variety of careers in the built environment and information technology.