When engaged professors pair up with successful alumni who want to give back to the university that served them, magic happens for students. This semester, that magic is happening now for sixteen lucky students in Travis Hicks’ Interior Architecture (IARc) studio class, who are spending their final semester redesigning restaurants and a VIP suite for a beachfront resort near Charleston, SC.
Beyond the Studio
IARc offers students a broad knowledge in design, commercial applications, and architectural processes. Class options can be tailored to a student’s individual professional aspirations. Although many classes include hands-on projects in the Gatewood Studio Arts Building, Hicks gives fourth year undergraduate students an opportunity to apply the knowledge they’ve absorbed to functioning business environments.
“By the time a student gets to the end of their fourth year, they have skills in conceptual thinking, research, tradition and styles,” Hicks explains. “They have experience looking at materials and systems and understanding how buildings go together. And they have an understanding of how people feel in different kinds of spaces, how colors and materials affect people, and how different proportions of spaces affect people differently. So, by the time they’re at the end of this fourth year, students are really skilled in the studio environment.”
As this group of seniors approaches the completion of their degrees, it is time to test their preparation for real world design jobs. Hicks’ studio class generally engages with design projects in the community. But as he considered what the focus of the final projects would be, Hicks realized that this particular class would take him on a different journey.
“Typically, I would have a studio project in mind. I’d already have a site of building or an idea of what the end product would be. This time I thought, let me ask the students,” the professor explained. “It’s their final semester, their final studio. They’ve been through a lot during COVID and I wanted to make it fun for them, and meaningful to their interests and goals in life.”
seeking hospitality through alumni connections
The students had an overwhelming response to their professor’s request for input on the semester-long projects: hospitality design.
“I’m not a hospitality designer by trade, but I know how to teach students to use design skills to accomplish virtually any program type,” admits Hicks. “With hospitality design, we’re talking restaurants, hotels, boutique hotels with bars, etc. Not being that type of designer myself, I had to think about who I knew who was a hospitality designer.”
Enter Anna Will Maginn ’11, ’13, a UNCG alumna who has combined her passions and education to build a career that led her to an associate marketing director position at one of the most popular beach resorts in the Carolinas, Wild Dunes Resort.
Before moving to Charleston, SC, Maginn received a BA in Interior Architecture in 2011 and a Masters in Interior Architecture in 2013, both at UNCG. In the marketing department at Wild Dunes, Maginn uses her design know-how to enhance sales and customer experiences.
The beach resort, managed by Hyatt, includes accommodation types from hotel suites to private homes; expansive meeting space; restaurants and retail shops; and pools, tennis and golf amenities. Maginn has participated in a recent renovation and expansion of the resort, and currently holds the interim marketing director position at Wild Dunes.
“I knew when Travis approached me that we had some unique offerings that the class could experience that they probably can’t get elsewhere.” Maginn explained, “We’re just coming off of a renovation. It’s a good place to be because we’re in a design evaluation mode.”
“The students are coming in at a point where we are reflecting on what we need for this space that will better communicate the concept. They get to put their stamp on it and potentially produce something that will actually come to be. I don’t think you get that very often and it’s a very cool thing that the students can take away.”
From Proposal to Syllabus
Remembering the studio projects she worked on during her time at UNCG, Maginn proposed a partnership with Hicks’ studio class to her management team at Wild Dunes. The resort needed new ideas for the redesign of a tapas restaurant in the hotel lobby, a sports pub at the golf course, and a VIP suite; the class needed functioning hospitality design projects to tackle. It was a win-win opportunity.
Hicks is excited to work with Maginn again and has great expectations for what his current students can bring to Wild Dunes resort executives.
“I think the students are getting a great opportunity to work in a space where they might not have access otherwise. But the resort management is also getting a huge amount of thinking and design conceptualizing from the students. And it is possible to take any one of the students’ designs and implement them with the right team of people at Wild Dunes.”
Maginn and Hicks developed a syllabus for the class that includes multiple remote meetings between the class and the resort management team. Project briefings began in January; Maginn and other resort executives will give periodic input on student designs via Zoom; Wild Dunes generously offered the class a 3-day visit to the property to study the sites and get input from management; and student presentations to resort management were set for later in the semester.
Creating Opportunity for Undergrads
The Wild Dunes projects will consume this class’ final undergraduate term with a real-world designer/client relationship. All students will finish the projects with portfolio building designs, but some may produce designs that will be utilized on the property.
Maginn is proud to help facilitate this connection between the future designers in UNCG’s Interior Architecture department and the resort she works for. Although the designs may take a while for the resort to implement, she plans to stay in touch with the students.
“I hope they won’t be off and running into the world and forget about us,” Maginn says. “Because if it takes shape, I definitely want to invite them to be part of the process. If that happened to me when I was in school, I would be honored beyond words to know that I had a real stamp on a very real setting in a commercial space of this magnitude.
Travis Hicks credits the IARc department’s ongoing connections with alumni like Anna Maginn for providing avenues that lead to opportunities for current students.
“I can imagine that Anna agreeing to participate in this project might be a way for her to give back to our students in the same way that I watched other professionals help her when she was finishing her IARc degree,” Hicks muses. “Our alumni are pretty giving at UNCG. Anna is continuing in that long line of alumni as she gives back to UNCG of her time and her connections”.
Postscript note: Stay tuned as University Communications follows the IARc studio class’ trip to Isle of Palms to present their proposed designs to Wild Dunes Resort executives. It’s a perfect example of the ways our faculty and alumni work together to help students make a direct impact on our community and beyond.
Story by Becky Deakins, University Communications.
Photography by Sean Norona, University Communications.