School of Interior Design
Walters loves designing spaces that make positive impact
When she’s not creating award-winning designs at McMillan Pazdan Smith, Melissa Walters is preparing future interior designers as an adjunct faculty member of the Anderson University School of Interior Design. She is passionate about creating spaces that help schools, libraries and other organizations better serve people.
How did you become interested in interior design?
As long as I can remember, I have been interested in art and always pursued creative hobbies. I had the opportunity to be homeschooled, and my mom was a wonderful teacher who allowed me some freedom to explore different career options. By the time I was in high school, I knew I wanted to start focusing on careers that would combine my creative and technical skills. I initially came across interior design through some TV shows, which piqued my interest and led me to read interior design books, and research local design firms. I tried finding out as much as I could before starting to tour schools. What really led me to design, once I realized I could make a career of it, was the idea of helping people through design.
Back in 2009, my family home flooded. We were displaced for a few months as our home was renovated. It was an extremely stressful time for my family as we struggled to navigate the home restoration process on our own. We did not end up working with a designer to renovate, but I wish we would have. That experience led me to see design as a way to help people and got me really interested in finding a career that also focuses on helping communities.
How did you find Anderson University?
I looked at some other schools in the Southeast but was blown away by all the successful alumni stories of AU’s School of Interior Design. Plus, Anderson University’s community felt like a family and had a beautiful campus. I fell in love on that first trip to Anderson and quickly got plugged into the program.
What are some ways you feel your Anderson University education has helped you professionally?
What really helped me hit the ground running as I started my career is being prepared to work in the programs architectural design firms use, like Revit, AutoCAD, and the Adobe creative suite. Technology was a big part of the Interior Design program and has helped me be able to excel. Having a solid foundation with current software allowed me to immediately assist with projects and focus on learning standards and best practices once I started my career.
Another part of the program that was beneficial was the ability to see different segments of the design industry. We had the freedom in some of our contract and commercial design classes at Anderson to explore different typologies, whether that was higher education, hospitality, healthcare, or corporate. We had the ability to start pursuing our interests early on. I think that was beneficial, to have an idea of all the design focuses that are out there, rather than being pushed into one category.
What was your favorite part of being an AU student?
I think what I enjoyed most is by the time I graduated; my classmates felt like a family. We became a tight-knit group because of how the program is set up. We still text each other, share resources, and consider classmate’s weddings to be reunions. Creating close friendships with a group of people over four years, walking through life together, that is what I really loved.
What about professional activities?
It was a little intimidating as a student to get your name out there and start making connections in the industry, but it really is beneficial as an emerging profession to be involved with a professional design organization.
I had the opportunity to serve as the president for the ASID student chapter while I was at Anderson. That was a great opportunity for me, not only to work for our student body and help them gain access to resources, but also to work with the professional chapter to gain insight into the world of interior design, go to conferences, and reach out to professionals.
My senior year at Anderson, I got involved with IIDA. As IIDA has a big commercial presence in the Southeast, it was beneficial as an emerging professional to attend events and have access to resources. I had the opportunity to build connections and reach out to and find out when there were job shadowing events, resume and portfolio reviews, and design competitions. I think it’s very important to get students involved early on, so they’re not graduating and then saying, “what do I do next?”.
I understand you’re also an adjunct professor in the Interior Design program.
Currently I’m teaching the History of Interiors, Architecture, and Furniture class, and have been teaching since spring of 2021. I will be going into my fourth semester this upcoming fall. I’m very excited to be able to give back to Anderson and help educate the upcoming class since I really appreciated all of the faculty that worked with me when I was there.
What’s your favorite part of working in interior design?
It’s the people.
I work in the Higher Education studio and am part of the Library Design team at McMillan Pazdan Smith here in Greenville. Working in this role, I have the ability to work with clients that have “lived” in their space for 30 years, have a finite budget and limited funding opportunities, or are faced with other challenges. There is an importance and responsibility to find a solution that’s going to be successful for them and will positively impact their patrons, students, or communities. It is very rewarding to see the impact we can make through design, even for people that we may never meet.
We’re designing buildings and environments that will be around for several decades. 30 years from now I could walk into a higher education facility or public library I helped design and see my friends’ children in that space. It is exciting to think about all the stories that are going to be created in the spaces we design.
What career advice would you give to someone wanting to go into interior design?
Be prepared for some hard work. Make sure you’re dedicated, and you really want to pursue it, and then don’t let anything stop you from achieving your goals. In school there are definitely some long days, but in the end it’s worth it to be able to find a career that you really love. Also, don’t be afraid to ask questions and to find opportunities to gain experience – whether that is shadowing at a design firm for the day or attending design events.