Smith has designs on mastering business side of craft

Jun 14, 2017

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Thumbnail for Smith has designs on mastering business side of craft

By Aaron Garland

Photos courtesy of Jordanae Smith

As an interior design student in RIT’s College of Imaging Arts and Sciences, Jordanaé Smith focused a lot on the finished products and developing a fine ability in and eye for design.

But what, exactly, goes into the marketing and management side of the field?

Those questions have fascinated Smith throughout her college career. And she’ll soon be able to answer them better.

After graduating with a BFA degree in interior design last month, Smith will start her pursuit of a master of business administration degree from RIT’s Saunders College of Business in the fall.

Smith would like to further explore advanced business principles and financial aspects — handling budgets, contracts and a staff — as they pertain to interior design. All necessary skills to achieve her goals of getting into project management and, one day, business ownership.

“Since I can remember I’ve always wanted to own my own business," Smith said. "I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit. You have to go get. ... I think it’s important to realize that you have to be proactive on different clients that you may be looking at, different opportunities.”

Since graduating from Joseph C. Wilson Magnet High School, Smith, a lifelong Rochester resident, has been driven to see the interior design field from every angle. Which is why she is being patient and expanding her education, with her sights set on her long-term dreams.

“Business is necessary for every career and I’m just interested in getting a full perspective on design,” Smith said. “… It’s like just when you get comfortable with something, it’s time to switch up and time to continuously challenge yourself and meet new goals.”

Smith said from her experience she thinks an architecture program is the more traditional route for interior design undergraduates seeking graduate-school enrollment. So, as far as she can tell, it makes her decision unique.

“Telling people that I was going into business, it was just like, ‘Oh, you’re changing your career,’” Smith said. “Not many really understand that it’s kind of an extension of interior design.”

Despite not being, say, a business administration major the last four years, Smith isn’t going into the master’s program with an absence of business acumen.

She wrapped up her undergrad work with a minor in business administration and an economics immersion. Additionally, she was a secretary and active member of the Saunders Multicultural Business Association during her second year.

Smith also interned with SWBR, a large architecture firm in Rochester. There, she sharpened her time-management and collaborative skills and was exposed to invaluable looks into the steps that go into contract signings and bid processes.

The more Smith learned, observed and was challenged, her curiosity and interest in business only heightened. 

“The different mechanics as far as the process in the design world, I think that was priceless to learn,” Smith said. “One of the things I learned most is really being able to interact with the different disciplines and seeing how projects work from start to finish.”

Speaking of start-to-finish projects, Smith was a heavy contributor to a substantial undertaking — from its inception to the end — at RIT. In 2015, Smith and fellow interior design students Octavia Spelman and Siobhain Page had the rewarding chance to lead an ethnographic study that directed the redesign of RIT’s Writing Commons, located in the Wallace Center. It was a grand opportunity made possible by the interior design program and the students' ambitious attitudes.

The trio worked with RIT interior design program director Mary Golden and then-Writing Commons director Rachel Chaffee on the evaluation and eventual enhancement of the space that provides students with writing consultations and support. A rendering of the redesign is below.    

Smith said they used surveys completed by the RIT community to identify the populations most utilizing the Writing Commons, and how the environment could be improved. The research results were presented at an Interior Design Educators Council regional conference last October in Boston while the new-and-improved area was unveiled around the same time.

“We redesigned it to where it would be functional to the needs of the professional staff, the students and the clients coming in, because we realized there were a lot of issues with the space and traffic flow,” Smith said.

“There is nothing more amazing than to see your work beyond the computer screen, beyond the paper, and in actual physical space."

Locally based firm Merkel Donohue helped with the project, allowing Smith to develop a connection with the company. The experience helped Smith land an interior design internship there this summer.

That’s just one example of how Smith has taken full advantage of the opportunities she’s earned while at RIT. And she has done so as a member of the Rochester City Scholars program, started by retiring RIT President Bill Destler and wife Rebecca Johnson in 2010.

The scholarship initiative covers full RIT tuition for Rochester City School District graduates who meet all requirements, including being accepted through RIT’s regular admissions standards.

So here Smith is, four years later, bachelor’s degree in tow, with a master’s soon to follow.

As she pursues her MBA, Smith will remain active on campus, as she was as an interior design student. She’s been a resident advisor for three years, and plans to continue that job throughout graduate school.

Additionally, Smith has spent time as an RIT tour guide and an Academic Support Center YearOne Peer Advisor.

“(The Rochester City Scholars program) was my way into RIT, and from that I took what I had and ran with it,” Smith said. “I just wrote a letter to both Dr. Destler and Dr. Johnson. Without their efforts to continue that program, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to come here at all.”