Students propose interior design plans for South Bend nonprofit in service-learning opportunity

A room mockup done by Indianapolis students for the La Casa de Amistad cultural center in the city. (Photo provided)

During the Spring 2024 semester, students in Emily McLaughlin’s Commercial Interiors II class provided interior design consulting to La Casa de Amistad, a youth and community center for the Latino and Hispanic population in South Bend, Indiana.

The non-profit relocated to a new 40,000 square foot space in 2021 and needed more durable and cohesive interior furniture for its educational, cultural, and advocacy services. Humberto Delgado, the deputy executive director of the center’s youth programs, said La Casa de Amistad received a $47,000 grant in 2023 to update furniture in their spaces, support an increase in student capacity, overhaul their curriculum and grow their team.

“Late last year, we were able to secure a grant through the Lily Foundation to improve access to quality educational programming for youth in our community,” Delgado said. “At first, we started looking at furniture on our own but quickly realized that it was an almost impossible task with everything else we had to do and the vast amount of choices available.”

Delgado saw an opportunity to collaborate with the university because his niece was a student in the program that is now primed to become Purdue's Indianapolis-exclusive Interior Architecture major this fall. With La Casa de Amistad still reorienting itself after its capital campaign was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, he decided to meet with McLaughlin to develop a hands-on learning opportunity for her students.

“We have always worked with our local colleges and universities in many different ways, particularly with community-based learning courses, but we are now exploring how we can engage in more projects like this,” Delgado said.

McLaughlin receives the Purdue Service-Learning award. (Photo provided)

McLaughlin served as the faculty lead on the project through Purdue’s Service-Learning Fellowship, which supports the development of courses with service-learning components and strengthens collaboration with community partners. Those who are selected for the fellowship “collaboratively develop the skills and tools needed to deliver effective, mutually beneficial service-learning courses,” according to a release from the Office of Service-Learning. Each fellow receives up to $2,000 to fund their project.

Twenty-four students in McLaughlin’s class worked in groups to understand La Casa de Amistad’s unique cultural needs and history, research budget-friendly furniture, assemble floor plans and 3D renderings, and propose a conceptual idea that made the most efficient use of the grant money.

“Architecture and interior design are both fields which require professionals to solve complex problems related to our built environments,” McLaughlin said. “From residential housing to commercial structures, students must be educated to be forward-thinking about the special needs of our clients and propose solutions that enhance health, safety, and wellness of building occupants.”

The furniture chosen for La Casa de Amistad had to meet the needs of its wide array of services, including after school programs, summer camp, preschool, adult classes, social services, and immigration services. The students focused on meeting programming needs while honoring the cultural aspects of the community through color themes and patterns.

“In the Interior Architecture program, we think beyond surface ornamentation to consider codes and standards, sustainability, and ergonomics,” McLaughlin said. “In the case of La Casa de Amistad, exposing students to real-world clientele helped them learn the process that is used to provide a personalized solution to a unique non-profit organization.”

Megan Wycoff, a student in the class, said the project taught her the importance of networking and building relationships with product and manufacturing representatives. It also helped her refine her career goals and interests in the field.
“I used to always want to go into residential design,” Wycoff said. “However, the more schooling I go through, the more I realize how fun and exciting commercial design can be and all the possibilities and freedom that it has.”

At the end of the project, students presented a proposal for furniture along with a budget and renderings to La Casa de Amistad. Humberto and the rest of his team are currently reviewing the proposals and will decide on a furniture purchase based on the students’ projects.

McLaughlin said the process taught technical skills, social skills, empathy and awareness of cultural diversity in interior design. She hopes the solutions presented by the class “contribute to their mission by providing a safe and comfortable space for children and adults of Hispanic descent to grow in knowledge and camaraderie.”

Courses in Interior Architecture are available at Purdue University in Indianapolis beginning this coming fall 2024 semester. Learn more about the degree and its content through Purdue Polytechnic’s plan of study or through Purdue Admissions.


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