Designing for Life

Expanding from patient care to community care

You can be forgiven a dropped-jaw reaction when you learn about Sharon Hunter’s many accomplishments. A nurse for 30 years at St. Joseph Health in Eureka, Calif., Hunter gets a deep satisfaction when collaborating on community and public health issues.

For example, she is part of the Care Transitions Team, which offers ongoing support to vulnerable individuals—many of them homeless—after they’ve been discharged from the hospital. As an outgrowth of that effort, Hunter has provided design services for the development of a medical respite center for the community’s homeless in collaboration with local-hero Betty Kwan Chinn and St Joseph Health.

Design services? Yes! In addition to her nursing career, Hunter is currently enrolled in the Certificate Program in Interior Design and Interior Architecture. She makes the long drive down every week from Eureka—a 5-hour drive, WITHOUT traffic!—to attend classes at our San Francisco Campus. In between classes, I got the opportunity to talk with Hunter to gain a little insight into what motivated her move toward interior design and listen in on her experiences in the certificate.

What spurred your move into design?
My career as a nurse has been full of amazing opportunities to be involved in innovative program development, with a focus on building relationships with other health care partners. The patient experience is one of my primary interests, and I’m excited to bring the perspective of design into this area of work. I truly believe that a beautiful, well-designed place can have a positive impact on health and well-being.

Living Room Interior perspective

Why did you choose our certificate?
In all honesty, I had originally chosen a school in London. But, the visa situation became quite complicated and I wasn’t able to pull it off. So I started looking for other opportunities that might fit my unique needs. My husband and I live northern California, beyond Eureka. He works as full-time physician, and at the time I was working full time as a nurse. We had imagined a year in London as a joint adventure, and then return to the U.S. for whatever came next. With London out, the certificate fit perfectly into an alternative plan: I now commute to the Bay Area every week for classes, then return home to be with family and work part time. It’s turned out to be just the right fit, in many ways. I love being in San Francisco every week, and I’m having a fantastic time in the program. My head is constantly full of new ideas, I’m building a strong set of skills, and I’m building relationships with peers and mentors that I know I’ll treasure for years to come.

Where are you at in the certificate?
I'm in the third phase of the program, with 17 courses completed and six to go. I’ll be finished at the end of the 2017 summer session.

What courses have interested you the most?
I’ve really liked the package as a whole, but Color Theory and Application for Interiors, Interior Finishes and Materials, History of Architecture, Interiors and Decorative Arts, and the studio courses have been my favorites.

Design Studio III

What was your favorite moment during the program?
It's really more of a set of moments. All of the courses provide their own set of challenges, with late nights or long weekends devoted to pulling together a final presentation that best represents what we’ve learned through something we’ve designed. Everyone has something unique and wonderful to present. I love how everyone brings such energy and passion to their designs. By now, we can recognize each other’s work, and we appreciate the varied perspectives. I think it’s been an important part of the learning process.

What does the certificate mean for your future?
I'm hoping to bring my nursing career together with my newfound skills in design. I’m interested in healthcare design in general, but I’m not yet sure what that will look like—clinics, senior housing, aging in place, specialty care centers; the list is huge. I’ve had an opportunity to work on some healthcare-related projects at home in Humboldt County and, at the very least, hope that trend continues.

Plant Display drawing

Did you have a favorite instructor?
There have been several: Jennifer Mahoney, Daniel Goldstein, Sandra Poza, Tamara Roth, Victoria Fong, Cheryl Gordon and Lisa Bottom each brought a level of professionalism and skill to their respective courses that spoke deeply to me. But, Nathaniel Muhler, also known as Bhu, is the one who first brought the pieces and parts of the design process fully to life for me. It was an honor and privilege to learn from him.

How was your interaction with your fellow students?
Terrific! It’s been so fun and interesting to meet others who are on a similar career-path trajectory. The program is so focused on the creative process of design that it makes it that much more invigorating. Put yourself fully into the projects, and build trusting relationships with your cohort of fellow students. Over time, those relationships become one of the most important aspects of the learning process.