The 15th Annual Pratt Career Night

(L. to R.) Alison Snyder, Pratt Interior Design Chair; Diane Barnes, NA Sales Director Haworth Collection; Jon Otis, Pratt Professor, Michele Neptune, Honoree, Pratt Grad & Director of Sustainability at HLW; Ike Cheung, Workplace Strategist at Haworth & Pratt Adjunct Professor.

These days annual events that endure for 15 consecutive years are special simply by virtue of having endured so long.

Pratt Interior Design Professor, Jon Otis said, “Pratt Career Night has been a great run these 15 years. We’ve been able to provide our graduating interior design students with a very focused opportunity to speak with design professionals from some of the best design firms in New York City about possible employment opportunities. It’s a wonderful evening in a fantastic environment with great furniture to inspire them, and the ability to articulate their goals and vision to work as professional designers.”

Window Signage at Cappellini. Photo: © Douglas Gorenstein

Hosted at the Cappellini Showroom on Wooster Street in New York City, the March 28th event began with a small ceremony to honor Michele Neptune, Director of Sustainability at HLW and a Pratt grad. It was Ms. Neptune and her fellow graduate student, Jarette Gordon, who approached Mr. Otis 15 years ago with the idea of an event that would give graduating interior design students an opportunity to meet practicing professionals in the field.

(L. to R.) Michele Neptune, Director of Sustainability at HLW; Kelsey Ranson, Interior Designer at HLW; Lucy Stamper, Interior Designer at HLW. Photo: © Douglas Gorenstein

Said Ms. Neptune, “I saw a poster for a career fair for Pratt students and I got very excited, but then I found out it was just for architecture students. I was flabbergasted – and said, ‘Why don’t we have one?’ My friend Jarette agreed with me, so we approached our professor, Jon Otis and he said he thought it was a great idea and he would help us develop it.” So 15 years on, Mr. Otis and Pratt’s Interior Design Chair, Alison Snyder recognized Ms. Neptune for having an idea that has been instrumental in shaping the initial career moves of many Pratt graduates!

Pratt Faculty and hosts: (Back Row) Jon Otis, Diane Barnes, Ike Cheung. (Front Row) Tania Branquinho, Alison Snyder, Myonggi Sul. Photo: © Douglas Gorenstein

A lot of the credit for the Pratt Career Night having made it through the economic ups and downs of the last 15 years goes to Diane Barnes. In 2004 she was at HBF and Mr. Otis reached out to her for help bringing Pratt Career Night to life. She convinced the powers-that-be at HBF it was in the company’s interests to host such an event and she’s been urging, encouraging, nudging, and convincing sponsors and design firms to participate from that first one to this one. Yet she’s the first to give all the credit to the professionals from the NYC design community for their willingness to give up an evening for the benefit of the students.

The Cappellini showroom was a perfect setting for the event. The trend toward “choice” in workplace design was everywhere present. There were a variety of settings, from high-design soft-seating areas to more formal table and chair combos where students could pitch their work, present their project portfolios and discuss their resumés. The evening was charged with energy and full-throated hub-bub as a hundred or so students anxiously waited their turn to present. It was great.

With a 15-year history behind it, it’s probably no coincidence that many of the professionals doing the interviewing were Pratt grads who had previously been on the other side of the conversation. Mr. Otis said, “Each year we have many firms asking us when Pratt Career Night will take place – honestly, if we had the space and the time, we’d have 15+ firms instead of 10. It’s been that popular and successful. Our students are in demand – they’re talented, motivated, and well prepared when they leave Pratt. We’ve seeded the top firms with great people, as evidenced by Michele Neptune and EJ Lee, uber-designer and partner at Gensler – another Pratt Grad, as well as several others who are in attendance this year.”

Barry Ludlow, Principal at Design Republic; Michal Hyde, Pratt Student; Teddy Guilfoy, Project Director at Design Republic. Photo: © Douglas Gorenstein

“In fact, most of the design firms participating tonight have done so now for many years. Gensler and Mancini Duffy have been with us from the beginning, and most of the others for many years. So there is a commitment from them, and part of that commitment comes from seeing and hiring young designers from Pratt who have gone on to success in those firms. Now, we have a few of them who are also attending Pratt Career Night, where it all began for them, and that’s a very gratifying feeling. And it’s wonderful to see them again, too.”

Joy Li, Pratt Student; John Capobianco, Design Director at IA Interior Architects. Photo: © Douglas Gorenstein

I was interested in the path from Career Night to first employment, so I spoke to Kelsey Paul, a Pratt Graduate who was at the event as an interviewer and is in her second year as an interior designer at Mancini Duffy. She said, “The last table I went to when I was a graduate student at Pratt was Mancini Duffy, where I met Lee Trimble and Nora Alhasan. I enjoyed the time with them because I found them relaxed and easy to talk to. Thinking about it the next day I felt I’d left the best for last – Mancini Duffy made a real impression on me and apparently I made a good impression too, because Lee Trimble kept in touch and I started at Mancini Duffy two weeks after I graduated.”

Group shot of Pratt students and representatives of Mancini Duffy (foreground) and HOK (at table in the background)

I was also interested in how the program at Pratt prepares graduates for the real world of work. So before asking Mr. Otis for the faculty view I asked Erica Greene, Pratt class of 2017 now working at Ted Moudis Associates for her opinion. She said, “I think Pratt prepared me very well for the intensity of the profession and the workload to expect, because it’s a very rigorous program and I think they did that very well. When new grads first get to a firm they just get thrown into a project. It could be the middle or the end – it isn’t like there’s a new project there, just waiting for you to arrive and get started. For me, I was given the end of a 600,000 sq.ft. project to finish up, so I had to learn quickly and I think Pratt prepared me very well for that kind of intensity.”

Michelle Marshall, Pratt Student; Mavis Wiggins, Managing Executive at TPG Architecture. Photo: © Douglas Gorenstein

Mr. Otis said, “Pratt is, at its heart, a practice school. We have many accomplished professional designers and architects teaching in our department. Pratt’s connection to the A&D community is important and vital to why students choose Pratt. These types of events and programs are critical to maintaining our status as one of the leading schools of design in the world. I personally take this responsibility very seriously.”

The hosts, Anthony Lebron, NA Sales Manager at Cappellini; Diane Barnes, NA Sales Director at Haworth Collection; Paolo Pantaloni, NA Sales Manager at Poltrona Frau. Photo: © Douglas Gorenstein

Given the Italianate setting in the Cappellini showroom, the prosecco and antipasti were a perfect fit for an evening both serious and yet full of good will and bonhomie. The energy and spirit were high and the event seemed to me to be a perfect balance between the needs of the attending firms to recruit the best and brightest and the needs of the students to land meaningful employment! An actual win-win!

I raise my imaginary glass of prosecco in a toast to the return next year for year-16 of this most excellent event.

Michal Hyde, Pratt Student; Thom Forsyth, Senior Interior Designer at Rockwell Group; Isabella Shin, Pratt Student; Barry Richards, Principal at Rockwell Group. Photo: © Douglas Gorenstein