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Meet the Valedictorian: Q&A with Courtney Wierzbicki

Posted May 2, 2014 in Award Winners

2014 Valedictorian Courtney Wierzbicki (Interior Design) talks about her childhood ambitions, her favorite KCAD memories, and how she got the most out of her education.

Courtney WierzbickiCourtney Wierzbicki

How did you come to KCAD?

I was always interested in how people and spaces relate to each other, even as a child. When I was little, I used to draw floor plans on the driveway with sidewalk chalk while other kids played hopscotch. I also have a book I created in second grade, and there is a spot in the back where you were supposed to write what you wanted to be when you grew up. I wrote “designer.” I’m not sure I knew what a designer did back then, but I was always intrigued by the idea. While in middle school and high school, I heard about KCAD through my art teachers, parents, and friends and knew that KCAD is where I would eventually end up.

What were your first impressions of the College?

Being an introvert, the larger universities seemed intimidating. I liked that KCAD was smaller and it had a community atmosphere that really appealed to me. I knew it was a small school, but after a semester or two, I started to form friendships that have now lasted throughout all four years. I never expected to feel the sense of family that I have at KCAD.

Once you started getting into your Interior Design classes, how did your perception of the discipline change?

I started to learn more about the problem solving aspect of interior design, as well as the many different roles an interior designer can play. People’s first impression when you tell them you’re an interior designer is to say, ‘Oh, you should come to my house and pick out paint colors and curtains,’ but it’s so much more in-depth than that. You need to be prepared to encounter challenges that arise when you’re considering the people and functions that will be interacting in the space that you’re designing.

Rendering by Courtney Wierzbicki for the Steelcase NEXT Student Design CompetitionRendering of Wierzbicki's winning design in the Steelcase NEXT Student Design Competition (click to enlarge)

You’ve since entered a number of student design competitions and done very well. What did you get out of those experiences?

As a designer, you can get so wrapped up in your work or in meeting the expectations your professors have set out for you that you start to narrow your focus and miss the big picture. Entering these competitions really gives you a broader perspective because you have the fresh eyes of other designers, clients, and companies evaluating your work.

What other opportunities have you pursued to further your own artistic and professional development outside of the classroom?

In my sophomore year, I got really involved with the KCAD student chapter of the International Interior Design Association [IIDA]. I knew I had to get involved to prepare for my career, to take initiative, make connections, and to start networking. I was voted sophomore representative and later became President as a junior. I like being able to interact with my peers in the field, and I’ve gotten opportunities to be a part of a lot of different events. I was also elected onto the IIDA Michigan board, where I have had the opportunity to network with designers from all over the state.

winners of Klise Manufacturing Student Design CompetitionWierzbicki (2nd from left) with Furniture Design professor Monty Simpson (far right), Klise Manufacturing's Phil Tomasello (far left) and the other student winners from the Klise Manufacturing Student Design Competition (click to enlarge)

Do you have a favorite memory from your time at KCAD?

In Interior Design Studio III, we had this giant project that was due on a Friday. I think it was the Wednesday before the due date, and our whole class was at school until 2am working on their projects. Just being there with everyone, having fun, watching movies, rendering designs – it was awesome. We even created a Harlem Shake video that was all over Facebook. That’s something I’ll always remember.

What does it mean to you to be named Valedictorian?

Being named Valedictorian is a tremendous honor. It was a goal of mine to achieve the student Excellence Award, but I never expected to be named Valedictorian. When I called my Dad, he cried, because I put so much pressure on myself to succeed. It was a relief to learn that I’d reached my goal and it was a surprise to learn that I had actually exceeded it.

What advice do you have for students who are just starting at KCAD?

Make as many friends as possible, put yourself out there, and get involved. Whether it’s classroom activities, or student clubs, or something else, just get involved with as many different things as you can. A lot of people say that college is where you find yourself, but I think you’ve got to explore to be able to do that and find what it is you’re passionate about. The professors here have worked in the field, so they have no problem tapping into their own networks to help you succeed if you show some initiative.

What are your post-graduation plans?

I would like to stay in Grand Rapids – that’s where my family is – but I’ve always said that if the right opportunity came along I’d be game to go anywhere to pursue my passion. I want to focus either in commercial design or educational design. I like the technical aspect of commercial design, and education design gives you a variety of both commercial and hospitality work. Above all, I want to give back to the community with what I’m good at.


  • vyana slattery May 5, 2014

    Not surprised…....you have done exceptionally well since day one!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Mary Ellen Fritz May 6, 2014

    We are so proud of you, Courtney! You dug in, with enthusiasm, to everything that came your way!

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