Interior Design Students Create Design Concepts for Sensory Study Space

Center for Student Success project provides real-world design experience

Three teams of students in the Interior Design program at Dakota County Technical College worked with the college’s Center for Student Success (CSS) to create design concepts for a new Sensory-Friendly Study Space. The students presented their designs Tuesday morning, April 30, 2024, to five CSS clients, Nicole Meulemans, director of student support services and student development, Heather Kleimola-Hulbert, general tutor, Anna Voight, associate director of student life and Neurodiverse Employee Resource Group (ERG) chair, Megan Petersen, TRIO/student support services advisor, and Michelle Caron, writing tutor.

Gina Atkinson

Gina Atkinson, interior design faculty, reported that the IDES 1207 Residential Studio I assignment was a wonderful opportunity for her interior design students to get a real-world experience working with genuine clients.

“They were able to see their ideas come to fruition,” Gina said. “Unlike most of their other assignments, on this project the students were able to visit the actual space they were designing and meet with their clients in person.”

Gina added that the project offered the students a completely different perspective, giving them experience anticipating client needs and working within a specific space to achieve the end design.

“This project allowed the students to realize they may need to do research prior to the design concept when dealing with a specialized need for a space,” she said. “I was very appreciative of Heather and Michelle for thinking of our students and to give them this opportunity.”

CSS Sensory-Friendly Study Space design presentations gallery

View more event photos by opening the DCTC Flickr album:

Interior Design Students Create Design Plans for New Center for Student Success Sensory-Friendly Study Space

More about sensory rooms…¹

According to Wikipedia: “A sensory room is a special room designed to develop a person’s sense, usually through special lighting, music, and objects. It can be used as a therapy for children with limited communication skills.

“Sensory room is an umbrella term used to categorize a broad variety of therapeutic spaces specifically designed and utilized to promote self-organization and positive change. There are multiple types of sensory rooms and purposes for use that have been created and implemented in different practice areas to date. When used appropriately, sensory rooms:

  • Help to create a safe space
  • Facilitate the therapeutic alliance
  • Provide opportunities for engagement in prevention and crisis de-escalation strategies, as well as a host of other therapeutic exchanges (to teach skills, offer a variety of therapeutic activities, etc.)
  • Promote self-care/self-nurturance, resilience and recovery

Client perspectives…

“We are so excited to create the new sensory-study space this summer in the Center for Student Success! This project was a unique collaboration with the Interior Design program, which provided three proposals on how to re-design the space. Kudos to the DCTC tutors and TRIO Student Support Services teams that are innovative and creative when it comes to providing learning/studying spaces that better serve the needs of our students!”

Nicole Meulemans
Director of Student Support Services and Student Development
Dakota County Technical College

“The sensory friendly study space was an idea we thought of in the Center for Student Success since many students prefer to not work in bright overhead lighting and rows of computers. We have incorporated items such as table lamps instead of overhead lights, noise-reducing headphones, fidgets, calm strips, a bean bag, and a white noise machine.

“We have also requested that this be a quieter, scent-free environment for students to work and study. We are in the process of making some of the changes recommended in the interior design class presentations. The first change we are making is to paint the wall colors a more calming color. If budget allows, we are hoping to add a meditation chair, curtains, and other items.

“I am excited we have an opportunity for this space in the Center for Student Success and the great ideas that the interior design class provided.”

Heather Kleimola-Hulbert
General Tutor
Dakota County Technical College

“As an autistic employee and alumna of DCTC who experiences sensory overwhelm daily, I can empathize with the challenges our students with sensory sensitivities face and the barriers this presents to learning and belonging.

“I had the honor of watching the classroom presentations in Gina’s class for the sensory study space proposals. I was so impressed with the work of each student team. The thoroughness of their research and consideration how to apply that research in their designs made me feel seen and valued as an autistic individual.

“Multiple times throughout the presentations I held back tears hearing the students talk about what they learned about sensory sensitivities and how they incorporated their learning in the designs. This knowledge and application is not common in our society. Hearing it uplifted by future leaders in industry gives me hope for greater disability-inclusion in the future through universal design.

“My hope is the study space for students is just the beginning developing neuro-inclusive, accessible spaces on our campus. My hope is in the years to come we ensure spaces like this are available for students, prospectives students/visitors, and employees alike, as well as creating sensory-friendly meeting rooms and spaces to hold events, so our disability communities can experience full inclusion. Maybe one day, with the leadership of people like the students in Gina’s class, we won’t need separate spaces at all, because ALL of our spaces will be universally designed for disability-inclusion.

“I also want to uplift the exceptional efforts of Michelle and Heather for recognizing this need and taking steps to make it a reality. They are leaders on our campus in neuro- and disability-inclusion and I am proud to call them colleagues. They positively impact the success of our students daily through their work and interactions with students, as well as the ideas they bring forward and implement to improve the student experience and address student needs. Their efforts, and simply who they are humans, makes our campus a better and more inclusive place for all.”

Anna Voight
Associate Director of Student Life
Neurodiverse Employee Resource Group Chair
Dakota County Technical College

“Feedback from students has been positive on the new sensory space,” Michelle said. “I love that we included input from the Interior Design class and from the students who use it.  I’m excited to see their ideas come to life fall of 2024. I hope the new sensory-friendly study space serves as a calming place for students.”

Michelle Caron
Writing Tutor
Dakota County Technical College

“Having a dedicated sensory study space on campus is so important—we need spaces on campus that are conducive to students’ education and growth on their own terms. I’m so grateful for the time and effort that the Interior Design students put into their proposals. It’s clear they took to heart the mission of the space and crafted proposals with deep consideration for students’ needs.”

Megan Petersen
TRIO/Student Support Services Advisor
Dakota County Technical College

Student perspective: Alexandra Frye

Alexandra Frye

Interior Design Major
Dakota County Technical College

Age: 25
Hometown: St. Paul, Minnesota
Current residence: St. Paul, Minnesota
High school and year graduated: Highland Park Senior High, Class of 2016
Major and degree earning at DCTC: Interior Design A.A.S.
Extracurricular activities and clubs at DCTC: Design Connexion, Fashion + Fusion
DCTC planned graduation date: May 2025
Career plans: Full-time interior designer, commercial
Other degrees, diplomas, and/or certificates: Bachelor of Applied Science (B.A.Sc.) in Civil Engineering, University of Minnesota, Duluth

Three words that describe you as an interior design student:

Alexandra Frye  Q & A

What inspired you to major in interior design at DCTC?
I found a passion for 3D design in my first bachelor’s degree and have always enjoyed interior design, but never thought about pursuing it until now.

What do you enjoy most about your interior design coursework?
I enjoy that it allows me to unlock more of my creative side and simultaneously allows me to learn the technical sides of how a design is implemented into real-world situations.

What type of interior design, residential or commercial, intrigues you the most and why?Commercial: I find that the projects will typically be at a larger scale and can vary all the way from hospitals and senior living to multi-family homes.

What were your top takeaways from the sensory-friendly study space design project?
It is an exciting experience being given a project that can show a design implementation in real time. Being able to walk through the existing space and get a true visual on what could be improved is something we haven’t experienced yet through our schooling.

One word that best describes your experience at DCTC:


Sensory Space Concept team gallery

Click image below to view the team’s PowerPoint presentation:

Student perspective: Helen McDowell

Helen McDowell

Interior Design Major
Dakota County Technical College

Age: 25
Hometown: Spokane, Washington
Current residence: Burnsville, Minnesota
High school and year graduated: Eastview High School, Class of 2017
Major and degree earning at DCTC: Interior Design A.A.S.
Extracurricular activities and clubs at DCTC: Design Connexion, Blue Knights NJCAA DII volleyball
DCTC planned graduation date: May 2025
Career plans: Looking for an internship or part-time interior design position for summer 2024; aiming to move into a full-time position after earning Interior Design A.A.S. next spring
Other degrees, diplomas, and/or certificates: Attended Susquehanna University, studied Luxury Brand Marketing and played NCAA DIII volleyball

Three words that describe you as an interior design student:

Helen McDowell  Q & A

What inspired you to major in interior design at DCTC?
In one of my previous roles as a marketing programs coordinator at Marvin, a long-time family friend and senior leader in the company recommended the DCTC Interior Design program to me. Nothing came of it at the time, but a few short years later, two kids, and lots of praying with my husband landed me here at DCTC, and I couldn’t be more excited about this career path.

What do you enjoy most about your interior design coursework?
I have gravitated most towards the more technical aspects of the coursework like AutoCAD and Revit, but I also really enjoy all the opportunities we get to present in front of our peers and see each other’s designs.

What type of interior design, residential or commercial, intrigues you the most and why?
I would be excited to work in either the residential or commercial lane, but find myself looking more into commercial opportunities. One of the reasons I was interested in interior design was due to the incredible human-centered design I was lucky enough to experience in a corporate setting. I saw the direct benefits of design on people in the workplace and keep that experience close to heart with the hopes to see more people enjoy their work life because of design in the future.

What were your top takeaways from the sensory-friendly study space design project?
The timing of this project was a bit tricky as we were in the thick of our final project, so it was great real-life experience working as a group on a tight timeline. We were able to utilize each other’s strengths, delegate, and have fun getting a chance to showcase our ideas here on campus. I found it impactful that when my group had an opportunity to work together in person, we were very efficient with our time and clearly communicated our ideas making it easier finalize decisions.

One word that best describes your experience at DCTC:


DCTC Sensory Room Team gallery

Click image below to view the team’s PowerPoint presentation:

Learn more about the Interior Design program at DCTC by contacting:

Room 2-110

¹ SOURCE: Wikipedia: Sensory Room

More about the Interior Design program…

The award-winning Interior Design program is a challenging course of study that prepares you to launch a career in an exciting and dynamic profession. Emphasis is placed on acquiring the hands-on knowledge and skills to design functional and aesthetically engaging environments.

The curriculum is architecturally based and explores spatial design and its embellishment. All aspects of space—scale, proportion, configuration, and lighting, as well as textures, materials, and color—are studied in relation to their effect on human well-being.

Technical skills are gained in the latest computer-aided design (CAD), building information management (BIM) software, and 3D visualization and graphics. Current software includes Auto-Cad, Revit, SketchUp, 20/20, Adobe Photoshop, and Adobe InDesign. Enhancing these skills allows you to produce professional presentations and construction documents.

You will work closely with other students in small groups with your instructors and industry practitioners on projects that develop in size and complexity. Service-learning and interdisciplinary projects provide real-world experience.

As a program graduate, you will have a solid technical foundation along with the skills to collaborate with fellow professionals and deliver sustainable interior environments matched to the needs of their clients. You also have options to transfer DCTC Interior Design credits to a four-year college or university.

The Interior Design program is accredited by the National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA).


Interior Design A.A.S. Degree • 60 credits
On-campus delivery
Interior Design NCIDQ Pathway Certificate • 16 credits
On-campus delivery • 100 percent online delivery


Interior Designers


Plan, design, and furnish the inside of buildings.


This career that pays above the statewide median wage of $25.22/hour.


Median: $31.61/hour
High: $40.10/hour

Seven-county Twin Cities metro

Median: $31.13/hour
High: $40.84/hour


In Minnesota, there are 1,210 workers employed in this small career. There will be a need for about 1,722 new Interior Designers to meet market demand between 2020–2030. This includes the demand due to replacement (workers leaving the occupation or retiring) as well as growth.

SOURCE: Minnesota State CAREERwise Education (June 3, 2024)