Maryville Receives Angelo Donghia Foundation Grant

Maryville University was awarded a grant from the Angelo Donghia Foundation to create the Design Ambassadors, a program encouraging cultural fluency for interior design students.

Design Ambassadors will participate in field trips to architecturally significant buildings, museums and landmarks in St. Louis and throughout the Midwest, along with guest lectures, workshops and networking opportunities. They will interact with the community and experience firsthand the cultural differences that require flexibility and thinking outside their comfort zones.

“Many interior design students have not had the opportunity to interact with other cultures beyond their own,” said Assistant Professor of Interior Design Mike Keller. “Through the Design Ambassadors program, we hope to instill in them the importance of understanding the needs and touchstones of diverse clients so that they can grow as design professionals and shape their future careers.”

Launched this fall, the four-year program will involve a cohort of eight to 10 students per year. Students are selected through an application process and are allowed to participate anywhere from one year up to all four.

In addition to studying interior design beyond the St. Louis region, Design Ambassadors will also collaborate with local organizations to benefit those in need. This semester, students are working with Samantha Lee Smugala, ’12, who is turning unused plots of land into beautiful community spaces through her nonprofit Pocketparks. The Design Ambassadors will work with Pocketparks to redevelop a vacant lot in downtown St. Louis.

“In the design studio, we deal with a lot of hypothetical design problems,” Keller said. “Now, students have learning opportunities outside the classroom. It’s exciting to see them apply what they’ve learned at Maryville to real life situations. They are conceiving and communicating ideas in a way that is transformative for them, and equally transformative for the clients who live and work in these spaces.”

Throughout the year, Design Ambassadors will bring their newfound expertise back to the Maryville community through events and presentations, culminating in an annual exhibition.

The Design Ambassadors recently attended a virtual summit discussing universal design, which focuses on making physical and digital spaces inclusive and welcoming to people of all ages and abilities. The Design Ambassadors will share their findings during a panel discussion on Monday, October 25 and Tuesday, October 26 from 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. in the Design and Visual Art building. Attendees are welcome to attend in person or virtually via Zoom. Please contact Assistant Professor of Interior Design Mike Keller at to secure the Zoom link.


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