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  • Monica Kumar

  • Interior Design (MFA)

    “Maybe it was a well-timed quarter-life crisis,” Monica Kumar says to explain how she found her way to the Master of Fine Arts Interior Design program at Parsons. Having extensive professional experience in policymaking and a passion for tackling social injustice, Kumar envisioned herself going to law school. But the obstacles she saw in implementing new policies frustrated her. “I could predict my future 40 years out, and it was discouraging.” She considered her longtime interest in interiors, and began exploring Parsons represented a creative, tangible approach to social innovation that seemed more efficient than familiar bureaucratic channels.

    Advising

    Although Kumar recognized connections between design and the social sphere, she says that without a Parsons education she couldn’t have imagined the far-reaching role interior design plays in social structures. “Before applying to Parsons, I dug back into my youthful fantasies and realized that what united my adult fascination with culture and morality was an undercurrent of tapping into the meaning of everyday life and the qualities that shape someone’s reality. I hadn’t realized the deep empathy required in order to translate someone’s needs and feelings into space, and it comes with the power to effect change.”

    She also hadn’t anticipated certain challenges that the MFA Interior Design curricula would present. Specifically, certain projects asked her to craft work by hand. She explains, “I hadn’t physically created something in years. When I arrived at Parsons, I was asked to present concepts in physical form — and for a grade!” Thanks to the program’s collaborative culture, her peers helped her learn through trial and error, allowing her to hone her making skills.

    Parsons’ open learning environment helps students like Kumar, who came to a graduate program without formal design training, acquire the tools needed to interact with people who have a range of work and communication styles. She found that her skills complemented those of her peers and allowed for a productive balance of teaching and learning. Now she is finding professional success by bringing together making processes to explore and convey emotion and the writing abilities she developed in coursework.

    Today as an interior design and researcher for the global architecture firm Perkins+Will, Kumar draws on her learning at Parsons and undergraduate studies in biology to assess building materials to determine which are healthy for human and natural environments alike. Her work at Perkins+Will echoes some of the program’s core goals. “We don’t just decorate at Parsons. We learn the capacity for making people’s lives better by using design as a facilitator, not an exploiter, of healthy communities. As I near the end of my studies, I realize that I’ve gained the courage to right the wrongs that most deeply upset me through the realm of built space.”

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