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Second bachelor’s degree approved at Bellevue College, inspired by Islander

A sculpture called ‘The Doorway,’ by Ray Jensen, at the Bellevue College campus is dedicated to the memory of Doris Katz. - Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter
A sculpture called ‘The Doorway,’ by Ray Jensen, at the Bellevue College campus is dedicated to the memory of Doris Katz.
— image credit: Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter

Doris Katz molded BCC interior design program

Bellevue College will introduce its second baccalaureate degree, a Bachelor of Applied Arts in interior design, this January. The degree was recently approved by the Washington State Higher Education Coordinating Board and authorized by the state Legislature in its 2009 legislative session. Although a B.A. in interior design is new to Bellevue College, the program is decades old. In fact, it was an Island woman, Doris Katz, who mothered the fledgling program into the strong curriculum that it has become today.

Katz, who raised a family on Mercer Island, died in 1991. Yet she will always be remembered in the design halls of Bellevue College.

“Doris Katz was instrumental in the expansion of our interior design program in the ’80s. She was also a beloved member of the Bellevue Community College community,” said Dan Beert, program chair for Bellevue College’s interior design department.

Katz grew up among a generation of women who valued the crafts of homemaking. She earned a master’s degree in clothing and textiles from the University of Wisconsin School of Home Economics. She taught the subject for years, both at the high school level and as an associate professor at the University of Washington, until the school closed its home economics department, despite generous efforts by Katz and colleagues to keep it open, in 1976.

Yet this cultural and academic shift in values — a hallmark of the women’s movement in the 1970s — did not stop Katz. The domestic arts, she firmly believed, were something worth fighting for.

In 1982, the educator brought her passion for textiles and homemaking to Bellevue Community College (BCC). The classes that Katz taught eventually flourished into a three-year interior design program. Today, interior design is “one of the most popular and fastest growing associate degree programs at Bellevue College,” according to the school’s Web site. The curriculum serves 500 students, and is one of only two programs in the state to be accredited by the Council for Interior Design Accreditation.

Tom Nielson, former interior design program chair for BCC, worked closely with Katz during the curriculum’s formative years. As a mentor, he said that Katz was one of his greatest inspirations.

“She hired me in 1982 to teach a drafting class,” said Nielson, whose specialty was architecture. “We worked together non-stop. And together, we revised the program into interior architecture.”

Katz had a vision. She wanted to turn interior design at BCC into a three-year program that would earn accreditation from the state. Within eight years, this goal was met.

“By the late ’80s, we successfully — with her pushing all the way and strategizing — got a three-year [associate] degree approved by the state board. We then became eligible to apply for accreditation, and became better respected in the eyes of the professional community,” Nielson said.

In six months, the college will trump this accomplishment with a four-year baccalaureate degree.

According to Bellevue College President Jean Floten, the region’s interior design market is burgeoning.

“With the demand for interior designers in our state projected to grow at nearly twice the average pace for all occupations by 2016, this program will support local employers while also expanding the career opportunities for individuals. Its graduates will be ready to handle modern design challenges — for example, using lighting, acoustics, temperature and air quality to enhance the health, safety and productivity of building occupants,” Floten said in a Bellevue College press release.

College directors expect the new B.A. program to serve 80 or more full- and part-time students in its first year. Dozens of Mercer Island High School graduates attend Bellevue College. Island adults, also, are enrolled in the school’s Continuing Education classes. Interior design classes are open to all.

According to Beert, the interior design program develops skills in critical thinking, problem solving, communication, teamwork and cultural sensitivity, in addition to design skills and technical knowledge. It also keeps alive the spirit of creativity that Katz installed into the curriculum years ago.

“Advances in technology, new concerns for sustainability and accessibility, the aging of the national population and stricter regulations and building codes — all of these have combined to demand greater skill and broader knowledge from today’s design professionals,” said Beert. “Our proposed new bachelor’s degree will meet that need by producing tech-savvy graduates who have not only excellent design skills but also the sophistication and creative problem-solving that characterize well-rounded design professionals.”

The college is adding a Green and Sustainable Design Certificate sequence to its interior design curriculum beginning this fall.

In order to earn a B.A. in interior design, new Bellevue College students must complete four years of study. However, students who already hold associate degrees in interior design have the opportunity to earn their B.A. after two years. Evening and online classes are also available, keeping with Bellevue College’s tradition of accommodating the working student.

Bellevue College awarded its first 19 baccalaureate degrees in June to graduates of its Bachelor of Applied Science program in radiation and imaging sciences. This was a monumental move for the school, as it signified its transition from Bellevue Community College to Bellevue College. School directors hope that more baccalaureate degrees will follow next year’s interior design program.

For more information on Bellevue College’s new baccalaureate programs, visit the school’s Web site: www.bellevuecollege.edu.

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