Sally Ann Swearingen in her empty professional practice in interior design classroom at SFA.

Sally Ann Swearingen, associate professor of interior design and construction management at Stephen F. Austin State University, sent this photo of her empty professional practice in interior design classroom with her call for help to SFA’s interior design alumni. Within an hour, she heard from more than 30 alumni offering to assist her current students with virtual job shadowing.

NACOGDOCHES, Texas — As the COVID-19 pandemic forced university campuses to close throughout the country, Stephen F. Austin State University faculty members moved their normally face-to-face courses online.

The transformation of some courses to Zoom sessions presented more challenges than others.

Sally Ann Swearingen, associate professor and instructor for the professional practice in interior design course at SFA, said the class requires in-person job shadowing with interior designers to explore topics ranging from marketing to estimate preparation to professional ethics and job opportunities.

“Of course, it’s impossible for our students to participate in job shadowing right now because of the pandemic and stay-at-home orders,” she said.

At the end of March, Swearingen sent out a call to the interior design program’s alumni for help: “None of the students can job shadow right now. If you would graciously let them visit with you by phone or Zoom, please let me know. We want them to have the same experience you had. Thanks for giving back to SFA!”

Within an hour, Swearingen heard from more than 30 alumni across the nation who wanted to help.

“It was an overwhelming response,” she said. “And the students ended up liking it better than traditional job shadowing because talking to our alumni helped build up their confidence.”

Michaela Gensler, an interior design senior from Houston, received help from Brooke Brodlowicz, a 2013 SFA graduate who is now a senior design technician at Newberry Architecture in Houston.

“Brooke gave me good advice about getting out of my comfort zone and knowing when to ask for help,” Gensler said.

Brodlowicz answered Swearingen’s call for help because of her fond memories of job shadowing at SFA.

“I’m saddened these students didn’t get the chance to participate in the real working world in this course,” she said. “Because of the wonderful experience I had, I wanted to do my part in helping them learn some of what I learned.”

Brodlowicz said working with Gensler gave her new perspective, as well.

“This experience taught me that even though I have come a long way since I was in these students’ position, I still have a lot to learn in my career,” she said. “It made me very grateful for my mentors I have at my workplace, and I have since told them how much I have appreciated them teaching me. I hope these students can find wonderful mentors wherever they land, too.”

Brodlowicz also has advice specifically for interior design seniors graduating during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has greatly affected the processes designers, contractors and vendors in this field have relied on for their day-to-day work.

“Unfortunately, a lot of businesses are suffering due to this virus and have had to reduce their number of employees or implement furloughs,” she said. “New graduates may need to consider potentially taking an internship or position that does not pay or pays a lower salary at this time.”

Because of the success of virtual job shadowing this semester, Swearingen said she’ll continue connecting her students with SFA alumni for this and other classes after the pandemic to help build her students’ confidence.

Brodlowicz is ready to help again because she wants her fellow Lumberjacks to have every chance to succeed in their careers.

For more information on SFA’s interior design program, email Swearingen at