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Interior design students ready to collaborate, learn with Pembroke community
Students from Georgia Southern’s Interior Design and Psychology classes will present their design ideas for Pembroke’s Dingle School and DuBois Square to residents on April 30th.
pembroke project 1
Senior interior design students Kelsey Buck, left, Israel Broomfield, center right, and Mikayla Turner brainstorm as they work on designs for the Dingle School and DuBois Square renovations in Pembroke while teammates and psychology students Emily McBride and Brayson Mosley, background center, work on diagrams and posters for their final presentation during their Senior Service Learning Project class at Georgia Southern University on Tuesday, April 16. The class has formed into six teams that will each present their final plans to Pembroke officials. (Statesboro Herald photo/Scott Bryant)

Ever since she arrived at Georgia Southern University in the fall of 2018, interior design professor Dr. Beth McGee has always aimed to give her students the experiences needed to succeed beyond the classroom. 

Which is why this spring semester, McGee’s capstone Interior Design Studio V class is working with the City of Pembroke to create and present design ideas for Pembroke’s Dingle School, a former school for Black students in North Bryan during segregation, and DuBois Square, an outdoor space downtown on the corner of Ledford and Gibson Street.

The presentation–open to the public–will be held on Tuesday, April 30th from 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at 353 N. Main Street, according to a flier shared by Georgia Southern University's School of Human Ecology.   

“Our class in general focuses on training evidence-based design guidelines,” said McGee, who received her PhD in interior design from the University of Florida, and is very interested in “human-centered” design principles that prioritize, first and foremost, the quality of life of inhabitants.   

“We focus on designing for people and understanding how to optimize the built environment for the user,” explained McGee. 

To add that human element, McGee has also been working with psychology professor Dr. Ryan Couillou and his students since 2019 to help add an interdisciplinary element to her Interior Design curriculum.

“So that [human-centered design] connects with psychology because psychologists are obviously trained to understand people,” McGee said. 

McGee’s classes have worked on various other projects over the years, doing designs for the City of Statesboro as well as smaller-scale projects on campus, but this will be the first time her students will be working with the Pembroke community. 

“We’re going to be there for an hour to present live and then our goal is to leave some surveys there for people to give us feedback about the presentation, " said McGee.”

“Every single [student] group on their own, looked through the [research] literature and found that, as a key design recommendation, it’s very important to include the community and their voice in the design process,” McGee said.

“The exciting part is that students are enjoying working with real clients, which is a major learning objective,” said McGee.

A city-wide effort 

To kickstart this partnership, McGee got in touch with the City of Pembroke through Fernanda Camacho Hauser, the City’s Director of Downtown and Economic Development (and Georgia Southern alumna), and was then offered her choice of two site locations to work on with her students. 

McGee, who cites historic preservation as one of her passions from graduate school, said it was ‘exciting’ to work with the Dingle School in particular, due to its notable history. 

“Immediately, when [Fernanda] talks about the history of the Dingle School and the fact that they want to preserve it, that got me really excited about this project,” said McGee. 

The Dingle School–derived from the surname of its only principal, Leon Dingle–was built in 1949 and educated Black students from Pembroke and North Bryan before desegregation. 

The school was also the site of the former Pembroke High School, which cites current Mayor Pro-Tem Johnnie Miller as some of its well-known former pupils. 

With Pembroke experiencing high levels of population growth and development, Dr. McGee strongly believes in helping the city preserve its roots along the way.

“Some people don’t appreciate historic preservation, they say ‘why not just knock it down and put something else up’, " said McGee. 

“But there’s a lot of important cultural history that is going to be preserved [from the Dingle School].”

“And so thinking about how we can better support telling those stories and facilitating the experience of that history, through creating thoughtful interior design solutions, is going to be one of our main goals,” McGee said.  

Preliminary plans

The site of the former Dingle School is set to become part-museum, part-community space, according to Fernanda Camacho Hauser. 

“One room will be a museum and the other three will be part of a community center, explained Camacho Hauser. 

We are able to use the student designs to shape the actual rehabilitation of the building if they line up with what we want out of the building,” Camacho Hauser said.

And Dr. McGee and her students aim to keep “as much green space” as possible for the DuBois Square, an underutilized outdoor space in Pembroke’s downtown. 

“It’s a really important area for the community,” McGee said.

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