Designed Opportunity: Austin senior puts design skills to the test for district

Published 7:01 pm Friday, May 17, 2024

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Austin High School senior Ava Denzer didn’t know what to think last school year, when she was pulled from class and asked to go down to Principal Matt Schmit’s office.

For a student who laughingly joked about not knowing where the principals office even was, her thoughts swirled around what might be the issue.

“I was so scared,” Denzer said. “I was in my history class. I was just panicking — I was shaking. What did I do wrong?”

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Nothing, as it turned out. Rather, it was about what she would eventually do right — helping design the remodel of the Austin High School Annex Auditorium.

Denzer was about to get the rare student opportunity to help design the interior of the room. It was the chance to put her burgeoning love of interior design to good use, which she will be attending the University of Northern Iowa for this coming fall.

“As a student, it meant so much that people saw my potential,” Denzer said. “It was always a big dream of mine, but nobody ever pushed it further than myself. I was doing my own thing. It meant the world because they believed in me.”

The route to Denzer’s involvement began in the spring of 2023 when the auditorium was set to be remodeled as part of the overall work that renovated and updated the music facilities.

The auditorium, which hadn’t seen work for years, was used for things like reviewing game footage for the football team or as a meeting space for groups who reserved the space.

It has also served as a classroom.

According to Schmit, then Director of Building and Grounds Dan Ball came to him about some decisions regarding the design, which Schmit quickly admitted was not for him.

“This is not my area of expertise,” Schmit said. “I wonder if there is an opportunity for a student to dig into this?”

That’s when he sought out Family Consumer Sciences teacher Jenna Berg, who because of spring planting at her family’s farm wouldn’t have the time to do it herself, but knew which student would be good for the job.

“(Berg) was so sure,” Schmit remembered. “This student is going to be fantastic. She has a passion for it, is goal orientated and detail oriented. She will do great.”

Fast forward back to Denzer’s visit to the principal’s office and the request to contribute. All told, the process of Denzer’s involvement was fast from the moment she was asked to the finalization of plans to the final project.

Denzer made use of a family trip through South Dakota to begin research on the project, looking online via a hotspot at various sites to begin pulling the design together and wrapping it up within a day’s time.

“I got to work with the crew, which was a little intimidating because I had to incorporate what they had planned already and what I wanted to do,” Denzer admitted when she presented her plan. “It was exciting when they said it’s a go.”

The process from start to finish was a quick one and in between Denzer incorporated a gray and red color scheme that matched designs already in place, including new chairs and carpeting.

The color process was among the more challenging aspects for Denzer, not only because she wanted to find the right colors that matched those items already selected, but that also matched what was in her head.

“There are so many different shades of red, so many shades of gray. It was kind of like, what do I even pick?” Denzer said.

In the end, the colors reflected a desire by Denzer to create a space students wanted to be in.

“Red can be eye-catching and distracting,” Denzer said, acknowledging the risk of choosing the color. “What would I want in a space, how would I feel comfortable as a student?”

Her work on the remodel is just the latest step for Denzer down a path toward interior design, something she showed early on to Berg as a sophomore. Denzer not only dug into her assignments, but she also used the 3D program Homestyler to work outside of the classroom.

That sort of dedication left an impression on Berg, especially during a time when the school was beginning to get back on its feet after the COVID pandemic.

“She kind of took it to the next level,” Berg said. “I was blown away with that next level. She has since progressed and grown so much as an interior designer and student. This is the perfect opportunity to get kids involved in projects in the school district.”

Since then, Denzer has made the most of her passion by working for Ellie Huffman, owner of House of LuLu Interior Design in Austin.

From Schmit’s viewpoint, the results of Denzer’s work are an example of what can happen when students are involved in the school and its workings.

“She went above and beyond expectations,” Schmit said. “As far as the research she did and the presentation she put together — that is so good. It’s one thing to tell somebody what to do, but it’s a whole other thing to say this is an idea, go out and make it their own and do it.”

At the same time, Schmit, Berg and Denzer all believe this could be a doorway to involve students with different skill sets even more in school projects.

“It’s the student’s building,” Schmit said. “What ideas do you have to make this a better place? A more welcoming place?”