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May 22 , 2007
CONTACT: Ward Mullens

EMU interior design students provide innovative concept for Ann Arbor Veteran Administration facility

YPSILANTI - Eastern Michigan University interior design students recently received awards from the Nursing Home Culture Change Group at Veterans Administration Ann Arbor Healthcare System (VAAAHS) for proposed redesigns of the VA Extended Care Center's dining room.

First-place winners Angela Brown and Shelli Dierck said that the project "really hit home." Dierck's brother is currently stationed in Iraq and family members of the students have served in World War II, Korea, Vietnam or the Gulf War. The placard on their design presentation, "Honor, Respect, Integrity, Country," sums up the inspiration that drove their desire to bring "a sense of home to all of the people who stay at the hospital as well as accommodate the staff," said Dierck.

Dierck and Brown incorporated, within their design, areas for meals, conversation, board games and computer access; a stone fireplace and log mantle, barn wood beams, large wood-framed teal-matted photos, and a salmon-colored carpet.

One of Dierck's most treasured moments was when her brother, Trinity, attended the classroom presentation of her project on the evening he flew home on leave from Iraq.

A love and respect for family and country also were driving forces behind the second-place design submitted by Jennifer MacLeod and Erica Noel. They both said it was a great honor to design a space to be used by people who have devoted their lives to defending the United States.

The VAAAHS asked that the design have a community-oriented design with a "lodge look." Other directives included that it meet the functional needs of 40 veterans and visiting family and friends; employ energy efficient design in line with an "Energy Star" facility; and use fire retardant and sustainable materials eligible for Federal Government General Service Administration discounts.

An independent jury at the Department of Veterans Affairs of VAAAHS awarded gift certificates to the three top designs and three honorable mentions out of the 14 designs submitted by students.

Julia Burns, chief of food production at VAAAHS, says that VA, along with other community hospitals and nursing homes, is aiming to improve "the quality for our residents by providing a more home-like environment." The organization sought to feature - in the redesign of its dining room - the principals of the Eden Alternative, a model developed by Dr. William Thomas that helps create a more home-like setting within a community-oriented environment. A premise within the philosophy is that it incorporates the help of outside community groups and encourages people to see environments as habitats for human beings rather than facilities for the frail and elderly.

Burns, who recently earned a second master's degree from EMU, told her EMU advisor, Susan Gregory, about the project last summer. Gregory recommended Burns contact Maria Sipos, assistant professor of interior design at EMU, and EMU adjunct professor, Karen Wilmering, to see if their students would be willing to work in partnership with  the VA. Wilmering said the opportunity for "students to work with real clients was very exciting…to learn about real life design experience and more about veterans and the war."

In the fall, students visited VAAAHS and met with staff and patients to clarify project parameters before beginning their design work. Eventually, the promising designers showcased their designs in presentations at EMU classrooms and at VA. Burns notes that the presentations were "better than many of the professional ones we'd seen in the past."

Sipos and Wilmering said the VA is considering future project work for EMU students as well as a possible internship.


Eastern Michigan University is a public, comprehensive university that offers programs in the arts, sciences and professions. EMU prepares students with the intellectual skills and practical experiences to succeed in their career and lives, and to be better citizens.

Editor's Note: Looking for an expert source for a story? Check out EMU's Eastern Experts online at www.emich.edu/univcomm/easternexperts.

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