By Leigha Van Sickle
Everything in Kelly Walsh’s life has led her to where she is right now – studying in Rome, thanks to a prestigious $30,000 scholarship. With the help of great professors and an inspirational European trip, Walsh, a University of Arkansas interior design student, was able to use her talents to win the Senior Student Scholarship from the Angelo Donghia Foundation.
Walsh was first introduced to the idea of design when she was 14, when her sister was studying art and design and showed her Photoshop, along with blogs and magazines.
“I started playing with graphic design right away. I taught myself how to write HTML and combined the two to create a Jonas Brothers fan page website,” Walsh said. “If I remember correctly, it looked pretty good.”
Because of the interconnectedness of the design world, she was able to continue discovering websites which eventually led her to interests in industrial design, architecture and, of course, interior design.
Walsh, who was raised in Arlington, Texas, instantly fell in love with Fayetteville, the people and the Fay Jones School’s architecture program. Now in her senior year, she said that it just felt so right to go to school in Arkansas.
“Choosing the U of A was the single best decision I’ve ever made for myself. I can’t imagine being anywhere else. I don’t think I would be sitting on a train to Florence right now if I had,” Walsh said.
Many components make the Fay Jones School an amazing program, and one of those is the faculty. Her professors, Marie Gentry and Jennifer Webb, helped Walsh achieve her dreams, along with Carl Matthews, head of the interior design department.
Walsh is the seventh Donghia Foundation Scholarship winner that Matthews has taught. The other student scholarship winners were from when he previously taught at the University of Texas at Austin’s School of Architecture.
Walsh reflected on the 12 professors she has had in major-specific classes in the Fay Jones School and said that each of them has had something valuable to teach her and has helped shape her into the designer she is becoming.
“The best things about Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design are the resources that the school provides for the students. And as a design student, it’s really important to me to have access to things like our Design Shop and Woodshop so that I can actually create anything I think up,” Walsh said.
Inspiration can be discovered anywhere, but for Walsh, a lot of it has come from her experiences abroad and at home through guest lectures and professors.
As one might expect, emotions were high for Walsh when she learned she had won this life-changing scholarship.
“My mom called me and read the letter that the news came in to me while I was checking out at a grocery store, and I kind of freaked out. I was shaking really hard, and I couldn’t hide my tears of excitement from the cashier very well,” Walsh said.
Her excitement grew when Matthews brought up the possibility of taking a studio at the U of A Rome Center for the fall semester. Walsh had briefly studied abroad in Rome last summer, but she felt that her time was too short and that such a life-changing experience deserved a second round. She packed up her things and was able to finish what she started in Rome in 2014, and she said that she is enjoying her time there so far this semester.
With such a significant scholarship to add to her resume, Walsh is feeling good about her post-graduation possibilities. She said that she feels a lot more confident about her abilities than she did before and that she worked extremely hard on the project.
Exhausted from a semester of her hardest work, Walsh sent in her submission with not a huge amount of hope. Seeing the amazing projects that had won before seemed daunting to the tired Walsh, but she knew that she did her absolute best work.
“When I received the news that I won, I was more excited about the fact that the judges thought I deserved the award more than the actual award itself. I learned that the adage ‘hard work pays off’ is true, and that makes me really excited for the future,” Walsh said.
Just like any other Razorback, the thought of letting go of an eventful four years filled with laughter, tears, all-nighters, Hog calls, game days, studio, hopelessness, faith and opportunities seems impossible. She knows, though, that the knowledge she has gained at the U of A has prepared her well for any adventure that the future holds.
After she dries her graduation tears, Walsh said that she plans to move back to Dallas to be near her family and to start finding her place in the “real world.” With an amazing team of professors on her side, as well as an impressive and talented background, Walsh won’t only find her place but she’ll likely inspire others for years to come.