Emma Wingerd recently graduated from Appalachian State University with a degree in Industrial Design in the midst of the pandemic. Like many other graduates, her plans for her summer and career were immediately halted. Despite her tremendous talent, charisma and eagerness to engage (she recently built a printing press in her spare time, for goodness sakes!), Emma found herself entering a “real world” that was drastically different than expected. Luckily, she had a mentor who introduced her to the folks at Laut Design, who offered her a position in their apprenticeship program.

Emma and I shared a fun and insightful conversation about her experience as a recent 2020 grad trying to start her career. I certainly hope it will inspire readers to consider offering programs similar to Laut Design’s apprenticeship program in their organization.


Q: What is it like to graduate during the pandemic and the resulting economic crisis?

A: It’s definitely crazy. I’ve felt the effects most on two different fronts. 

First, the last half of my final semester drastically changed. I went home for spring break and was told not to come back unless I needed to gather my things. No one was anticipating this and from a social standpoint, it was difficult and strange. Our ending milestones and traditions were all held via zoom. I watched my virtual graduation ceremony at home while eating a big breakfast and watched as my name flashed across the screen.

Second, I had to figure out what my plans were going to be now that things had changed.


Q: What were some of the goals you had for yourself upon graduating that you’ve now had to pivot on?

A: Earlier this year I accepted an internship role in Colorado Springs, doing graphic design for Engineering Ministries International, a christian organization made up of engineers and architects that do engineering projects in developing countries. My internship was supposed to start in May but towards the end of my semester, I heard that it had been moved to August. 

Thankfully, it is still going to happen but with some changes. 

During my final semester, I was consumed with finishing my senior capstone project. Once I finished, I realized I had a massive wide open summer and no idea what I was going to do with it. I reached out to an industrial designer who had mentored me before. We were connected because his spouse was my high school art teacher. I asked him for advice on what to do with my summer. I just wanted to keep my skills sharp. He introduced me to Laut Design and luckily they had an apprenticeship role open.


Q: Tell me more about Laut Design’s apprenticeship program.

A: The program is very hands on and flexible. One thing I love about Laut Design is that they have a clear understanding that I am a novice and give me plenty of opportunities to learn. A lot of what I’ve done so far has involved learning from my coworkers and helping out with projects by creating CAD models, making sketch models that support design decisions, sitting in on meetings, interacting with clients and more. 

It’s been a really valuable learning experience for me. Hearing how the team thinks about things, how they approach each design with cleverness and intentionality, has been really inspiring. 


Q: I’m glad to hear things have worked out so well for you. Do you have friends who are finding it more difficult to start their career amidst COVID?

A: I’m grateful for the job I have, but it hasn’t been this easy for everyone. I know of at least one or two friends who have had their internships get cancelled. Some of them were not able to do their senior capstone project because they were reliant on those internships, which has been sad to see. 

I’ve been seeing so many talented design friends who are posting about looking for work. Many job boards are “on freeze” it seems. Some companies post that they have positions open when they don’t actually have one open.


Q: What is something you think employers should know about your generation of graduates? Do you agree that your generation is motivated by the ability to give back in some way?

A: Design is a very passion-driven field. Designers like me want to solve the problems they see. And that desire to create change is something that I think is a massive trend amongst my friends in school and others in my age group as well. Using ASU’s senior showcase exhibition as an example, many of the projects were focused on solutions that prioritized things like being environmentally friendly, protecting people, building relationships, and helping people exercise their creativity or live more ethically. 


Q: What makes you most optimistic about the current climate we’re in?

A: Apprenticing at Laut has shown me that there are still projects coming in. People are still moving forward even though a lot seems to have ceased in the world. This hasn’t cut off the creative spirit. Even if I personally struggle to find a job or find myself in limbo, there are always projects to be done. Design is one of those things that always seems to be in demand.


Q: What would your advice be to others who are in a similar situation?

A: Most of my strategy up to this point has been seizing opportunities that I can and building relationships along the way.  I’m so thankful to be where I am. And it really comes down to having relationships with people, especially when more “proper” channels seem to be stopped up or on freeze.