When Tennessee Tech University graduate and architect AericGunnels started volunteering his time teaching as an adjunct professor to fill in for a retiree, he slowly started to realize how much he enjoyed teaching.
He fell in love with teaching the night classes in Tech’s housing and design program.
“One day I woke up and said, ‘Well I can be an architect – I can design buildings – or I can be a designer of designers,’” he said.
Gunnels, now a lecturer in the School of Human Ecology, has been involved at Tech and lived in the surrounding Livingston area for several familial generations. Tech was an obvious choice for him coming out of high school. He earned two bachelor’s degrees at Tech, one in housing and design and one in environmental and sustainability studies, before going on to earn a master’s in architecture from Virginia Tech. It was shortly after this that he started teaching night classes in housing and design and realizing he enjoyed it more than his original profession.
“That way I can make a much broader and greater impact than just designing buildings,” Gunnels said. “I can teach generation after generation of designers how to design a house, how to design a commercial space, how to design an interior, how to design a piece of furniture or a light fixture, etc. and really have a much larger impact on the design of this area.”
Giving credit to his other faculty members, Hannah Uphole and Melinda Anderson, Gunnels looks forward to advancements in the program and new additions.
“With the new degree program, there are some new classes that we’ve put back into the program,” Gunnels said. “So, we’re trying to really restructure the program – we’re still keeping all the important parts. I think it’s important to know that we’re creating a human-centric design program. Something that’s very hands-on, very experiential.”
Gunnels describes the department as something that is very different from other programs on campus. There are two new concentrations: fashion merchandising and architecture/interior design.
Gunnels teaches several courses that cover various skills pertaining to housing and design: aspects of housing and furnishings, architecture graphics and presentation techniques, residential design 1 & 2, commercial design, and computer-aided design. In each of the courses, different concepts are introduced to the students where they can explore their creativity.
“Because they are taking their project in the direction that they want to go,” Gunnels said. “I will be there to guide them, but I’m not going to lead them. I’m not going to direct their project, I'm just going to give them advice, ask questions, and we're going to talk about it and work through it. I really want the students to be able to explore their affinities in design in both what they like to design and who they are as a designer, because they get to know themselves better and will ultimately make their designs better.”
Two new classes that are being offered in Fall 2022 are portfolio design and design and visual techniques. In the portfolio design class, students will compile their projects that they have worked on throughout their time at Tech and prepare them for graduate schools or future employers.
The design and visual techniques class is a lower-level course for freshman and sophomores that will be very interactive. In the course students will sketch and work with other media to develop their skills as they approach upper-level design classes.
“For any students who are interested in design, if they enjoy being creative, if they like to create, I think this might be a good place for them. We’re a very experiential program and very hands-on,” Gunnels said. “If you’re interested in architecture, interior design, interior decorating, residential design, contracting, construction, then come talk to me. I think this would be a good program for students interested in those areas.”