Since 2012, the Colorado State University College of Health and Human Sciences Legacies Project has been honoring retired staff and faculty emeriti for their exceptional work and forward-thinking contributions to our shared history and accomplishments as a college.
On March 28, Craig Birdsong, professor of Interior Design, was recognized for his many achievements and contributions to his field and to the Department of Design and Merchandising. Photos from the event are posted on the College’s Flickr.
Birdsong was born and raised in a small, rural community in northern Oklahoma where oil, gas, wheat and cattle ran the economy. He always knew he wanted to follow a path distinctly different from that of his town and his parents, and he attributes his upbringing in a small, rural community as the initial spark that ignited his passion for interior design.
In 1971, Birdsong obtained his B.S. in interior design from Oklahoma State University. After graduation, his teacher and mentor, Milton Pascal, suggested he pursue a graduate degree in interior design. Birdsong was reluctant to consider the idea at first, but ultimately decided to go for a master’s after he realized he could also teach a studio class.
In 1973, Birdsong received an inter-departmental master’s degree in interior design and family relations. With his graduate degree secured, Birdsong was offered a job at the University of Arizona in their School of Home Economics – Clothing, Textiles and Interior Design Department. Where he taught and became involved with the Extension program. This positive experience is what lead Birdsong to discover his passion for work in Extension.
In July of 1977, Birdsong joined Colorado State University Extension as the family housing specialist for Cooperative Extension.
“I thought ‘OK, this will be great for two or three years and then I’ll figure out what the next phase of life is going to be,’” says Birdsong. Despite this initial plan, Birdsong spent 10 years in this role and 31 years in total at CSU. During his time in Extension he published more than 50 fact sheets related to housing, interior design and furnishings; many of which were reproduced by other states.
In 1986, Birdsong transitioned from CSU Extension to resident instruction in the Department of Housing and Consumer Sciences. At the time, the College of Human Resource Sciences was merging with the College of Professional Studies, and CSU had two interior design programs that were merging into one. After the change, the new department was known as the Department of Design, Merchandising, and Consumer Sciences (now the Department of Design and Merchandising); and, Birdsong became the first coordinator of the newly formed Interior Design program. In this role, he oversaw the entire Interior Design program, including faculty members and 200 interior design students.
A proud legacy
During Birdsong’s tenure at CSU, his research, teaching and service activities greatly contributed to the maturity and development of the interior design discipline. Three major contributions to Interior Design that he is particularly proud of include:
- Defining creative scholarship and developing tools for measuring creative scholarship and developing Guidelines for Promotion and Tenure of Interior Design Educators for the Interior Design Educators Council
- Conducting research on supportive environments and/or home modifications for persons living with AIDS or other disabilities and special needs
- Developing courses and supplemental materials on historical architecture and interiors
Defining creative scholarship
“One of his passions was helping people understand creative scholarship and making sure that … the tenure process involved looking at creative scholarship and faculty getting recognized for that,” said Kendra Allen, director of academic and administrative operations for the Department of Design and Merchandising.
“It was simply a matter of trying to make the creative scholarship equal to the traditional scholarship, and have it recognized as being equal,” Birdsong explains.
Birdsong’s transformational work on creative scholarship was completed with colleague Denise Guerin at the University of Minnesota. These efforts led him to a national initiative to develop Standards and Guidelines for Promotion and Tenure for all interior design educators through the Interior Design Educators Council. Due to the success of this work, Birdsong received a Letter of Merit in 1992 and in 1994, the International Design Educators Council gave him an Award of Merit. These standards and guidelines remain in use today at universities across the nation and have been adopted and/or adapted by other departments and program areas in creative fields.
Birdsong, along with colleague Cynthia Leibrock, is also credited for important research on patient-centered design and creating supportive home environments for persons living with AIDS, other disabilities and with special needs. The position paper encouraged design practitioners to take a more engaged and respectful view of people with AIDS and others. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Ag Safety Database still acknowledge Birdsong’s and a graduate student’s early publication on simple home modifications for the disabled through its availability on their websites.
Teaching and documenting Southwest interiors
Finally, Birdsong’s enthusiasm for quality education and his passion for the discipline of interior design led him to develop and document historical architecture, interiors, furnishings and accessories. As a teacher Birdsong was well-loved for the unique effort he put into his classroom and his students.
“He followed through with [students],” said Allen. “He spent hours with them in office hours teaching, meeting with them, helping them go over the material, helping them understand. They valued their relationship with him because he was so kind and so patient and so willing to give his time.”
“To sit in one of his lectures was totally inspiring,” said Carolyn Deardorff, a former student and eventual colleague of Birdsong’s. “He knows the subject matter so well … and it was always very apparent that he cared deeply about all of the students.”
One of his earliest endeavors, with colleague Nancy Goodman of the Kendall School of Art and Design, was to research, document and photograph Southwest architecture and interiors. This resulted in a 64-slide set with narrative, annotated bibliography, suggestions for term papers and studio projects. Southwest Interior: A Guide for Study was purchased by 19 other colleges and universities within six months.
After 31 successful and busy years at CSU, Birdsong retired in 2008. His former students and colleagues all agree that his research, teaching and service activities greatly benefitted interior design students at CSU, the interior design profession and society as a whole. Birdsong would like to be remembered not only for his career as an educator, but for the change he brought to the discipline of Interior Design: “I hope that in some small way I helped both the program here at CSU and the profession as a whole grow a little bit and change a little bit. I think that would be what I hope I leave behind,” he said.
To learn more about Birdsong, watch a video about him, and make a gift in his honor, see his College of Health and Human Sciences Legacies Project webpage.