Interior design alumna flexes creative muscles on commercial design projects

From a young age, Sarah Jenk (05′), senior interior designer at the Neenan Company, was curious, creative, and crafty. For instance, she developed an early passion for design and started a habit of drawing and designing dream houses. As Jenk grew older, her passion for design remained steadfast. Eventually, her dream house designs morphed into home designs with detailed floor plans.

Discovering CSU

Sarah Jenk holding her diploma
Sarah Jenk at her graduation.

As a junior in high school, Jenk came up to Colorado State University to visit her older brother, Steve. During her visit, Jenk explored the hallways of Aylesworth, the former home of the Department of Design and Merchandising before it moved into the Nancy Richardson Design Center, and discovered several senior interior design projects on display. Jenk left Aylesworth feeling inspired and energized. From that moment, she set her sights on joining her brother at CSU so she could pursue her lifelong passion for interior design.

While studying interior design at CSU, Jenk took on two internships. Her first internship focused on residential design at CHL, Inc. While interning in the residential field, Jenk was able to apply her coursework on drafting and 3-D programming and apply it to real-world home design projects. Jenk’s second internship at Force IV Design focused on residential and small commercial design. This experience was so positive that it motivated Jenk to pursue a career in commercial design.

Commercial design role

In 2006, Jenk fulfilled her dream of becoming a commercial designer when she was offered an interior designer role with The Neenan Company. The Neenan Company is a Fort Collins-based integrated developer and design-build firm that focuses on people-centric planning and developing spaces that construct community through collaboration. Neenan specializes in large commercial projects such as healthcare facilities, schools, corporate offices and government buildings, and maintains strong connections to CSU’s design programs. In fact, of the nine interior designers at Neenan, five of them are CSU graduates. Neenan also offers a rotating semester-long interior design internship popular among CSU students.

Since joining the Neenan design team, Jenk has flexed her creative muscles on several exciting projects, including the 55,000-square-foot administration building in Fresno, California. This building was custom designed as a headquarters for one of Neenan’s longstanding medical clients to attract top talent in the medical field. Jenk worked closely with the executives, doctors and staff to develop a state-of-the-art facility that improves the daily lives of the employees who work there, and provides the business the capacity for long-term growth. Flexibility, collaboration and daylighting were the main programmatic concepts that drove the design concept for the project.

The administration building opened for business on April 22, 2019, with a grand opening right before the healthcare team moved in. The event engaged the community and California state Congressman TJ Cox spoke at the event. He was very excited to see the organization build a new facility while creating new jobs and a place for the people of the Fresno community to flourish. Jenk and her team incorporated local inspiration and mix of the city, integrating building elements into the design with a backlit front reception area featuring orchids.

Sarah Jenk with her family.

Healthcare design

While working at Neenan, Jenk has bolstered her professional skills, passing the NCIDQ certification and earning a LEED AP BD+C accreditation. Jenk is now working to make healthcare design a focus of her career and published a featured article in Medical Construction & Design Magazine, July/August 2016 vol. 12, issue 4.

When asked how her CSU education affected her career, Jenk said, “The Interior Design Program prepared me to be a professional designer. The coursework, teachers and internship opportunities at CSU provided me with the foundation, techniques and tools I needed to be successful. By working at Neenan for 13 years, I have been able to apply these skills and finely tune them.”

Sarah Jenk worked as an interior designer on the Fresno medical collaboration project with The Neenan Company. 

Program name change

In 2018, CSU’s Interior Design Program rebranded and became Interior Architecture and Design. The revamped curriculum continues to provide design students with the technical skills and experiences they need to be able to design interior environments that intelligently use space while promoting functionality, sustainability, health, and wellbeing.

When asked what currently inspires her about interior architecture and design at CSU, Jenk responded, “The great teachers, the wonderful opportunities, and the connections with the broader design community are inspiring.” Jenk went on to say, “It’s also amazing to see how the Department of Design and Merchandising has blossomed. It is wonderful that the department is integrating other disciplines and cultivating natural collaborations through the Nancy Richardson Design Center. These students are so fortunate to learn and grow in such a beautiful and well-designed space.”

The Interior Architecture and Design Program is in the Department of Design and Merchandising, part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.