Becky Zoni: 17 Years and Counting
Becky Zoni has been teaching at Design Institute of San Diego for over 17 years and she's been a designer even longer. Although she can't imagine her life without being an instructor, it wasn't always that way. After her first two weeks at DISD, she was totally overwhelmed and thought "Oh gosh! What did I do? This is tough!" On top of that, she was pregnant with her second child at the time! Despite the challenges of the first couple of semesters, she saw potential. The idea of being a teacher started when she was little but it took some time before she got around to it. "I think I always wanted to be a teacher...but I really loved to draw." So she started her education as a Fine Art major and then decided, "I'm not a Picasso. I'm creative but practical." So she took drafting classes and eureka, "Oh, I like this! This is my niche."
While in school, Becky worked for a cabinet company doing kitchen and bath remodels. "I learned a lot there. We had a shop in the back and I could see how things were built." After graduating, she was brought on full time and stayed for a couple of years before moving on to commercial work for BSHA, which was one of the biggest interior design firms at the time. "I loved working there. We had an architectural department, an engineering department and an interiors department. It was very collaborative. If I had an issue with a project where I needed help as far as engineering something, I'd just walk down to the other side of the office. When you work collaboratively as a group, you get a better product."
When the recession in the 90's hit, Becky, along with half of her colleagues, was laid off. She started doing contract work and took a temporary position subbing for the only interior designer at an architectural firm, who was going on vacation. Then that designer decided not to return to the firm "So I stayed on, still on contract, and ended up staying there for a couple of years." The woman whose position she took over happened to be an instructor at DISD and that got Becky's wheels turning. "I had thought about teaching because, with the recession, I needed something I could do as well as design." Becky knew she could teach AutoCAD since she had 10 years of experience, but when she contacted the school, there were no teaching positions available. "I got a phone call about two weeks later that the AutoCAD instructor could not teach that semester and the class starts in a week!"
Back then, the classroom looked a little different. "We didn't even have an overhead projector. I stood behind the students to look at their screens to tell them what to do." Fast forward to today and not only is there an overhead so the students can see Becky's screen, but Becky can see all of the students' screens from her computer at the front of the room. And, as she pointed out, technology is moving things forward. "I'm always evolving the class because AutoCAD continues to evolve. Plus, what used to take students a long time to grasp doesn't take as much time so I continue to add things to the class to advance it."
It's well known that the students love Becky and appreciate her instruction, but Becky sees it the other way around: "I really think I have learned more from teaching than people have learned from me. If someone asks a question and I don't have the answer, I have to figure it out. And they only get me for a certain amount of the time but I get new students each semester and continue to learn from them." At one point, Becky was so busy with design work that she considered quitting but then reconsidered: "Why would I give something up that I enjoy doing? I love this!"
The obvious question might be, 'How can someone continue to enjoy the same thing after nearly two decades?' "When I teach AutoCAD I throw in the design part so it's not just this mechanical tool you have to know. And every student has a different set of construction documents with different design challenges. So I see these great ideas and ask, 'How are you going to build it? Let's figure it out!' It's a little puzzle and it's fun. But it means that they have to think with both sides of their brain and that's where the challenge comes in." DISD students have a reputation for great AutoCAD skills and Becky says that's due to more than just her teaching. Every year AutoCAD comes out with a new version and DISD always updates to the most current one. "A lot of designers and architects will go from a 2007 version to 2013 and it's very frustrating and difficult to learn, but learning the new changes as they come out is much easier for students and when they've graduated they've seen the most recent version."
Becky believes that the latest technology and being taught by practicing professionals explain why DISD students are so well prepared for the industry. "I think it is a huge benefit for the students that the instructors are professionals. They are very appreciative and go to the instructors with questions because they understand that we are in the field. I have heard a lot of prospective employers that don't want to hire anybody unless they're from Design Institute of San Diego. Everybody is wanting to get them."
Becky feels that her life has never been more balanced. She is working on great design projects (including an 8,000 sq/ft tenant improvement space and an entire remodel in Coronado), she loves being a teacher (she has even extended into teaching the ID I class) and has started to get back to her first love: drawing. "As far as I'm concerned, I'm where I want to be. I think it's rare that someone can say 'I love what I do' and I feel very fortunate because I truly love what I do [and] wouldn't give it up for anything."
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- Becky Zoni: 17 Years and Counting
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