An Oregon State University junior who dreams of becoming a commercial interior designer was picked as the first student to manage a redecoration project of a conference room in the university's Memorial Union.

The room, now called the Pan-Afrikan Sankofa Conference Room, was redecorated based on designs created by senior interior design students under the direction of Carol Caughey in the College of Health and Human Sciences. It will be dedicated in a special ceremony at 5 p.m. on Oct. 13 in the Memorial Union main lounge.

Teressa Hartley, a student from Portland majoring in interior design, was chosen to oversee the project, which honors the rich history of the African American experience.

During her sophomore year, while Hartley was working at the Black Cultural Center on campus, she and other students at the center were asked by a group of senior design students to provide input on the re-decoration of a conference room in the MU. Their goal: to create an African American theme for the room. The BCC students shared perspectives about their childhood homes and experiences, helping the design students develop their first drafts. Eventually, the design reflected a broader African theme, to be inclusive of all people of African heritage.

Hartley joined a committee of students and staff to choose from eight different designs created by the students, and was pleased by the choice of bold colors and patterns that were finally selected.

"I thought it was awesome," she said.

So when Hartley heard that she could apply for a Promise Internship during Summer 2009 to manage the actual redesign of the room, she immediately applied, and was hired as project manager. The opportunity not only allowed her to participate in a room that honors her own heritage, but it falls in line with her dream of being a commercial designer.

"It's more complex and interesting" to design a public space, she said, so that rather than redoing someone's bedroom, you're making over an entire office or building. "You have the ability to affect people's lives with something larger."

Kent Sumner in the Memorial Union said the project manager position was opened up to student interns to support the MU's mission to include student designers and workers in its projects, and also ended up saving money. He said this project was so successful that they will likely continue using intern project managers.

As project manager, Hartley had to oversee the final designs of the room, which eventually included extending the redecoration to an adjoining room. She kept workers on a timeline, helped manage a budget, and did everything from making sure the paint colors worked well to making decisions on the height of a door when they added a closet into the space.

A mural made up of quotes from prominent African and African American thinkers adorns the back wall of the conference room. Hartley and Earlene Wilson-Huey of the Ujima Education Office chose the quotes, which were then put into a design by a graphic arts student, and painted by Corvallis artist Dale Draeger.

Bright colors and bold patterns fill the room, but what draws Hartley's attention is a print by Portland artist Isaka Shamsud-Din, depicting African American residents fleeing their homes in the former housing development of Vanport, in Portland.

Hartley knows the story of Vanport well. Her grandparents, like many other Vanport residents, were forced to flee their home with only a suitcase between them after a dike holding back the Columbia River burst, flooding the makeshift town. Having a sense of this history is important to Hartley.

The word Sankofa in the conference room's new title refers to the West African symbol of a bird, reaching over its shoulder to grab an egg. Hartley said that image is deeply meaningful to the intent of the room.

"It's about us reaching into the past and grabbing what is valuable, and using it to move us forward."

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Kent Sumner, 541-737-8511