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SOURCE Awards lighting design students: Where are they now?

Eaton’s Lighting Division caught up with past SOURCE Awards winners Austin Gauley and Ali Herman to take a look back at their experience as students and learn how winning a SOURCE Award for lighting design helped propel their careers.

Gauley received his undergraduate degree in interior design from Mississippi College. For the 34th SOURCE Awards, Gauley created a lighting design for Common Grounds, a coffee house located in an up-and-coming part of Nashville that offers a unique atmosphere for enjoying food and friends.

Herman is an alumna of the Council for Interior Design Accreditation (CIDA) program at Ball State University, where she earned a degree in interior design. When she conceptualized lighting designs for the Mountain Spirit Healthcare Facility as part of her SOURCE Award entry, Herman looked to her family for inspiration. 

How did you hear about the SOURCE Awards?

Gauley: I was a junior, and the SOURCE Awards were incorporated into my lighting class curriculum. My professor oversaw the whole project. As an interior design student, I was so excited to have the lighting design class. It’s such an important part of interiors and can often be overlooked. 

Herman: The SOURCE Awards submission process was integrated into my lighting design class required by CIDA. 

What was the award submission process like for you? How did you balance it with your schoolwork?

Gauley: During this process, I think it’s really important to know when you need to take a break to keep your clarity. Take a breather, and you can start to see small details that may need to be tweaked or realize an opportunity you didn’t see before. Doing this can change your perspective. Time management is key to managing these breaks and creating benchmarks for yourself. 

Herman: Coming up with my project concept was the biggest hurdle. My dad was a heart patient, and it was a big lifestyle change for him and my family, so I was able to use that as inspiration for my project. 

Tell us a little about your professional journey postcollege. 

Gauley: After I graduated from the undergraduate program at Mississippi College, I immediately started a graphic design master’s program there. I wanted a well-rounded education in design and thought learning about graphic design could offer that. I was also interested in teaching and thought this path would help me obtain a more robust set of skills.

I pursued graphic design for a semester, then I got to a point where I really missed interiors. I talked with one of my professors about it, and we took a visit to their alma mater: Florida State University. After this visit, I decided to transfer there to pursue interior design again. 

I loved it. My thesis was on enhancing the grocery design experience by understanding the local community. After I graduated with my master’s, I moved to Dallas to work for my current employer, Plan B Group, and have been here about 18 months. I am also an adjunct professor at Baylor teaching a design software class.   

Herman: krM Architecture is where I currently work, and here, we’re really encouraged to find our focused study areas and explore those passions. My SOURCE Awards project started my passion for not only sustainable design but also how buildings can influence the feelings and well-being of their occupants. I started by researching different design theories in medical environments, and that led to exploring biophilia and integrating nature in spaces. The deeper I got into research, the more I loved it — everything clicked. It was the jumping-off point for some of my passions that I’m still learning about today. 

Did the SOURCE Awards help prepare you for your professional career?

Gauley: The SOURCE Awards allowed me to get early exposure to the lighting world. It opened my eyes to a whole other direction in design. People tend to think of interior design in a more general sense, but being able to see there are many directions, like lighting design and how it plays a large role in a project, was very beneficial.  

Going to the awards ceremony at LIGHTFAIR International was a fantastic opportunity and something I was able to do because of the SOURCE Awards. I got to hear industry keynote speakers and talk to different vendors, so that was a really cool experience to get introduced to the lighting industry. 

Herman: The SOURCE Awards gave me a huge appreciation for lighting design. We focus a lot on lighting in our firm, and we truly believe in getting our reps and distributors in early on a project and not leaving lighting as an afterthought. 

Do you have any advice for students planning to enter the SOURCE Awards?

Gauley: Interior design majors are super busy all the time. I don’t think people realize how much time goes into our field. But the SOURCE Awards are really worth it. You get so much exposure to professionals and are granted the ability to begin networking. Even if it’s not part of your curriculum, it’s worth the time you put in. 

Herman: The biggest thing I would suggest is to push yourself to branch out and have fun with it. Once you’re in the real world, budgets are a real thing. While you have the flexibility to do whatever you want, live it up and do it big with lighting. Figure out how to use lighting in unique ways to support a big idea.

Learn more about the SOURCE Awards and enter your conceptual lighting design.