Published by Dr Mieke Leppens, Dean of Design & Creative Technology
From Essex to Sydney, Brisbane to Casablanca and back.
Education, it is said, is less about filling a bucket. It is more about lighting a fire, creating that desire in a student to learn more, to commit, to overcome all obstacles in the pursuit of their passion. In the words of Roald Dahl, that is what counts. “White hot and passionate is the only thing to be.” And inspiring this passion is the task that educators must set for themselves.
Case in point.
Alexandra Stanley-Dower, hailing from Essex in England, completed her Bachelor of Interior Design (Commercial) last December. A month ago, she took the stage in her graduation gown and cap, and delivered the Design & Creative Technology class of 2019 graduation speech.
And as if that wasn’t enough, this month sees Alex featured in Vogue Australia – the go-to source for design style, and a true trend setter, in Australian and global design and fashion circles. Alexandra’s work, and her reputation, precede her. In short, her short career is off to a blistering start – and all this, mere months after graduation.
But her story is typical of many who walk through our doors at Billy Blue College of Design at Torrens University. Attending school this far from home, she was unsure what her experience would entail, or the opportunities it would bring but upon entering her classes and meeting her lecturers at the Ultimo campus, a hidden purpose and study drive was quickly uncovered. As did the chance to meet new friends and future network contacts across the globe.
It wasn’t always easy – but worthwhile efforts often are not. Her National Academic Coordinator, Daniel Staebe, was by her side throughout her education, and had this to say. “As an international student, Alex was able to study in different Australian cities at our Billy Blue College of Design campuses. She was a hard worker and achieved good grades, demonstrating high values and principles. I nominated Alex as the graduate speaker, as I believed she was a great candidate for this role. She demonstrated all the best aspects of our course and improved herself as an individual. I was thrilled that Alex stepped outside of her comfort zone and took on the challenge of both writing the speech, and then presenting it to all of the students, academics and parents on the special day.”
Read on and experience the evolution of Alexandra’s passion for this unique field, and the steps she took to achieve her goal of working within it. At Billy Blue College of Design at Torrens University, a Bachelor of Interior Design brings together creative and commercial theory with technical application, ensuring that graduates are prepared for a range of design challenges and unlimited possibilities. In Alex’s words, learn what that experience was like.
My name is Alex Stanley-Dower and I can say proudly, I completed my Bachelor of Commercial Interior Design in December 2019.
I studied full time and followed the recommended study path through the entirety of the three years.
I’ll tell you a little about my journey …
In case you haven’t guessed already, I’m from England, so a long way from home. I had previously been working in events management and hospitality, leading a happy go lucky kind of lifestyle.
In 2016 I completed my farm work in rural Australia, as part of my working holiday visa. Taking a girl from Essex and putting her in the middle of the bush in Queensland was a sight to behold. It was without doubt, the hardest thing I have ever done. But, in saying that, it was also the most personally rewarding, as it revealed strength in my character that I didn’t know existed. I learned to be patient, build resilience and remain positive. These lessons, certainly prepared me to commence my degree in February 2017 … or so I thought!
The first couple of years I studied in Sydney at the Ultimo campus. From day one I walked into that space with a sense of purpose and drive. I hadn’t studied in years, and to be honest, I wouldn’t call myself a natural ‘studier’. I’m what you might refer to as a ‘social butterfly’. Gossip with friends had previously been more interesting than the classwork.
But something had changed in me, I was listening. I was paying attention. I was focused. I cared.
The teachers at Billy Blue are passionate and experienced. I truly recognised their worth. Every class made sense and the content was engaging.
And not only did my peers offer me cultural insight, they ignited my creative and collaborative flame. We were in it together.
There was laughter. There were many late nights spent looking at the computer screen and scratching my head, and there were definitely some tears. Dan, our course facilitator, can vouch for the latter!
At the start of 2019, I moved to Brisbane and started my third and final year of study. The transition, with Billy Blue, could not have been easier. With the help of Scott, my course structure remained the same, so I was never left feeling like I was missing out on any learning.
The move, however, came at a time of a personal struggle with my health. If any of you have experienced navigating through dietary allergies, you’ll know how much of a lengthy and draining process this can be, physically and emotionally. It was a time of uncertainty in my life, new eating habits, a new city, a new campus. It was time to be brave.
But, with all of that, came new friends and new teachers a change of scenery and a fresh perspective How lucky was I to have the freedom to move interstate and gain a wealth of life experience? No matter how much this pom struggled to adjust to the Brisbane climate! No matter how much this pom struggled to adjust to the Brisbane climate!
So, you may be asking yourself, why did she choose to study in Australia and not back in the UK? Why would she choose to be so far away from loved ones, especially when tackling a huge academic challenge as a self-confessed “non-studier”?
Well, I could lie and say it was purely the beautiful weather and gorgeous beaches that grabbed my attention but Australia is so much more than that for me. It’s a laid back, no fuss, breath of fresh air. There is opportunity here, to have it all. I’d be silly to pass up the chance to make a life for myself here and I believe my studies with Billy Blue will help me achieve this goal.
In September last year, I joined the 10-day design tour in Morocco, organised by the lovely Nina and Michelle from the Brisbane campus. This was an opportunity to undertake the live brief unit, which involved producing a hand drawn commercial concept for a traditional Moroccan riad. As we have become so reliant on technology, it was a refreshing challenge to design every aspect of my project by putting pen to paper.
Whilst there, we visited Casablanca, The Blue City, Rabat, Fes and of course, Marrakech. It was a feast for the senses and I still have dreams about our time spent there.
What I noticed most about their culture was that they recognise the importance of building beauty, from the inside out. For example, the façade of a building is typically unrefined, and frankly, looks unfinished and unassuming, with no windows.
Whilst the inside turns out to be a jaw-dropping sanctuary, often with a central, open-air courtyard with internal balconies and a water feature or swimming pool. The Muslim women unravel their headscarves and relax, without a prying eye in sight. The beauty was built for the occupant of the home. They don’t put importance on the outside of the home because they don’t feel the need to impress anyone.
Our group received nothing but kindness, guidance and care from the locals. It was a divine trip and I returned to Australia feeling more inspired than ever.
And this brings me to share a life changing discovery, which came to light towards the end of my degree and one I wish I had identified earlier. It’s the concept of managing your mind. This involves recognising when you are hijacking your happiness with negative self-talk.
It was a real game changer for me, and I encourage you all to check it out if it sounds like a foreign concept. In short, it’s all about being kind to yourself, celebrating the small wins, recognising what you have, instead of what you don’t, letting go of expectations and living in the now.
Throughout the duration of my degree, it was all too easy to slip into daunting thoughts about the bigger picture and become overwhelmed. Or to get down on myself if I didn’t quite achieve that grade I had set my heart on but what I realise, is that in the end, I earned the right to call myself a graduand… and I am proud of that!
So, now that our studies have come to an end, it’s time to pause, smile and give ourselves a big pat on the back. Let’s enjoy this moment.
Congratulations Alex – you have truly set a high standard for determination and commitment, and we could not be prouder of you.
Start your own global interiors study journey and find a job you love – just like Alex did. Learn more today.
Keen to learn more about Alexandra, and hear her reflect on her time with us? Check out this video.