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Madam Presidents: 3 leaders in interior design and advocacy

May 05, 2023

From Philadelphia to Chicago to Honolulu, Stantec interior designers are leading their local IIDA chapters. And positively impacting the industry.

Interior design connects and engages people while cultivating a sense of space. Here are three Stantec interior designers that take that commitment to heart in their roles leading their local International Interior Design Association (IIDA) chapters across the United States.

Hear the voices of our design experts—Chesenia Burgos, Jill Dexter, and Jenny Manansala—as they share their personal career journeys while making a difference in the industry through education, mentorship, and advocacy.

Chesenia Burgos
Interior Designer, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Joining IIDA in my freshman year of college was a natural fit as I was about to spend four years immersed in studying interior design. I quickly saw the growth in industry connections, on and off campus. The empowerment I received as a student member continues to carry within my professional career, and I pay it forward by providing for the future leaders of our industry.

Over the last 12 years, my passion for design advocacy has led to more responsibilities within my local chapter. It recently earned me the election as president of the IIDA Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware chapter.

A highlight of my time with IIDA came 2021 when the national chapter launched a pilot program, “Design Your World” (DYW), aimed at introducing underrepresented students to the possibilities of a career in commercial interior design. The pilot program kicked off in Chicago and I quickly knew we needed it within our PA NJ DE Chapter.

During my first board retreat as president in 2022, I laid the groundwork for my passion project by holding a workshop about broadening our outreach to students of all ages—this got the conversation going. With the support of my board, I reached out to IIDA National about bringing DYW to the East Coast.

IIDA is made of creatives, leaders, and changemakers and together we connect, inspire, and empower.

In January, we learned DYW will be coming to the Philadelphia region through a mini summer workshop series, and we were asked to offer additional recommendations of cities that would embrace the program—I was beyond thrilled! The Philadelphia workshop series will be in collaboration with Fresh Artists, an organization that helps brings art programs and supplies to school and art teachers that may lack in visual arts funding and resources.

As a Latina, I value exposing younger generations to creative fields such as interior design and particularly having them “see people like them.” I am happy and honored to see a program such as DYW come to our IIDA chapter’s region and have our members proudly raising their hands to volunteer in underrepresented schools. Programs like this have a tremendous impact on students thinking about career options or just starting to figure out how to turn their creative passions into designing their own world.

Chesenia Burgos and fellow IIDA members networking.

Jill Dexter
Interior Designer, Chicago, Illinois

The Great Recession came during the second half of my college career and left me a bit unsure of what was to come. By joining IIDA as a student member, my fear turned into nervous excitement and ambition. I vividly remember seeing designers in the industry at these fabulous IIDA events and realizing that this was a community of people I wanted to be surrounded by. They cared about making sure interior design was appreciated and that they advocated for their fellow interior designers. Knowing there was a design-minded group of professionals made me feel seen.

As I progressed through my career, I became ever more passionate about advocating for interior designers, making sure that our voices are heard. I want students, who are in their exciting and ambitious last few semesters of school, to understand how important it is to advocate for our profession.

In June 2022—after over 20 years of hard work for many interior designers, professional organizations, supporters, advocates, and bill sponsors who have come before me—a legislative bill approving Stamp and Seal Privileges for Registered Interior Designers in the state of Illinois was signed into law. This allows us to now seal the design documents we worked diligently on and submit our drawings for permit.

Thinking back to College-Jill and Student-IIDA-Member-Jill, she wasn’t sure if there would be a time in her career where she would be able to professionally stamp drawings for permit. But 2023 is the year that changes in our state. And our future generations of interior designers have many, many members of this amazing community to thank for that.

I joined this community as a student and found a group of designers and industry friends. It was wonderful. Seeing this community come together to make space for our profession to be acknowledged in a way it had not yet been recognized was pivotal.

My mission now is not only to continue to advocate for our interior design community both in Illinois and beyond but to make sure that our students and future designers know that by working hard they will now have greater access to create spaces that positively impact society. They can start their own interior design business and put their stamp on it–literally and figuratively. That makes me smile.

Jill Dexter and her fellow board members from IIDA Illinois.

Jenny Manansala
Senior Interior Designer, Honolulu, Hawaii

I began my affiliation with IIDA in my junior year at California State University Long Beach and continued to present day with leadership roles including vice president of sponsorship and now chapter president. IIDA has always played a positive role in my professional growth, and I knew if I wanted to meet design professionals with the same passions in a new community, IIDA would lead me down the right path. Little did I know the path would deliver me to a quaint and spiritual design community here in the Hawaiian Islands, which has allowed me to thrive as a big fish in a small pond where I find myself in my third and bittersweet final year as chapter president.

Made of creatives, leaders, and changemakers, IIDA brings us together to connect, inspire, and empower. Most importantly, WE MAKE SPACE to understand and uplift humanity. That is indeed evident here in Hawaii, where we design interior environments that honor the history of the islands and respect the native lands and its Indigenous people.

Cultural design incorporates creating a sense of place that is both thoughtful and meaningful. Here in Hawaii, we often refer to it as a “Hawaiian sense of place.” That means celebrating the place and its history down to its roots—location, people, culture, floral, and fauna.

Taking cues from the past not only dictates physical forms of design but also inspires and educates beyond the local community. Storytelling is implemented to immerse the user and the public to experience the space as it once was and what it will be, embracing all the senses—visually and spatially.

Together with my IIDA colleagues, we recognize the natural environment is a constant source of design inspiration, creating a harmonious built environment that is conducive to better health and productivity.

Biennially, the Hawaii Pacific Chapter celebrates design excellence by honoring outstanding and original commercial interior design in Hawaii with our signature event, the Ho’ohuli Awards. In the Hawaiian language, ho’ohuli refers to the idea of change. This is, at heart, what excellent interior design achieves—the transformation of interior environments, and in turn, the transformation of the users who experience and are inspired by them. Local interior design talent is provided an opportunity to highlight their projects to a larger audience. This will continue to promote the value of Hawaii designers and honor our culture—two things for which I have a passion.

Jenny Manansala awarded a Ho’ohuli Award on behalf of the Hawaii Pacific Chapter of IIDA.

  • Chesenia Burgos

    Chesenia is an interior designer with a passion for strategic planning. In her position, she provides clients with planning, programming, research, and design services for various higher education and healthcare projects.

    Contact Chesenia
  • Jillian Dexter

    Jillian is an interior designer in Chicago with more than ten years of experience designing compelling interior spaces. Her recent project experience includes workplace renovations, workplace studies, and mixed-use adaptive reuse projects.

    Contact Jillian
  • Jenny Manansala

    A senior interior designer, Jenny is passionate about conceptual design, storytelling, and client leadership focusing on healthcare projects as well as interiors projects in the commercial sector.

    Contact Jenny
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