Rodney E. Willis

Rodney E. Willis 
Senior interior design associate, Ike Isenhour Inc. 

“After experiencing a layoff from my job in finance, I took an introspective look at my career aspirations. Being unemployed motivated me to explore an occupation that reflected my passion rather than just seek another job. It was an opportunity to see if interior design was a viable way for me to earn a living and satisfy my need for creative expression. 

“I’ve always had an interest in architecture and design, even as far back as high school. Initially, my plan was to register for a few interior design classes and gauge my interest level to determine if it was really what I wanted to do. I decided that it was and completed the curriculum, obtaining an associate degree as well as the advanced technical certificate in the Interior Design program at El Centro. 

“The professors in the program took an interest in my success and guided me towards accomplishing my goals. The relatively small classes offered an opportunity for one-on-one interaction, which was a positive factor for me. I felt like I learned what I needed to know to transition to this field. Of course, there’s always a lot you learn once you’re out in the workplace outside of school, but I was definitely equipped to compete.  

“What I like about what I do is the creativity and flexibility of utilizing my own ideas. I can think of an idea, develop it and see it come to pass in the scope of design. I enjoyed working in the area of finance, but I just didn’t feel a sense of seeing tangible results from my own creativity. I definitely needed that. 

“I’ve offered this advice to friends and acquaintances who have asked me about my own journey: be in touch with what you feel passionate about, and then develop a realistic plan for accomplishing that goal. Even if you’re passionate about something, you’ve got day-to-day finances, living arrangements and the bottom line of having to make a living while pursuing your goal. 

“When I worked in finance, I earned a level of income that allowed me to have a comfortable life. Going back to school and working part-time was a total lifestyle adjustment. If you’re aware of what it takes to make the decision to pursue your passion, and you’re still on board with it – by all means do it. It’s been worth the effort and sacrifice for me. 

“At the end of the day, no matter the perspective of what other people think, you just have to live with your own version of how you define success.” 

Rodney Willis earned an associate degree and advanced technical certificate in interior design from El Centro​, completing the three-year program in 2011. He had previously earned a bachelor’s degree in finance from Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia, Ark., and had worked as manager of cash operations for a mortgage service company for 13 years before changing careers. 

As a senior interior design associate for Ike Isenhour Inc., an interior design firm with offices in Dallas, he manages all aspects of interior design related to residential and commercial projects from specifying furniture and fabric to working with contractors, furniture fabricators and vendors. He began working at the company as an intern while in El Centro’s program.

Ike Isenhour Inc. is a boutique design company founded in 2005 by internationally recognized designer Ike Isenhour, with services including architectural design, interior design and furniture production. Projects range from urban residences and apartments, historically significant estates, aircraft interiors, boutique hotels to restaurants, and include the faculty club at Harvard University; a boutique hotel in Taxco, Mexico; and private residences in Dallas, Los Angeles, New York City, Mexico, Italy and France and England.