Colorado State University Extension Service, Family Housing Specialist, Department of Consumer Sciences and Housing, 1977-1986
- Professor, Department of Design and Merchandising, 1986-2008
Craig Birdsong was born and raised in a small rural community in northern Oklahoma where oil, gas, wheat, and cattle ran the economy. Craig’s heritage is Native American and European. From a young age, Craig knew he wanted to pursue a career path that was separate and distinct from his parents. However, he attributes his upbringing in a small, rural community centered on home and work as the spark that ignited his passion for a rich career in Interior Design.
As a child, Craig enjoyed designing and decorating his own room. Despite having an early passion for design, Craig did not select Interior Design as his major in college. Instead, interior design found him. In 1968, Craig enrolled at Oklahoma State University as a declared business major.
However, he only pursued business for one year because the fastest way for Craig to get to his business classes was to cut through OSU’s Home Economics building. Every day he would see the Home Economics students display their work in apparel design and interior design and he was inspired. One day, Craig helped an Interior Design student bring in a large bolt of fabric and this interaction led him to switch majors and enroll in Interior Design.
In 1971, Craig obtained his B.S. in Interior Design from Oklahoma State University. After graduation, his teacher and mentor, Dr. Milton Pascal, suggested he pursue a graduate degree in Interior Design. Craig was reluctant at first but ultimately decided to go for a master’s after he realized he could teach a studio class. Craig was also a graduate research associate under the guidance of Dr. Jim Walters and Dr. Nick Stinnett.
In 1973, Craig received an inter-departmental master’s degree in Interior Design and Family Relations. With his graduate degree in tow, Craig was offered a job at the University of Arizona in their School of Home Economics – Clothing, Textiles, and Interior Design Department. Craig spent five years teaching at the University of Arizona and, through colleagues, became involved with their Extension program.
Through the University of Arizona Extension, Craig taught summer classes on design, dyes, and weaving for 4H students and their parents. This experience was very positive and helped Craig learn about a full-time position in Extension at Colorado State University.
CSU Work History
In July of 1977, Craig joined Colorado State University Extension as the Family Housing Specialist for Cooperative Extension. Craig spent 10 years in this role. He published more than 50 extension fact sheets related to housing, interior design and furnishings, many of which were reproduced by other states. He formed an alliance with specialists from Arizona and New Mexico who met yearly to research and publish fact sheets of common interest to the three states.
During his tenure, Craig was appointed as Assistant Director of Cooperative Extension for Home Economics programs throughout the state. With the help of all campus Home Economics specialists, Craig created the Three Circles Program for all Home Economics Extension Programs. The Home Economics programs included specialists and extension field agents focusing on the following:
- clothing and textiles,
- financial management,
- foods and nutrition,
- housing and design, and
- child development and family studies.
The goal of Three Circles Program was to demonstrate how CSU’s extension home economics programs overlapped and complimented one another. For this effort, Craig was given Colorado State Cooperative Extension’s Professional Excellence Award.
In 1986, Craig transitioned from CSU Extension to Resident Instruction in the Department of Housing and Consumer Sciences within the College of Home Economics. At the time, the College of Home Economics was merging with the College of Professional Studies. During this transition the Department of Consumer Sciences and Housing was merging with the Department of Clothing and Textiles.
In addition, CSU had two interior design programs (one from the Art Department and one from The Department of Consumer Sciences and Housing) that were merging into one program. After the merger, the new department was known as the Department of Design and Merchandising, and Craig became the first Coordinator of the newly formed Interior Design program. In this role, he oversaw the Interior Design program, including faculty members and 200 Interior Design students.
Research, Teaching, and Service
During Craig’s tenure at CSU, his research, teaching, and service activities greatly contributed to the maturity and development of the interior design discipline. Three major contributions to Interior Design that Craig is particularly proud of include:
- Defining creative scholarship and developing tools for measuring creative scholarship and developing guidelines for promotion and tenure of interior design educators for the Interior Design Educators Council
- Conducting research on supportive environments and/or home modifications for persons living with AIDS or other disabilities and special needs
- Developing courses and supplemental materials on historical architecture and interiors
Craig’s transformational work on Creative Scholarship began in Vail, CO at a Southwest Regional Meeting of the Interior Design Educators Council with colleague and mentor Don Sherman. This comprehensive work was completed with colleague Denise Guerin at the University of Minnesota. Craig and Denise understood that the Interior Design discipline focused on scholarship that was more creative in nature and their discipline needed a mechanism to evaluate and measure this type of scholarship.
Together, they defined Creative Scholarship as nontraditional research, such as studio oriented professional activity, that should be evaluated as legitimate scholarship. Next, they worked on mechanisms to measure creative scholarship and offered criteria for evaluating research and creative activity. Their research on creative scholarship had implications for the tenure and promotion review process.
In fact, Craig helped revise CSU’s departmental tenure and promotion handbook. These efforts led him to a national initiative to develop Standards and Guidelines for Promotion and Tenure for all interior design educators through the Interior Design Educators Council. Due to the success of this work, in 1992 Craig received a Letter of Merit as “Recognition of implementing a peer review process for interior design educators.”
In 1994, IDEC gave Craig an Award of Merit as “Recognition of sustained and notable contributions over and above that expected by virtue of appointment or relationship to IDEC.” These standards and guidelines remain in use today at universities across the nation and have been adopted and/or adapted by other departments and/or program areas in creative fields.
Craig, along with colleague Cynthia Leibrock, is also credited for important research on patient-centered design and creating supportive home environments for persons living with AIDS, other disabilities, and special needs. This research was deemed sufficiently important by the American Society of Interior Designers that they issued a position paper on housing and design for vulnerable groups.
The position paper encouraged design practitioners to take a more engaged and respectful view of people with AIDS and others. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Ag Safety Database still acknowledge Craig’s early publication with a graduate student on simple home modifications for the disabled through its availability on their websites.
Finally, Craig’s enthusiasm for quality education and his passion for the discipline of interior design led him to develop and document historical architecture, interiors, furnishings, and accessories. One of his earliest endeavors, with colleague Nancy Goodman of the Kendall School of Art and Design, was to research, document, and photograph Southwest architecture and interiors.
This resulted in a 64-slide set with narrative, annotated bibliography, suggestions for term papers, and studio projects. Southwest Interior: A Guide for Study was purchased by 19 other colleges and universities within six months. Craig spent a great deal of time developing a course series and supplemental materials that included an extensive personal slide library of over 2,000 slides and more than 60 PowerPoint presentations documenting historical architecture and interiors.
Craig was in the first group of CSU professors to participate in the university’s multicultural diversity and infusion project. He used this perspective in both lecture and studio classes. Craig’s former students and colleagues agree that his research, teaching, and service activities greatly benefited interior design students at CSU, the interior design profession, and society as a whole.
Craig and his former colleague, Don Sherman, are also attributed with improving the growth and enhancing CSU’s Interior Design graduate program. While at CSU, Craig served on the Interior Design Graduate committee and worked tirelessly to get the program accredited. In fact, Craig and Don were the first to get CSU’s Interior Design program accredited through the Foundation for Interior Design Education Research.
Additionally, Craig was committed to enhancing recruitment of minoritized identities in the Interior Design discipline and helped get more males to pursue Interior Design. Under their leadership, many of their graduate students conducted significant research and published their findings in major academic journals.
After 31 years at CSU, Craig retired in 2008. He still resides in Fort Collins. In his free time, Craig enjoys his boutique antique business, reading books, spending time with his partner, Mike and his sister, Charlanne and her family and pursues his genealogy research. Craig continues to provide expertise in issues of promotion and tenure. He stills reviews faculty dossiers for colleges and universities around the country and has served as an expert witness in mediation cases and for several state courts.