Donna emigrated to Australia from the small village of Castleton in North Yorkshire in England when she was eight years old. As a child growing up in Coffs Harbour on the north coast of NSW, she had many interests including business, design, sports, cooking and travel. In high school, she really enjoyed textiles and design, design and technology, and technical drawing.

“I realised I loved the sense of achievement, starting with an idea and being able to implement it into a design or product that could be built Donna says. “Also, during Years 9–10, my family built our own home. I was involved in the design process of drafting ideas into plans for the draftsman as well as suggesting finishes for the interior. I think this was a key experience that propelled me towards interiors.”

After finishing school, Donna travelled and then took a few gap years, working in her family business, coaching and commencing a Certificate III in Accounting.

“All of these experiences taught me something different and helped shape the way I am today,” she says. “I was able to narrow the decision about what I wanted to do down to interiors, more specifically interior architecture, as I was also interested in learning about structures and systems as well as design.”

Donna liked the sound of the UNSW Interior Architecture because it’s “quite a specific degree”. “I came to Sydney for a campus tour and loved it. The rest is history!”

She says that developing foundational knowledge in the first two years of the degree enabled her to tailor it to suit her interests.

“For instance, my graduation project was a combination of my love of sports and my passion for human-centred design.”

Donna Helm with her mum at the Bachelor of Interior Architecture (BIA) Graduation Exhibition. 

“It’s a civic space that focuses on connecting the local community through shared experiences and common interests that inspire the users to stay physically and mentally active. Using sport and recreation as a mechanism to facilitate social interactions, the focus also highlights the importance of designing for community.”

The project helped Donna find the niche area of the industry she would “love to design for”. She says the course’s flexibility also enabled her to meet and work with “many wonderful and inspiring people throughout UNSW”.

Throughout her degree, Donna was heavily involved in the UNSW sporting community. She represented the University locally, and at a state level through UNSW Football Club. She also represented UNSW at the Unisport Australian Nationals for football.

“I’ve also been lucky enough to become a student ambassador for the Future Students team and Built Environment Faculty during my last couple of years. And I was the student curator for the 2018 Built Environment Luminocity exhibition held on Open Day.”

“To top off this wonderful experience, the last course of my degree is an elective called Street Life Studies, that will take place in Cambodia in January,” says Donna. “We will collaborate with local Cambodian design students to observe and analyse the dynamic layers of public street space. I’m super excited for this course and am thrilled I’ll be able to take what I learn over there into the next step of my career.”

The Bachelor of Interior Architecture (Honours) at UNSW Built Environment teaches students how to influence people's lives through the interior environments they inhabit. Find out more about the degree.