A Note from the Director
Strength in Community and Hope in Humanity
Let me share an unfolding story of heartwarming humanity and of wonderful community. It is a glimpse of what has been happening across our School of Fashion these past four weeks; a series of decisive actions in the face of sudden change and adverse conditions.
Disruption is a natural part of modern life, and like it or loathe it, we have much to fall back on when it comes to learning from the past, especially in relation to new technologies. Humankind has gone through three major transitions historically; agricultural, industrial and technological, the latter being the most rapid advancement in history. Take a look at the smart phone, a hand-held device with an almost infinite and diverse range of apps and tools. We used to be mesmerized at the sight of such devices in the sci-fi series, “Star Trek.” Now, these systems and tools are part of our everyday life, allowing us 24-hour access to news, online personal banking, communication management and entertainment, to name a few. Tesla brings us another brilliant example of how sci-fi – this time ‘Kit’ of “Nightrider” fame - is fashioning artificial intelligence technologies to service humankind via the design of automobiles in thoroughly helpful ways. Innovative leadership and sustainable thinking enable us to adapt, learn and grow.
On February 26, our Florence Campus team met with our fashion students at Palazzo Vettorito deliver in person the difficult news; that in light of COVID-19 and with immediate effect, the international study away program was cancelled. All students will return home. With gusto, a process of jarring adjustment began with health, safety, self-isolation and online teaching in place by March 9 for all 91 students. And through it all, a firm creative commitment to ensuring the highest quality of teaching, learning and educational experience: closely monitoring the situation to ensure effective communication with student and faculty so they don't miss anything important; regular faculty team meetings via video conference to talk through the issues that have arisen and sharing solutions and tips; a schedule for live classes, to replace the old one as it does not work with the time difference of having students geographically spread from Shanghai to Seattle; acceptance that teaching exclusively in real-time is not workable, so lessons are posted and meetings with our students are held in video conference on select occasions; success is achieved with video conferencing with the London College of Fashion 85 out of 90 students connected!
Similarly, a rapid response process on our Kent campus ensued with 1700+ students in our fashion design and fashion merchandising programs. Within three working days, our students gracefully accepted and transitioned their living situation from campus to their permanent address. Our faculty pivoted and tirelessly worked to enable a successful delivery of 179 courses across all five years of learning to online mode. Teachers are now virtually meeting with each class during their regularly scheduled time on, for example, Collaborate Ultra, to explain the posted assignments and to follow-up with emails, to check-in or feedback with the grading of assignment submissions. Teachers are also leading the charge in terms of demonstrating social good; engagement with the international call to action to help mobilize sewing skills and expertise to create face masks and help reduce the dire shortage. We are committed to staying connected and in doing so, we see that our students are thriving on being connected with the university community. We witness first-hand how empathetic and resilient our students are, with some babysitting their nieces/nephews while joining the class, determined to continue to take pride in creating and delivering their best work.
Being busy in an environment filled with creative challenges is a tradition of this time of year; March being the month leading up to our major fashion show in April. This year, it is with genuine regret that I announce the cancellation of Kent State University’s School of Fashion 2020 Fashion Show. We will not reschedule this year’s event in its originally planned format; however, our fashion show production team and committee are committed to exploring alternative options and creative solutions. We will continue to innovate our way forward and together; to place our students at the heart of our decision making.
Through all of this, are there aspects of the business of fashion education we still need to work on? Absolutely; yes, and we are actively exploring the options and opportunities. Are we learning from what we are doing in response to the rapidly changing circumstance? 100%. The learning for us, is (as it is for everyone), hard and fast. What we know is there is unbridled strength in community and infinite hope in humanity.
In closing, I wish to celebrate the work of our seniors and alumni. To our seniors, we - your School - recognize the very real sadness you may feel at this time. This is not how anyone envisaged the last few weeks of your final year playing out. And in the words of Bob Dylan, you must “keep on keepin’ on” as you finish your degree; stay committed, creative, focused, determined, and remember YOU are the magic within your fashion studies. Continue to let it shine through. To our alumni: thank you for reminding us that the value and impact of a Kent State fashion degree is understood in time and as you apply it throughout your professional lives. You teach us that in our own way and in our own time, we each learn to adapt, to stay curious and lead ourselves through the changes that life inevitably brings. We are enormously proud and forever thankful of your commitment to stay connected with us.
The last word goes to two of our alumni, Joshua Hupper (Shanghai-based) and Will Riddle (NYC-based), who are featured on the new series, “Making the Cut,” a fashion-design show that will premiere on Amazon Prime on Friday, March 27. They are part of a selected group of 12 established international designers who will compete to become the next global fashion brand. We wish you the very, very best of luck!
Louise Valentine, PhD
Professor | Director of Fashion
Kent State University