Kent State University junior Stephanie Newton successfully juggles a tough schedule that includes taking classes in hospitality management, while raising four children and working several campus dining services jobs.
It is no surprise that she does not have the resources to build the professional wardrobe needed to successfully interview for internships that will bring her closer to her dream of owning a restaurant.
That is where the Kent State Career Closet filled the gap for Ms. Newton.
The Career Closet collects, organizes and distributes professional attire that has been donated by faculty, staff and alumni to help university students dress for the success for which their education is preparing them.
This free boutique in Kent State’s Women’s Center provides students and alumni with up to three items of clothing every semester, and the only requirement is to show their FLASHcard.
Since the Career Closet launched in March in the lower level of Williamson House, 55 student shoppers have received professional clothing and almost 30 donors have contributed, said Alicia Robinson, assistant director of the Women’s Center.
When Ms. Newton had an interview to work in the area of student registration for Destination Kent State last spring, she went to the Career Closet and found a navy-blue jacket and skirt, a light blue blouse and kitten heels.
She aced the interview and got the job.
“When I applied for the position for Destination Kent State, I saw how they were dressed and I wanted to mimic that,” Ms. Newton recalled. “The supervisors that interviewed me were amazed by my transformation because they are only used to seeing me in my dining services attire. To say that my confidence went out of the roof is an understatement.”
The Kent State Career Closet is a collaboration between the Women’s Center, LaunchNET Kent State and Career Exploration and Development. Tabitha Martin, venture initiatives advisor at LaunchNET Kent State, said the idea was conceived last year at the grand opening of the Women’s Center when someone said they have career clothing that they no longer use.
“We were in a great big space,” Ms. Martin said. “I said ‘Wouldn’t it be a nice thing to have career clothing for students here? I roped in Alicia (Robinson) and brought Career Exploration in. Instead of talking about it, I said ‘Let’s do this’ We were shocked. There were alums calling and emailing and asking if they could ship clothing.”
When students live in jeans, leggings and sweats, not many of them have $50 to buy a blazer. There is no stigma to come to the Career Closet, Ms. Martin said.
“Anyone can come and shop and get three things. If the clothes don’t work, come back and swap them out. We keep things modern and professional.”
The need for students to have access to professional clothing has been a conversation between Kent State departments that serve students and departments that can provide a venue of support, said Patty Robinson, director of TRIO Upward Health Professions & Math Science in Kent State’s Division of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion. She said when eInside announced the collaboration, she shared the new resource with Upward Bound alumni.
“This initiative is one way that the university is placing students first,” Ms. Robinson said. “The donation process is multi-faceted – my donation not only supplied the closet, but it allowed me to open up my closet and invite someone in. It is more than clothing, it is a mindset.”
Nichole DeCaprio, associate counsel in Kent State’s Office of General Counsel, said donating to the Career Closet is an easy way to invest in the success of the university’s students.
“Professional clothes can be expensive, but they go a long way in making a good impression on potential employers,” Ms. DeCaprio said. “If my contribution can help make a student’s job search a little easier, then I’m happy to do it. The Women’s Center is providing a great resource for students, and I would encourage other faculty or staff to consider donating.”
Ms. Robinson said the Career Closet is in need of small and curvier sizes, as well as clothing racks for pop-up shops, such as the one that was held in September at the Internship, Co-Op & Career Fair. And one of its long term goals is to find a sponsor for dry cleaning.
And recently, the Career Closet started a small section of suit jackets, ties and shirts for men.
“It’s coming together beautifully,” Ms. Robinson said. “It’s creating a buzz. It’s coming full circle. People are saying, ‘Oh, I got this from the Career Closet and I wore it to a job interview. I got the job.’”
The Career Closet is one of several new programs making a difference in the lives of students and alumni under the university Career Exploration and Development.
For more information on the Career Closet and other programs to help students succeed in the business world and beyond, visit www.kent.edu/womenscenter/career-closet or call 330-672-2360.