The fashion program is a prevalent part of Iowa State, ranking highly as one of the most popular areas of study behind agriculture, veterinary medicine and science.
Iowa State was ranked number two in the top 50 fashion merchandising schools and colleges in the United States for the 2018 rankings on fashion-schools.org.
The walls of LeBaron Hall, a building near Parks Library on Iowa State’s campus, are lined with case study results, garment displays and success stories of fashion students. This hall is the home to many classrooms and sewing labs that contribute to the success of the apparel, merchandising and design program of the College of Human Sciences.
LeBaron Hall is filled with flyers and posters of opportunities offered to students by the program, such as field studies, Trend Magazine and the Iowa State Fashion Show, a top ranked student fashion event. These are just a few ways students in the fashion program can get involved with the program.
A “life-changing” aspect of this fashion program is the national case study competitions, which faculty encourage students to participate in, according to Jenny Junker, an Iowa State graduate of apparel, merchandising and design.
Iowa State’s fashion program was put on the map again last year as Junker received first place nationally in the YMA Fashion Scholarship, which rewarded her with a $35,000 prize.
“It’s easy to shake off [Iowa State] because it’s the middle of nowhere,” Junker said. “But you are competing in these national competitions, and you’re beating kids from [Fashion Institute and Technology] and California schools; it starts to put you on the same level as them.”
This YMA competition brought Junker $40,000 in total, as she also won $5,000 in the YMA Fashion Scholarship the previous year. Junker said the scholarship money has helped fund her post-graduate move to New York and pay off student loans.
Junker said she had a “beautiful transformation” from freshman to senior year.
“As a freshman, I had no idea what I wanted to do and didn’t ever feel confident,” Junker said. “Then, over the four years, the teachers at Iowa State were really able to enhance that.”
Junker said her confidence started as she entered her sophomore year and became more involved with case studies and student clubs and organizations.
“It’s a really beautiful transformation to go from this scared little girl into having a job locked in by middle of senior year and [winning] a national competition,” Junker said.
Junker is now employed at Ross Brands in New York City and is one of the many Iowa State alumni that have landed jobs at big name companies.
Some of the academic advisers have been with the program since the very beginning. Christine Wise, an academic adviser in the apparel, events and hospitality management department, has been an adviser at Iowa State for almost 20 years.
“It offers Iowa State some really nice exposure when students win these big awards to people in New York City who think that kids can’t go to a fashion program in the middle of the country and excel in the industry,” Wise said. “It proves that the world is anyone’s oyster if you are ambitious enough.”
When Wise started her career, the program had 100 to 200 students and she was the only adviser. The enrollment took off and began to grow as shows such as Project Runway started to gain popularity, according to Wise. The program now has 476 students.
Academic advisers for the program have started to use alumni as connections for current students. Alumni can send emails to Wise and other academic advisers about internships and other opportunities in the fashion industry that may be available for Iowa State students.
Wise said one way Iowa State differentiates itself from other universities is its AESHM (apparel, events and hospitality management) Internship Fair. Faculty in the apparel, events and hospitality management department request students who have interned to set up a booth for younger students to hear about their experience and see what opportunities are out there.
“I don’t see any other schools doing anything like that,” Wise said.
As the program continues its success and growth, Wise said she and other staff members are discussing ways to further advance the program. They are looking at what students are interested in and where the fashion industry is going.
Wise said she has been emotionally impacted by both the success of students who have won scholarships and those who have “endured hardship.”
“Sometimes glorious achievement comes in ordinary ways,” Wise said.