First of three candidates for Fashion Chair speak to department

By Ariana Portalatin, Campus Editor

The first of three candidates in the running to fill the Fashion Studies Chair position, empty for nearly two academic years, spoke to staff, faculty and students about her previous experience and her ambitions for the department if she were to receive the position.

Sookhyun Kim, current associate professor in the Fashion Merchandising and Design Department at California State University, spoke to about 25 attendees, almost all of whom were associated with the Fashion Studies Department, during her April 7 presentation at the 623 S. Wabash Ave. Building.

The chair will replace Jeff Schiff, who holds the position at an interim level and gained attention following the proposed cancellation of the department’s BFA program last summer.

Kim said she first heard about the position after attending the annual International Textile and Apparel Association conference. Kim added that one of the elements of Columbia that was interesting to her was the size of the Fashion Studies Department, 600 students in Fall 2016, according to the Institutional Effectiveness website.

“There must be some reason 600 students choose the Fashion Studies Department here; there are a lot of strengths I see here,” Kim said.

Throughout the presentation Kim spoke about the current state of Columbia, including both its strengths and weaknesses, possible improvements that could be made—like implementing more technology-driven classes and improved international outreach—and her own previous experiences.

Before working at CSU, Kim taught in several other college fashion departments including the Johnson and Whales University in North Carolina from 2010-2015, the University of Rhode Island from 2004-2010 and Central Michigan University from2003-2004.

Dean of the School of Fine and Performing Arts , Onye Ozuzu, said the chair of department is an important point of communication and collaboration with staff members, members of the dean’s office and even chairs from other departments. She added that the candidate presentations allow members of the college who interact with the chair regularly to meet potential chairs.

“All of those various stakeholders have the opportunity to come to hear the person speak, to speak about their experiences, their reasons for becoming interested and becoming a part of the Columbia College Academic community and their vision for leadership of the particular department that they are interviewing for the chair position of,” Ozuzu said.

After Kim’s presentation, attendees were asked to give anonymous feedback about the candidate through ballots that will be considered by the Fashion Studies Chair Committee, a group of faculty members in the department who will vote on the final candidate. After the finalists are voted upon by the committee, both the provost and the dean of the school will make the final decision, according Columbia’s faculty handbook.

Debra Duggen, adjunct professor in the Fashion Studies Department who attended Kim’s presentation, said the candidate presentations are important to the process because they allow for transparency within the department and for faculty and staff members to be aware of who is being considered for the position.

Duggen said she was apprehensive about the feedback process, questioning how the audience’s opinions will be used and recognizing that only the chair committee has the ability to vote on the final decision.

“Hopefully, people are listening to us,” Duggen said. “We haven’t had great success [in the past].”

Two other candidates scheduled to give presentations throughout April are Colbey Reid, an administrative director and professor at North Carolina State University, and Joseph Hancock, a professor in the Design Department at Drexel University in Pennsylvania. Reid is scheduled to give his presentation on April 10 at Stage Two in the 618 S. Michigan Ave. Building, and in the same location, Hancock will give his presentation April 20.

Kim said if she were to get the position she would need to provide information and work with faculty for them to realize that parts of the department need to change so the learning process is more valuable to students.

“There is no such thing as a smooth process if you want to change the traditional system, but we have to emphasize the trend of the academic area and industry area,” Kim said.


Updated 6:20 p.m., April 17 

The Fashion Department’s second chair candidate, Colbey Emmerson Reid, gave her presentation, titled “The Future of Storytelling” to discuss the intersection of storytelling in the fashion industry.

Reid, who presented April 10 at Stage Two, 618 S. Michigan Ave., is director and co-founder of the North Carolina State University’s Consumer Innovation Consortium and a professor of practice in it. She holds a doctorate in English Literature from the University of Washington.

Focusing on storytelling in fashion, Reid’s lecture included designer Gary Graham’s 2004 collection inspired by Willa Cather’s 1918 novel “My Ántonia,” which tells the story of immigrants living on prairie farms in Nebraska.

“You see contemporized, modernized versions of characters and an entire novelist style brought to life through the collection,” Reid said. “I see this as a reading of a historical novel offered in fashion form. That’s something that I think could be really cool in the context of college curriculum.”

During an April 12 interview with The Chronicle, Reid said she thinks the position approaches fashion through means other than design, like business and marketing, history, societal significance and even in a biological or medical sense.

Reid added that she thinks it is important to work with partners, both interdisciplinary and with groups outside of the college.

“I would like to bring business partnerships to Columbia so students can learn things in a problem-solving context, partnered with somebody outside of the college,” Reid said. “One of the big things that I hope to bring to Columbia is an opportunity to think about fashion in the context of technology and medicine, not just clothing and accessories, and getting companies connected with Columbia so that they can tap our resources and so Columbia could tap their resources.”

Alexandra Rovetto, junior fashion studies major who attended the presentation, said she thought Reid’s presentation was interesting but was not sure whether she was the best chair candidate.

“It seems like she doesn’t know the exact issues of what’s going on at Columbia and she needs to be informed of them,” Rovetto said.

Junior fashion studies major Alejandra Manzo said she prefers the chair to be someone with more connections to the industry.

Rovetto said she hopes to see expansion of the program under the new chair once they are selected.

“Expansion is the most important thing because Columbia’s  a fantastic school and nobody knows about it,” Rovetto said. “For me, visual merchandising is my goal, so I would love to see those courses get expanded, [also] an interior design course, or just something to expand the current program.”

Onye Ozuzu, dean of the School of Fine and Performing Arts, said in an April 7 interview that feedback from the audience is given to the search committee, as well as the provost and dean of the school. She added that the Fashion Department requested an external chair search, which can ultimately benefit the department.

“It’s a great opportunity to add a new, full-time faculty member, tenured track faculty member to their ranks,” Ozuzu said. “Expanding the faculty of a department expands that department’s range of expertise, network of connections and ability to face the academic enterprise.”

The next chair presentation will be April 20 at Stage Two, 618 S. Michigan Ave., for candidate Joe Hancock.


Updated 7:30 p.m., April 27 

The Fashion Department’s third and final chair candidate, Joseph Hancock, gave a presentation on the fashion industry April 20 and shared ideas about  Strategic Plan implementation.

Hancock, a professor at Drexel University in Philadelphia, received a doctorate in Consumer Sciences with focuses in Cultural Studies and Communication from Ohio State University and has also worked for Target Corp., The Limited, Inc. and Gap Inc. in management and consulting positions.

Hancock discussed the importance of networking, which he said led to all three industry positions.

“I always tell students I’ve always been at the right place at the right time or I’ve been networking, and I think that’s key,” Hancock said. “Any job I’ve ever applied for, including this one, I’ve been referred to by somebody who’s said, ‘You should apply for this job.'”

He said the Strategic Plan could be implemented by asking alumni how Columbia can improve, examining industry trends and eventually requiring work experience or industry internships as a condition of graduation.

“I believe we’re preparing students for careers,” Hancock said. “That doesn’t mean we’re preparing them for one singular, linear career, but we’re preparing them for a life of careers.”

Hancock also discussed courses he teaches at Drexel, where he has worked as an assistant professor, associate professor and professor since 2004. His courses include “Survey of the Fashion Industry,” “Retail Image Analysis,” “Writing for the Fashion Industries” and “Diversification in Fashion Markets.”

Hancock said he mostly teaches adults who are continuing their education.

“I’ve taught adult learners, and I actually like that because I find them to be very challenging and at the same time they help me a lot, because they have a lot of work experience they can share with the class,” Hancock said.

Hancock said his idea of diversity at a college includes hiring people with different ideas as well different backgrounds.

Fielding audience questions, Hancock said he was interested in coming to Columbia because of its similarities to Drexel.

“It’s kind of like the next step for me,” Hancock said. “Columbia is the type of institution I can relate to because It’s an experiential, hands-on college, very similar to where I am now.”

Hancock added that his goal as chair would be for Columbia to become the fashion education center of the Midwest.

“That would be my personal [goal]; When you say, ‘fashion,’ and ‘Midwest’ people say, ‘Columbia College,’” Hancock said. “I want to take the business from any other school and make Columbia the go-to place.”

Duggen said she hopes the college chooses a candidate who understands departmental issues and faculty concerns.

“I feel like fashion feels pretty beaten down, even though we’ve done tons of research about what other good schools are doing,” Duggen said. “I hope we get somebody that understands how important the classes are that we are about to lose. I have worked in the industry at least ten years before I started teaching and have taught for many years now. I know what I’m talking about.”