Apparel and merchandising student gains valuable experience through a virtual internship

Bee Pettner envisioned a summer living her best life in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. A senior majoring in apparel and merchandising at Colorado State University, she had landed an amazing opportunity to work as a design intern with Kohl’s at its corporate headquarters. She pictured herself touring the campus facilities, shaking hands with her new coworkers, and exploring the city with the rest of the 280 interns from across the country.

Bee Pettner
Pettner draping and sewing her dress for her final project while studying couture techniques at the Paris American Academy in Paris, France.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, triggering lockdown restrictions and pushing the U.S. economy into recession. Compared with many of her peers who had internships canceled, Pettner is among the lucky ones. The national retailer was able to quickly shift gears and convert its program to a virtual format.

So instead of experiencing a new city this summer, Pettner stayed at her home in Fort Collins. With the MacBook and Wacom tablet provided by Kohl’s, she turned her bedroom desk into a remote workstation.

“Although I wish I could be there in person, I’m so incredibly happy to be able to experience it remotely,” Pettner said. “Once everything was up and running, it is almost as real a feeling as in person with great collaboration and connections even in the virtual world.”

Making the most of a virtual internship

Despite the physical distance, Pettner is gaining valuable hands-on experience. Among her many responsibilities as a design intern on the women’s sleepwear team, she works to research trends, provides insight into new styles, creates product alignment documents, and communicates with vendors.

In addition to these daily tasks, Pettner also gets to develop her own product, which could be launched to the market next summer. To get there, though, she has her work cut out for her. Throughout the internship, she will be researching unmet needs in the market of women’s sleepwear and, based on that, designing a mini collection with a sustainability innovation included. The work doesn’t end there. To get her collection into Kohl’s stores, she then needs to pitch her product to leadership, get samples in, and develop a stellar merchandising strategy.

Pettner works from home.
Pettner works at her home office.

“I’m super excited to be part of a company where I can come to the table with new and fresh ideas and be in a place where with the right research to support it, I really see it take form!” Pettner said.

Aside from learning about the business, interns are also provided many professional development opportunities through activities such as Kohl’s Executive Speakers Series. Pettner has been taking full advantage of these resources. She said her biggest takeaway so far is to never stop taking charge of her career and her life.

“My favorite line of poetry is ‘I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul’ from “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley,” Pettner said. “I’m so excited to learn this summer how to take initiative in a work environment, to speak up and out, to contribute and support my team in meaningful ways, and to really take ownership of the path I’m lucky enough to walk.”

Seizing the opportunity with Kohl’s

Fashion internships are highly competitive and not always easy to land. To get her foot in the door, Pettner has actively sought out as many enriching experiences as possible during her time at CSU. Among all the activities, it is her involvement with the Fashion Scholarship Fund competition that led to the opportunity with Kohl’s.

 Pettner with the CSU FSF 2020 winners at the awards dinner in New York City. Pictured left to right: Kevin Kissell, design and merchandising instructor, Jemma Jackman, Bee Pettner, Alexis Davis, Michaela Knollmann, Natalie Schluter, Annie Sautel, and Nick Hoff.
Pettner (third from the left) with the CSU FSF 2020 winners at the awards dinner in New York City in January 2020.

The FSF is an organization that seeks to create career opportunities for talented, young professionals who are looking to join the fashion industry. CSU was selected as one of the 60 FSF accredited member schools across the country, which provides a great platform for students like Pettner to grow and shine. To win the scholarship, students take months out of the year to develop, build, and refine an elaborate case study on the current trends in apparel and merchandising.

Pettner took part in the competition, and she won not once, but twice – both her sophomore and junior years. As a winner, she received an all-expenses-paid trip to New York City, where she attended an awards dinner accompanied by multiple networking events and job fairs. That really helped jumpstart her career.

“At those networking events, I met and have been in contact with Kohl’s recruiters. I learned how amazing their internship program is, and the rest is history!” Pettner said.

A dream in fashion

Born and raised in Fort Collins, Pettner’s passion for apparel design started early. She has been sewing since 6th grade and owned her own Etsy shop for a few years. Even before beginning her formal education in design, she had a strong client base for prom and bridesmaid dresses.

A mother of the groom dress Pettner made for one of her clients.
A mother of the groom dress Pettner made.

“I believe that fashion has the power to truly change people’s perceptions of themselves and outlook on their day,” she said. “We all remember what we wore to graduation, what outfit we chose to nail an interview with, that t-shirt that just makes us feel better when we are sick.”

When it was time for her college search, Pettner was clear on the two things she was looking for: a top-class design program and an iconic collegiate experience, which includes a large campus and a variety of academic areas and extracurricular activities to explore. She was excited to find the perfect fit right in her backyard. “CSU is really the best of both worlds,” Pettner said.

Pettner drawing fashion sketches.
Pettner drawing fashion sketches.

After more than three years’ experience studying in the CSU Department of Design and Merchandising, Pettner knew she made the right decision. “I really think that love is not strong enough of a word to describe my experience,” she said. “The faculty, the curriculum, and the resources are all truly top in the nation.”

Pettner will be graduating this fall and hopes to work for a company where she gets to do what she loves the most – “designing clothes that make people stand taller and feel beautiful.” Eventually, she plans to start her own business with a vision to help combat human trafficking using the vehicle of fashion.

“With an industry this large and an audience this big, I’m excited to be able to combine my passions to really make a difference,” she said.


The Department of Design and Merchandising is part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.