Video by Melanie Chaffey and Ashur Lockrem
Combining creative expression with foundational principles of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), Fashion FUNdamentals works as a fantastic introduction for middle school students to exciting education and career paths, while bolstering confidence and self-esteem. Hosted by the Department of Design and Merchandising at Colorado State University, this summer enrichment program is designed to ignite participants’ interest and learning in STEM through the lens of fashion, a STEM-based discipline.
During the two-week program, Fashion FUNdamentals provides hands-on experience and activities that make the STEM fields more approachable and accessible. This program is a great opportunity for middle school students to not only build their confidence but to envision possibilities for their future and learn that they are truly capable of anything they put their mind to. This year’s program hosted 32 participants, ranging in age from 10 to 13, from June 13-24.
Getting college experience
The driving focus of Fashion FUNdamentals is making the program accessible to middle school students by providing them with experiences that incorporate some of the basic STEM content of the undergraduate Design and Merchandising program at CSU.
“We take some of the more fundamental aspects of each of the classes that college students take and just break it down to a two-week summary that is achievable and applicable to middle school students,” Fashion FUNdamentals program manager Sara Dudek said.
Students at Fashion FUNdamentals participated in a variety of activities, using STEM to illuminate the world of fashion. The program included sessions where the students were able to do everything from 3D body scanning to examining fibers under a microscope.
Along with those activities, Fashion FUNdamentals provided students with the chance to participate in burn tests for fiber identification, design a retail store using industry-grade software, develop skills in textile design and apparel construction, and become educated on media literacy and the way that body positivity and images relate to fashion.
All these activities work to foster both self-confidence and community values where students create “clothes that fit their bodies rather than trying to make their bodies fit the clothes,” Dudek said.
During a developmental period, such as middle school, it is crucial to not only teach students STEM skills, but to ensure that their love of fashion is accompanied by body positivity and self-acceptance.
Building community and skills
Fashion FUNdamentals is possible thanks to generous private support from Dave Folkes in honor of his late wife, Kathryn Bohannon, and the Bohemian Foundation. CSU partner programs including Kendall Reagan Nutrition Center in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition and Human-Animal Bond in Colorado (HABIC), a center in the School of Social Work, enhanced the experience with social programming.
Along with these donors, this camp allowed participants to explore resources on campus. Students engaged with “one of the greatest collections of historic textiles and historic dress in the country” in the Avenir Museum of Design and Merchandising.
Students also used cutting-edge technology in the Nancy Richardson Design Center, including digital textile printers and laser cutters. Throughout their time, participants used the sewing and computer labs located in the Gifford Building and headed to the Kendall Reagan Nutrition Center where they applied nutrition science to making healthy snacks.
These experiences all led to the culminating reception where students showcased their skills and creativity by displaying their crafted garments to their families and friends.
Students at Fashion FUNdamentals gained lifelong skills and connections to their peers and instructors. Each participant’s pride in their work and new knowledge were evident at the reception.
“We really build a great community through the two weeks we have Fashion FUNdamentals,” Dudek said.
“Fashion FUNdamentals is an opportunity for students to build confidence in those fields and have some real hands-on experiences where they can see they’re capable of doing absolutely anything,” Dudek said. Fashion FUNdamentals worked to not only teach middle school students crucial STEM skills but also provided them with a strong foundation and self-confidence to pursue their own creative, STEM-inspired educational and career paths.