Fashion FUNdamentals program builds STEM skills through middle schoolers’ love of fashion

Video by Ashur Lockrem

Combining science and fashion education is what makes the Fashion FUNdamentals summer program special. The two-week camp, hosted by the Department of Design and Merchandising at Colorado State University, is designed to increase interest in both creative thinking and the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields.

Through technical and social programming, Fashion FUNdamentals provides hands-on lessons and activities for the middle-schoolers to increase their confidence in the classroom and in themselves. This year, 18 participants took part in the program, which aims to serve underrepresented youth.

Combining STEM and style

Back this year after a hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the program illuminates the science and math behind fashion and promotes middle schoolers’ interest in STEM through a creative lens. While teaching participants about the techniques of apparel design, the FUNdamentals program also gives youth an opportunity to study the chemistry of fibers, apply math skills when analyzing apparel and merchandise pricing, learn how to digitally construct their own store, and use Photoshop for textile printmaking.

At a sewing table, a Fashion FUNdamentals participant watches her instructor demonstrate sewing techniques on a sewing machine.
Fashion FUNdamentals participants got the opportunity to sharpen their craft in apparel construction, among many other apparel design disciplines.

In addition, participants were given the chance to learn skills in areas such as apparel construction, digital textile printing, 3D body scanning, and laser cutting, as well as to participate in activities designed to promote health, movement, and positive body image.

“We specifically try to engage middle school students because middle school is that period in life where science and technology become trickier and less engaging,” program manager Sara Dudek said. “Fashion is a very approachable field…the goal is to increase student interest in science and technology through the fashion fields and to also increase self-confidence.”

The middle schoolers also spent time in the Avenir Museum of Design and Merchandising to learn about the history of dress from around the world and how to preserve historic costumes and textiles for decades to come.

As a part of the Fashion FUNdamentals’ social programming, participants engaged in dance activities at the University Center for the Arts, designed their own t-shirts with unique, body-positive messages, and visited the Kendall Reagan Nutrition Center to make a healthy snack and learn about nutritious eating habits.

“One of the things I really enjoy about Fashion FUNdamentals is it gives adolescents a chance to combine the arts with STEM learning in a hands-on setting,” said Karen Hyllegard, chair of the Department of Design and Merchandising and co-founder of the program.

Growing the program

The Fashion FUNdamentals team is grateful for the kind support of Dave Folkes through the Kathryn T. Bohannon Fund as well as other private donors. Thanks to the generous contributions of donors, the program was able to grow its staff and provide new activities for the participants this year.

“Dave Folkes’s most recent contribution has allowed us to expand the program in many different ways,” said Jen Ogle, a professor in the Department of Design and Merchandising and co-founder of the program. “This gift has allowed us to hire Sara Dudek as the program manager and has also allowed us to involve more diverse faculty and student mentors to develop more technical and social programs. Dave’s gift has also inspired us to form a partnership with the Human-Animal Bond in Colorado program.”

Through the Human-Animal Bond in Colorado partnership, the students created bandanas for the dogs and were able to interact with the therapy animals.

At the end of the program, all the participants modeled their designs – which included both tote bags and pants created in the apparel engineering and construction units – in a fashion show that celebrated their hard work and creativity.

A Fashion FUNdamentals participant models her designs on the runway of the Richardson Design Center.
At the end of the program, participants got to model their designs on the runway at the Richardson Design Center.

“Our hope is when students leave the Fashion FUNdamentals program that they leave ready to tackle anything,” said Dudek. “I think a lot of students start off uncertain [about how to use] Photoshop, but they’re all immensely capable and creative people who are just getting started in life and our program helps them recognize they can tackle anything they set their minds to.”

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