Article by Julia Hanselman
Colorado State University alumni were invited to speak to students at the University during the Emerging Leaders in Apparel and Merchandising panel discussion on Thursday, Oct. 13, at the Nancy Richardson Design Center. Department of Design and Merchandising alumni Alli Haltom (’02), who is a foodservice director with PepsiCo, and Nelson English (’12), who is a West/Midwest territory manager for microfiber company PrimaLoft, shared their experiences and perspectives with current students.
The annual event is supported by donations from Antigone Kotsiopulos, who worked at CSU from 1979 to 2006 as an associate dean in the College of Health and Human Sciences and professor and department head in the Department of Design and Merchandising. She attended the discussion along with her husband Jerry Culp, a CSU retiree. Karen Hyllegard, professor and department head in design and merchandising, coordinated the event.
The Emerging Leaders Panel Discussion began last year with the goal of bringing alumni working in the merchandising field in particular to interact with students. Kotsiopulos described the event as one that works to “bring experiences to the students that they might not have otherwise had. Not everyone gets to go do an internship or not everybody gets to go visit a company, so the money is used to bring people here.”
One of the main advantages of these panels is the relevance of the speakers’ experiences to countless areas of apparel and merchandising. “I’m interested in the sustainability aspect of it,” said Pixel Mikulich, a senior at CSU majoring in apparel and merchandising with a product development concentration, “and trying to make it a better industry because it’s one of the main polluting industries in the world… It’s really important to me to get into this field and work to push that,” she said.
The Kotsiopulos Education Enhancement Fund’s goal is to open up opportunities for students to make a difference in their field by gaining experience.
“Both Jerry and I, at times in our lives, were internship coordinators, and so that’s really important to us,” said Kotsiopulos. “We think that having the students have some exposure to industry and what the real world is like is a good thing, and if it’s a bad experience, you know what you don’t want to do.”
Creating an environment where advice can be freely given to students is integral to success regardless of academic achievement. “It’s been wonderful because I think it’s opened the students’ eyes to many different opportunities and career paths and greater understanding and appreciation for how you might get there,” said Hyllegard. “We reach out to alumni we remember fondly. They don’t necessarily have to be top students… Sometimes I think students think that if they don’t have straight A’s [and] if they don’t have a whole list of experiences in terms of work or leadership activities, then maybe they won’t have the same opportunities. But I think when that first opportunity comes your way, work hard.”
The Department of Design and Merchandising is part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.