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The independent news website of The Kent Stater & TV2


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School of fashion celebrates 40 years of ‘innovation and achievement’

Changes were made inside of Rockwell Hall, the home for the School of Fashion.

Kent, Ohio, is likely not the first place to come to mind when considering a fashion school location. Ranked the #8 fashion design school in the U.S. and the #1 fashion design school in the Midwest, the School of Fashion has spent four decades making a name for itself.

Funded by designers Shannon Rodgers and Jerry Silverman, the School of Fashion, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, first opened in 1983 alongside the fashion Museum.

“40 years is a pretty incredible achievement, especially because it started as a standalone school,” said J.R. Campbell, director of the school from 2009-2018.

Rodgers, born in Newcomerstown, Ohio, began his career in costume design before being hired as a designer for Silverman. Rodgers and Silverman turned Jerry Silverman, Inc. into a fashion design company.

Closing in on retirement, the pair had collected many fashion pieces and wished to donate the collection to a university in hopes of opening a museum. Rodgers also wanted to keep the collection in his home state of Ohio.

After discussions with the university and agreeing to open a stand-alone fashion school, Kent State received the necessary funding from the pair. Soon after, Rockwell Hall was turned into the School of Fashion and the KSU Museum.


Classes mimic real world 

Home to nearly 2,000 students, the School of Fashion offers majors in fashion design and fashion merchandising, along with a minor in fashion media. 

Fashion design students can choose from classes such as history of costume, fashion drawing, fashion fabrics and sustainable fashion thinking. Fashion merchandising students are offered classes such as fashion branding, global fashion value chain and fashion apparel analysis.

Students complete building block courses to prepare them for Studio 1 and 2, a six-credit studio course where students get hands-on experience.

“You can take all the skills you’ve learned and kind of have free rein with your work,” said Nicole Farmer, a senior fashion design student.

The school also heavily emphasizes technology in the fashion industry, Campbell said. 

Located inside Rockwell Hall, the TechStyleLAB features a variety of digital fabrication tools open for student use. 

“We found a way to integrate all these tools and technologies into one environment and make them accessible to everybody,” he said. “It was actually pretty jaw dropping to see what things Kent State has that aren’t so present in other parts of the world.”

Farmer uses the lab for printouts for the patterns they’ve made, which can be costly outside of campus, she said.

“I think it’s an insanely useful resource for fashion students on campus at a discounted rate,” she said.


Students study away

According to Campbell, requiring fashion students to complete a study away program was one of the most significant changes the fashion school has seen in the last 20 years. 

According to its website, Kent State is the only fashion school to require a study away program for graduation.

Marley Dengler poses in front of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) (Courtesy of Marley Dengler)
Junior fashion design major Kaitlyn Graham models an outfit she designed (Courtesy of Kaitlyn Graham)

“We had to work through a lot,” he said. “We did a lot of fundraising to think about how we can support students who are financially challenged and otherwise weren’t able to study abroad. But what we found in the end was that it wasn’t as much of a worry because even for students who were struggling financially, it is still the most common reason that any student chooses to come to Kent.”

Students can choose to study away in the United States at locations in New York and Los Angeles. Outside of the U.S., students can study abroad in Florence, Paris, Hong Kong, London and South Korea. 

“The creation of the studio created this kind of conduit for students from here to get comfortable with the city and to get more connected to employers,” Campbell said.

Students complete a study away, hoping to immerse themselves in a new culture and learn about fashion from local professors. 

“We continue to be recognized for providing a really great framework for students to enter the industry,” Campbell said.

Junior Kaitlyn Graham, currently studying fashion design in Florence, recommended that all students participate in a study abroad program.  

“The professors are really amazing, and they work with each of us individually,” she said. “They’ve taught me so many new skills – it’s really cool. It’s a lot of hard work and very late nights, but it’s worth it if you love it, and I love it. I’m passionate about it.”

Senior Marley Dengler, who has studied in Los Angeles and Florence, said her study-away experience helped her determine what interested her in the fashion industry.

During Dengler’s experience in Los Angeles, she visited the mansion of James Goldstein and the Alexander McQueen exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Dengler said the Los Angeles trip focused on architecture and fashion. 

“The trip was the perfect glimpse of the LA area, with staying in Santa Monica right on the pier and beach and visiting Beverly Hills, Malibu and the Sunset Strip,” she said. “It was overall such an amazing trip that I will cherish and always look back on.”


Alumni share experiences

According to The School of Fashion’s website, over 5,000 alumni are working in the fashion industry. Tiarra Reddick, a 2021 graduate, was hired at Nordstrom as a merchandise specialist soon after graduation.

“I didn’t think I would get a job so fast, especially working for Nordstrom,” she said. “I was ready because Kent prepared me to be ready, and I took it, and I ran with it.” 

She said the school helped prepare her for numerous aspects of her career in the fashion industry. 

Kent prepared me for a lot of things academic-wise,” she said, “but also building me and my character as a person and in the fashion school – just getting you ready for the fashion industry.”

Madison Cline, a 2014 graduate, works as a freelance designer for Coachtopia, Coach’s circular line and as a designer for Junior’s socks and hosiery line.

Because of her semester away in New York City, Cline said she felt more comfortable moving to the city after graduation.

“I probably would have been very intimidated to come live in New York City if I hadn’t done the program,” Cline said. “Because of the program, I was able to make so many connections in New York.”

The school’s professors also helped prepare Cline for the industry, she said. 

“All the professors were so amazing and helpful to help shape my career, and they were always there for me,” she said.

Kelsie Horner is a reporter. Contact her at [email protected].

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About the Contributor
Kelsie Horner, Assistant Managing Editor
Kelsie is a senior journalism major with a minor in communications. In her three semesters at KentWired, she has served as a Digital Tech, Digital Editor and Assistant Managing Editor.
Contact her at [email protected].

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