KSU’s prestigious fashion school adds exclusive graduate program

Professor Catherine Leslie will be the director of the new Fashion Masters Program which will be available for fall 2014 semester. Photo by Chelsae Ketchum.

Professor Catherine Leslie will be the director of the new Fashion Masters Program which will be available for fall 2014 semester. Photo by Chelsae Ketchum.

Bruce Walton

Kent State’s internationally ranked fashion school has made history with the first graduate program of its kind in the country.

The state’s Board of Regents unanimously approved the move to add a Master’s degree in Fashion last Friday after faculty members made the case for the program and took questions from representatives of other universities. The degree, set to enroll students next fall, is a large step forward in American fashion education and another achievement for the school, said director J.R. Campbell.

“The nice thing is that we are both financially and pedagogically strong right now,” Campbell said. “I think we will continue on down this path of strength; which will allow us to become more recognized as leaders in both fashion education and innovation for our industry.”

Enrollment has tripled in the last decade. In 2011, fashion news site Fashionistas ranked the school fourth in the U.S., and the state named it an Ohio Center of Excellence.

Although fashion school faculty first imagined the program more than a decade ago, Campbell’s leadership brought the program to fruition in recent years. Faculty realized the need for students to earn a degree that encompassed both the merchandising and design aspects of fashion study.

Until the proposal is in effect, students interested in fashion merchandising or design can only earn masters in another college’s program. Merchandising students can earn a Master of Science or Business Administration degree, while those in fashion design can earn a Master of Fine Arts or Design degree.

“I think what the biggest challenge was, for the faculty as a whole, figuring out what degree [to create] and how to approach that,” Campbell said. “We are a faculty that has both design and merchandising. A simple approach might have been to create an M.A. or MFA. that’s focused on design, or maybe a MBA that better addresses the methods in merchandising, but neither of those are perfect for the other.”

After a long debate, the faculty decided to create a collective, singular degree for fashion as a whole.

According to the proposal, the criteria set for this new degree will be suitable for both fashion design and merchandising students. Supplementing academic studies with experiential learning, MFASH will allow students the opportunity for real-world training while reaching their degree.

Once the faculty set the foundation for MFASH, the School of Fashion went through the process of writing a detailed proposal about the program and presenting it to the Ohio Board of Regents’ Advisory Committee on Graduate Study in July. The committee consisted of the representatives from all of the universities all Ohio institutions that grant graduate level degrees.

After the faculty presented the proposal to the committee, representatives asked questions and expressed their thoughts on the program, expressing concern as to whether such a unique program would do well and attract enough students.

After all the questions had been answered, the faculty left the room and waited for the committee to reach a conclusion. The entire board unanimously approved the degree.

“I felt pretty strongly that we were going to do OK, but the idea of being a unanimous vote was not even entering my mind,” Campbell said.

Students and alumni are already looking to apply. Aire Plichta, 2005 Kent State alumna and fashion press specialist at women’s clothing retailer Mod Cloth, decided to return to school after she read about the program on Campbell’s blog.

“I’ve been able to experience a lot of growth that [Mod Cloth has] gone through,” Plichta said. “But I think staying ahead of the game in the industry would make me a more well-rounded employee, not just now, but for the future as well.”

According to the MFASH proposal, the program will require at least 30 credit hours per semester. Students will choose from several new required courses for the degree such as Theories in Fashion, Research Methods and Fashion: A Unifying Lens.

The program will primarily focus on experiential classes, making sure students have practical training. Fashion design as well as merchandising faculty will teach required classes.

The School of Fashion did establish ties with the College of Business for a Master of Business Administration with a fashion concentration, but the classes were all under the College of Business Administration.

Campbell said he thought that the degree will shift attention to the school both nationally and internationally as having the latest original fashion program.

“Our aspiration is to be recognized among the top fashion schools,” Campbell said. “I feel like we don’t need to be recognized as number one because it doesn’t leave us anywhere to go.”

Potential applicants for MFASH must have a minimum GPA of 3.0 to enroll. Applicants must also present a statement of career and/or academic goals and a writing sample. They also must submit a design portfolio or merchandising/business thesis and three letters of recommendation.

Contact Bruce Walton at [email protected].