New fashion school director brings worldly ideas, looks to build Web site

Sarah James

Campbell says he’ll try to shine program on international stage

When J.R. Campbell, the new director of the School of Fashion Design and Merchandising, took the position, active communication was his top priority.

“The main thing is to build a better awareness of the fashion school, the quality that we can provide and the value in coming to our programs,” he said. “The main way to connect to our international audiences is through an updated and innovative Web site.”

Campbell took the position July 1, after previous director Elizabeth Rhodes retired. Rhodes was on contract as director emeritus to smooth the transition, but Campbell was able to meet with Rhodes only once before she passed away July 23.

The search for the new director was an international affair. Before he was hired, Campbell was on staff at the Glasgow School of Art in Scotland.

Campbell’s goal is not to diminish Rhodes’ legacy. He said he intends to maintain the quality Rhodes worked hard to build during her 15-year tenure.

“We were not afraid to look everywhere,” said professor Vincent Quevedo. “We wanted the best person for the job, to direct the school towards being one of the best fashion schools not only in the country, but worldwide.”

In addition to an effective communications plan, Campbell will create a Doctorate of Design program, a degree firmly rooted in practice and research.

“If one asks a research question in design, then there should be a way to embed the question in the practice, or to use the practice as a means to answer the question,” Campbell said. “The end result of the research might not be to display work, but that work was integral in its method to answering the research question.”

Campbell said he hopes to achieve a larger vision by focusing more on the role of research in all of its disciplines. He intends to better communicate the strengths of the school with the outside world by developing a more dynamic web presence.

To better answer research questions, Campbell said he has plans to transform Rockwell Hall into a technology hub accessible to students, faculty and the public. Additions will include wide format digital textile printers, digital embroidery machines and potentially whole garment knitting machines. Existing tools will be cultivated and given a more visible role in the building.

Campbell said he hopes to set the fashion school on an international stage through the use of technology.

“We will have to do some ground work by traveling and meeting with other institutions that we can potentially link to,” Campbell said.

Currently, the fashion school has study-abroad programs rooted in Italy, Hong Kong and New York. Campbell stated it is important for fashion students to gain an international perspective in their design work.

In addition to strengthening communication, Campbell aims to host a lunch once a week to get to know students and get feedback on the fashion school in an informal setting.

“Students need to know our school director is assessable,” Quevedo said. “The director needs to understand the student’s concerns and issues that he will do his best to find the answers, if he doesn’t know (the answers).”

Contact fashion reporter Sarah James at [email protected].