School of Fashion Design’s director retires after 15 years of service at KSU

Sarah Blei

Rhodes brought the school international prominence, integrity

A journey of 15 years for Elizabeth Rhodes has come to an end as director of the School of Fashion Design and Merchandising. But she leaves behind great successes.

Rhodes’ vision was to link the fashion school internationally. She created the New York City Studio, as well as exchange programs with universities in London, Hong Kong, New Delhi and a Florence, Italy, study-abroad program for fashion students.

“One of the things I wanted very much was the vision of being connected to the industry,” Rhodes said. “Not just limiting ourselves to Ohio, but let’s think of the world – where we can be a player in the world.”

Jessie Lynn Clayborn, junior fashion merchandising major, got the opportunity to study abroad through the fashion program.

“Studying abroad also taught me life learning experiences, and I had wonderful contacts with people from the fashion industry that not everyone gets the chance to do,” she said. “Going to Kent for fashion, I was hoping to broaden my horizons and have more opportunities of getting a great job in the fashion industry, while also having a great education for fashion as well.”

This is what Rhodes wanted to accomplish for students who went through the fashion program at Kent State.

“It was all about this school getting recognized as a prominent player,” Rhodes said. “That whole connection to the industry was always a goal of mine.”

Sarah Stannard, senior fashion merchandising major, said the initiatives Rhodes pushed account for the standing the school has in the fashion world.

“Dr. Rhodes put our program and our school on the map in the fashion industry. If it weren’t for her, this program would not be nearly as recognized as it is,” Stannard said. “With that being said, she improved everything within the school to gain the reputation that we have right now.

“She has hired an incredible faculty that I will keep in touch with for many years and by bringing all the opportunities to study abroad has really done so much for the fashion school. I think she has changed more lives than she could ever imagine,” said Stannard.

Over the course of Rhodes’ years of being director, she managed to increase enrollment from about 300 to 1,000 students and created a solid foundation of part-time and full-time faculty members.

“It’s exciting to me in a way to reflect – as I take my pictures off the wall and all my stuff out of the windowsill and try to clean this up – that we are bringing in a person who I think is very alike and very different from who I am,” Rhodes said.

The next director for the School of Fashion Design and Merchandising will be J.R. Campbell, a research fellow at the Glasgow School of Art.

Stannard hopes for the new director to preserve the reputation of the fashion school and continue Rhodes’ vision about the program.

Rhodes wanted to establish a graduate program during her time at Kent State, but said doing so takes years.

“I regret to say as I leave we don’t have a graduate program,” she said. “We are sitting on top of some dynamite faculty and it needs to be done.”

Sarah Lanctot, junior fashion merchandising major, said the opportunities she has had wouldn’t have been possible without Rhodes.

“I would like to let her know that we students really appreciate all of the opportunities she has given us. I really think studying in New York for a semester will be one of the highlights of my life, not just my educational career,” Lanctot said. “Without her that wouldn’t have been possible.”

Rhodes said there are some things she will miss about being director.

“I will probably miss just coming in every day; just seeing the students and faculty and facing the challenges of the day,” she said. “I think the students have always kept me young – even if I am not physically young. Certainly, just being here and hearing what they say and seeing what they do and how they dress.”

Stannard said she will remember Rhodes for all the successes she has brought to Kent State.

“I will remember Dr. Rhodes as a powerful woman that I will always look up to – somebody who changed our school so much for the better and has managed to remain a kind human being,” she said. “And most of all, I’ll remember her as a hero for everything she has done as a woman.”

Contact the School of Fashion Design and Merchandising Sarah Blei at [email protected].