At the end of June, I had the honor of serving as “celebrity guest” at the program conclusion of one week’s Summer Textile Exploration Program (STEP).  Talk about the highlight of my summer!  Plus, I got to help judge a student-run fashion show.  (More about that later.)

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The STEP program is held in the College of Textiles’ world renowned facilities, located on North Carolina State University’s Centennial Campus.  Rising high school juniors and seniors from all over the country apply for this week-long emersion program that gives students a “real” taste of college life during the summer.  They get a chance “to see, feel, and experience NC State’s College of Textiles where new technologies are being developed to benefit the industry.”  Students choose an area of exploration that interests them from a variety of concentrations such as fabric design, apparel design, chemistry and business.  Lucky me witnessed the Friday wrap-up presentation for all four groups over a catered lunch in a room filled with parents, students, faculty, mentors and College of Textiles Dean Bland Godfrey.         

Debra McClendon is a lecturer in the Department of Textile & Apparel, Technology & Management.  This was Debra’s third year with the STEP program as group leader for the Apparel Design group.  This talented teacher and leader spoke with me about this summer’s STEP program.

Debra, the program seems so rewarding for both the rising high school seniors and for the faculty who facilitate it.  Can you expand on that and tell us how? 
As this program is one of our top recruiting tools, it’s so rewarding when I teach a college class that has students in it who were also in STEP.  We have several PhD’s who started their careers as STEP students! It’s also rewarding to see NCSU students who were previously in STEP volunteer for the program.

Take us through a day of your program. 
The project for the week is introduced on Monday.  Students only have 16 hours to complete their projects.  For the first half of each morning, students participate in workshops where they do screen printing, take tours of the various labs at the College of Textiles (spinning, weaving, knitting, non-wovens), and listen to presentations by faculty about the different academic programs at NC State University and possible career paths.  They then meet each day after lunch with their group leader to do project work.  Each evening is devoted to fun activities, such as shopping at nearby malls and centers, movies, fun parks, and campus tours.

Describe the “project theme” that students worked on for their week at STEP. 
This year we went with a “Project Runway” type experience whereby students will purchase used clothing and transform it into an up-cycled ensemble. The first day is devoted to trend research, where students login to WGSN (Worth Global Style Network), the world’s leading fashion forecaster that demonstrates how key themes apply to design and product collections.  Then the students are given a crash course in Adobe Illustrator.  This powerful CAD software tool is used by industry fashion designers to create fashion sketches.  Next, students create an original design using Illustrator and we have a group critique where students present their ideas to the rest of the group.  Day two begins with a shopping trip to the fabulous Goodwill Community Foundation (GCF) in downtown Raleigh.  Each student is allotted $15 to spend on used clothing and accessory items which they will transform into totally new garments (think skirts from shirts, shirts from dresses, etc.).  Each week, the group was under budget!  We are also giving back to the community by supporting the GCF with our purchases. 

Who guides the students through the creative process? 
Upon the return from GCF, students are paired with a mentor.  We try to have a 1:2 or maximum 1:3 ratio of mentors to STEP students, as the process of transforming the garments is a challenging proposition.  First off, students need to establish their “plan of attack”, which typically involves a lot of seam ripping and cutting!  Sometimes some pattern making is involved. The students use the numerous industrial machinery and equipment in the Fashion Studio (including dress forms) to create their new garments.  Day three is spent doing project work.  By now it’s Thursday and the students present their projects on Friday, so it’s not unusual for the students and group leader to stay until 9:00 pm to complete the projects.  Luckily, a delicious catered BBQ dinner is offered at 6:00 pm on this day that provides a much needed break.  In addition to the projects, students are required to plan a fashion show (including show order and music) along with a PowerPoint presentation. 

Lead us through the culmination of their STEP week. 
Friday has finally come and the students are excited about seeing their families. They have really enjoyed bonding with other students from all over the country and having a taste of college life.  A catered lunch is provided each Friday by the University Food services, followed by the student presentations.  The winning student designer each week is presented with the “Silver Scissors Award”, a pair of coveted professional Gingher dressmaker shears. It should be noted that this program would not be possible without the generous support of the NC Textile Foundation, the second largest foundation at NC State University.     

What were some of the STEP highlights for you this summer? 
The girls really loved it during week #3 when they had a guy in their group!  

Be on the lookout for these emerging fashion designers in the future!

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Thank you Debra McClendon for all your fashion insight and for the invitation!