Connecting with students

March 1st, 2016 / By: / Business, Management, Resources

Opportunities for the next generation.

As businesses and industries transition and evolve, more professionals recognize the importance of continually connecting with the college and university students who may be interested in learning more about the specialty fabrics industry.

Just ask Stephanie Cizinsky, marketing manager at Glen Raven Inc., Glen Raven, N.C. She explains that a wealth of knowledge, insight and understanding of the specialty fabrics industry, specifically the awning fabrication sector, lives with those professionals and employees who have been in the business for years.

“As generation shifts continue to take place, it is imperative that we not only transfer that intimate knowledge, but give the older generation opportunity to educate the younger generation on all the successes and learning they have acquired over time,” Cizinsky says. “In a sense it’s about passing on the legacy, something we take seriously here at Glen Raven.”

Education and inspiration

Glen Raven has a dedicated staff putting great effort into providing opportunities to engage students and connect its younger employees with industry professionals who can educate and inspire them about the history of the industry, advise them on how to carry the torch forward and share insight on what’s next.

Specifically, Glen Raven connects directly with local, regional and national high schools, colleges and universities on educational programs as they relate to the industry; whether through on-site campus visits and tours, speaking engagements at colleges and universities, career fairs or spotlight presentations.

As a student or even young adult, Glen Raven offers a plethora of opportunities for furthering education, professional growth and real career experiences from its internship program—which featured 13 different universities last year—to mentorship programs, corporate campus and plant tours, all the way to apprenticeships for high school students. As a company, Glen Raven has a desire to attract young professionals to the industry and the company.

“We believe in the growth of the industry and the possibilities new ideas and fresh thinking may bring. We also engage through design competitions such as our Future of Shade program, a design competition that calls on designers, architects and is also open to students, to create and submit new conceptual visions in shade design,” Cizinsky says. “We have a team dedicated to creating connections with not only students, but the right faculty at colleges and universities with the goal of introducing our products and programs to students and younger adults at an earlier stage in their education and career.”

By engaging earlier the Glen Raven team believes it isn’t only educating a younger generation about this industry but also sharpening them for their first job or even interview. “The more we communicate and educate, the more trained and informed the next generation and the industry will be,” Cizinsky says.

Opening opportunity

Cynthia Thompson, founder and president of Transformit Inc., Gorham, Maine, agrees. “I think that most art and design schools teach nothing about the specialty fabrics industry,” Thompson says. “This should be addressed by everyone that deals with this industry. There are so many opportunities that will be missed by the younger generations if we do not engage young people while they are still in school.”

Transformit uses interns from local colleges and schools in Maine. Students reach out to Transformit as a result of Thompson’s role as a board member of the Maine College of Art. “I am constantly engaging in student affairs and introducing my ideas about art, business and the fabric specialty industry,” Thompson says. “Also I worked with the architectural department at Rhode Island School of Design. It was the first fabric house for the Solar Decathlon. We worked with the students on the interior, which won an IFAI award recently.” Thompson also has lectured at Cranbrook Art School and Endicott College, and was a visiting artist at Rhode Island School of Design, Arizona State University and Haystack.

“I personally try and answer all student requests,” Cizinsky says. “I have been a high school teacher and a college teacher. In both cases I have enjoyed and profited from the energy and knowledge of my students. They will always continue to surprise and delight me.”

Several times a year Designtex, headquartered in New York, N.Y., hosts both undergraduate and graduate classes at its New York City studio. Most of these participating students are studying interior design, architecture or product development and often have varying levels of knowledge and/or interest in materials.

According to Catherine Stowell, principal designer at Designtex, these students are the future players of the industry so it’s a great opportunity to hear from them as well as give them a glimpse of a working studio.

“I know the studio visits I went on in college left quite an impression and kind of opened my eyes to the fact that, yes, this is really something you can do,” Stowell says.
Several Designtex staff members guest teach classes and also give lectures in universities. They visit university labs like MIT to learn from them.

“We also offer paid internships,” says Deidre Hoguet, director of sustainability and material exploration at Designtex. “We also have university classes come in for guest lectures on textile design, digital imaging and sustainability in our studio several times per year.”

A Reciprocal Relationship

By mentoring students early on, Glen Raven has learned that simply connecting with students and taking a personal approach in how it shares information about the company and industry really resonates with them.

“This method supports the open culture and receptive leadership we thankfully have here at Glen Raven, too, which makes the entire process rewarding for both sides,” Cizinsky says. “We’re committed to extending opportunities to students and younger adults to make sure we continue to evolve. It is as much about encouraging students to tap into their unbound thoughts and new ideas as it is about us learning from their viewpoints.”

On the university level, Glen Raven gets involved directly by connecting with career services directors and those professors with curriculums focused on textiles and other industry relative courses.

“Becoming involved in special classroom projects, initiatives and exercises allows our team to introduce our products and company to students early,” Cizinsky says. “Being engaged at a classroom level opens the door for conversation and intrigue about the depth of opportunities this industry has to offer. Additionally, outside of the classroom we stay involved with universities through their career fairs and creating unique one-on-one experiences with Glen Raven.”

Working directly with students on collaborations may present obstacles, but those are the moments where open communication, mentorship and guidance really turn a challenge into an opportunity.

According to Cizinsky, some student challenges simply come from exposure and understanding of the industry. Usually once those two pieces are ironed out, student collaborations produce incredible results.

“Students find ways to interpret specialty fabrics in new inventive and traditional ways, yet challenge the end use of fabrics in ways we’ve never seen,” Cizinsky says.

As more industry players recognize the vital role of establishing relationships with students, ample opportunities are emerging for students on the horizon. For example, Thompson at Transformit is planning to help fellow fabric artists and designers form a fabric alliance that teaches and researches tension fabric in all of its various forms and applications.

“This will have a real physical space and also be virtual,” Thompson says.
In the future Glen Raven plans to continue to put effort behind connecting and creating unique experiences with students. The company also looks at how other companies engage with students.

“It is important to be mindful of the competition and choices students have in front of them and how we can improve on the recruitment process,” Cizinsky says. “Working with consultants on research and trends will also bring us insight on the competitive climate and areas we might want to focus on.”

Maura Keller is a freelance writer and editor based in Plymouth, Minn. 

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