On Teaching Fashion: Staying in touch

There is no real guidebook on staying in touch with former students, nor has anyone really ever suggested I do it as most universities have some form of alumni database. Rather than sift through lots of superfluous information I propose a post-graduation connection and periodical checking-in. It is beneficial to all involved (former students and to ourselves as teachers) in tracking the progress of our students.

-How have the tools I have given my students helped or hindered them?

-What knowledge are they applying?

-What learning is gathering dust?

-What holes do they have in their knowledge base?

In the flurry of graduation it is difficult capture our students post-graduation contact information. Specific forms of post-grad contact can be secured using your own DIY methods as opposed to departmental or University based methods. The bottom line is that we want our students to succeed and we want to measure that success! We want to hear what works and what does not work.  We also want to be able to toot our horns in promotional or job application materials.

The rationale above requires some “official data” and some work on the teacher’s end. I will spend the next few posts discussing this topic and would love to hear from you regarding your thoughts!

Step 1. Final exam question: post-graduation contact information

On my senior level final exams I ask for post-grad information. I create an excel doc of my seniors each year. I have found this easier than sifting through “alumni relations” information at the University or Department level.

Step 2. Post-graduation correspondence and pep talk.

This year I sent out an email just after graduation that told the story of my journey post-graduation. My story involved being a waitress with a BFA at a sports bar, living with my mom and getting lots of rejection letters, eventually landing my first job as a seamstress in a costume shop. I give my students some pointers. This is what I sent out in this year:

…………..Kelly graduates from college with honors and three amazing thesis shows under her belt. From Baltimore, she moves home to live with her mom in Annandale, Virginia. She works in a sports bar………….

It took me 6 months out of undergrad to find a job-I lived at home and hung out with my mom on Friday nights. Looking back now it was such a meaningful time for my mom and I to get to know each other, despite the fact that at the time I was MISERABLE! I was working on a commission for a tie company “portfolio work” simultaneous to working at a sports bar.  You of course know that I am not a sport minded person so this was pretty much the pits.   Through my sister I found a job at James Madison University in the dance and theater costume shop.  Connections made at this job led to a freelance position with a fiber artist in the same town. I moved from my mom’s house to Harrisonburg during my first year out of undergrad.

-Step out of celebration mode after 1 week. The party must end! Wake-up early, eat healthy, exercise.

-Give yourself at least 2 weeks to rest, renew. Go for a walk or run each day. Be active some and rest some. Tell your parents that you need 2 weeks to rest, after which you will gladly sit down and discuss next steps.

-After 2 weeks send out 10 resumes. You can do “informational interviews” as well. Call up a designer, company in your area and ask some interview style questions. Perhaps someone will give in and say…..gee, why don’t you send in your resume?

-Reach out to friends and family-anyone for jobs in your field or kindred fields.

-Keep your hand in the cookie jar-work for someone 1 day a week in your field. To start out you might intern and then have a “money” job.

-Have a designer date with yourself once a week. Go to an event, a museum or fabric store. Get excited about something, keep up your momentum.

Set your goals 1 year, 3 year, 5 years:

My Ex. 1 year out:  I wanted to apprentice at the Fabric Workshop and Museum in Philadelphia. I applied twice (two years) before I got in.

My Ex. 3 years out: I wanted to live in NYC and work for a designer. I lived in Philadelphia and designed costumes and had a money job instead.

My Ex. 5 years out: I moved to NYC and had to turn away freelance work because I had “kept my hand in the cookie jar” and my resume and work samples looked great. My work in the sports bar helped me fund work I called my “portfolio work” so don’t knock it. Good luck!

It is still possible to reach back to your recent grads and request post-graduation information. As well, it is still time appropriate to send a post-grad letter and pep talk.  Take the next week to set the stage for steps 3 and 4 on ways to keep in touch as a way of measuring teaching success. In my next post, I will discuss some collection methods and what to do with all of the great data you received from your former students.

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  • Joy Davis June 22, 2012 07.58 am

    This is great advice! Some of these things I have started to implement. I am also applying for graduate school. It is very difficult to keep focus but also very doable.

  • Kelly C June 22, 2012 08.55 am

    Thanks Joy! Good luck with your applications. You can keep this advise in your back pocket for when you need it 😉
    Kelly C.


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