FIT Students Empowering Change

For years, I have been bragging about FIT students’ talents, their high degree of focus and ambition—their distinctive ability to learn and accomplish so much within their tight curricular boundaries and demanding schedules. In more recent years they’ve given me even more to think about and be grateful for.

It started as they began to take the initiative on issues of sustainability. Not that the college had been immune to our environmental needs—we clearly had been very
active on that front. But our students helped to push it into high profile as they qualified, year after year, for sustainability presentations at the Clinton Global Initiative University. They were the force behind our dye gardens, our compost system and many other environmental initiatives—and continue to be. I had sometimes reflected that since FIT is a career-oriented college, its students are perhaps not as politically active as those in more conventional colleges, but sustainability demonstrated their political passion, savvy and effectiveness.

Civility, too. Our students were loud and clear after hatred and bigotry erupted in Charlottesville, just as they had been in other ugly incidents throughout this country and the world. Issues surrounding immigration—and the repeal of DACA protections—have galvanized our students as well.

And now we have the mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. The ghastliness of it made me, like so many others, cringe and grieve…made me, like so many others, think of Columbine and Sandy Hook and Virginia Tech….and at least for a moment, consider it hopeless. But then there were our students. Within a very short time, I heard from a student requesting support for FIT’s participation in a nation-wide student movement to conduct a 17-minute student walkout in March to “empower change.” She was not alone and I was proud of her conviction and that of her FIT peers who now believe that they can, indeed, “empower change.”

The voices we hear from those entrusted to lead offer no solution or compromise to curtail violence and bigotry or to control for assaults in places we have always believed to be safe havens. But if our FIT students are the next generation of leaders—as they always have been in so many other ways—I have hope for the future. They will bring new energy to the voting booths…the workplaces…the corner offices…the halls of Congress…in the not-too-distant future. Judging from the present moment, this generation may have reached a tipping point—and they are ready, able and passionate enough to “empower change.”

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Behind the Scenes at New York Fashion Week

Fashion Week is an especially exciting time for FIT’s students—and not only for those studying fashion design. It offers all of our students the opportunity to work behind the scenes as interns and become acquainted with the true “nuts and bolts” of this vibrant part of the New York City culture and economy.

Fashion Week takes place twice a year. At last fall’s Fashion Week, Alex Joseph, managing editor of the FIT magazine Hue, taped our participation in the event, from the moment our students apply, through their training, to backstage as the shows went on. We had quite a presence, with almost 1000 talented, hard-working and ambitious FIT students filling as many as 1500 backstage positions.

This video captures a wonderful slice of FIT life and I hope you will enjoy it.

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FIT Team Wins, Again

One of the great pleasures of my job is that I get a first-hand view of the always-inspiring and innovative work FIT faculty and students create here on a regular basis. But sometimes, even I am surprised and taken aback by the ingenious, cutting-edge projects our researchers undertake. And it is very gratifying to me when this work earns the public attention it so richly deserves.

So I am delighted that FIT’s “AlgiKnit” research team has won $25,000 from National Geographic’s “Chasing Genius” contest, which aims to promote “game-changing ideas around the issues of global health, world hunger, and environmental sustainability.”

Just last year, I wrote about the team’s earlier project, “Bioesters,” which had then taken home the top award in the first annual BioDesign Challenge. They won for “growing” a flexible yarn from algae—and used it to knit a baby’s tee shirt. The latest AlgiKnit project is refining and perfecting this algae-based yarn.

The NatGeo contest winners, announced in September, included four categories — Sustainable Planet, Global Health, Feeding 9 Billion, and People’s Choice. Winners were picked from more than 2,800 applicants.

FIT’s AlgiKnit team won the Sustainable Planet category for its “sustainable, bio-based textile alternatives into the 21st Century footwear and apparel industries.”

The small team—five people in all—includes Asta Skocir, associate professor in Fashion Design, and Theanne Schiros, an assistant professor who teaches physics, chemistry, and sustainability. Aleksandra Gosiewski and Tessa Callahan, both recent FIT graduates, are team members as well. Each took the knitwear specialization in the Fashion Design program, though they are now working in industry. Aaron Nesser, another team member, is now in the master’s degree program in industrial design at the Pratt Institute.

So, not only is AlgiKnit a ground-breaking and award-winning project that merges design and science—a growing phenomenon on campus—it also is another example of the kinds of innovative, real-world solutions to real-world problems that FIT is capable of producing.

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A Book Party with the Presidential Scholars

book: Behold the DreamersI was sorry to miss Imbolo Mbue when she came to campus recently. Ms. Mbue is the author of the prize-winning novel, Behold the Dreamer, and she was here a few weeks after her book was the subject of discussion at a large book “party”—the year’s opening event for the college’s Presidential Scholars. I was at that party, one of more than 20 professors and administrators hosting a table of students over dinner. For 15 years, the Presidential Scholars program has opened the academic year with this “common read” event—a wonderful way to break the ice for the students, and, at the same time, engage in what we hope will be a lively, intellectually challenging discussion.

I had heard about this event for many years but this was the first time I was a participant—and I was eager to be there. I wondered about a variety of things: what
would be the quality of the dialogue…of the students’ literary interpretation…their critical thinking? What aspect of this book, rich with story lines, would ignite agreement or disagreement or the most interesting analyses? What about plot development…or the characters…would they find them believable? How would they deal with the book’s ambiguities? Of course, I wondered, too, whether my presence as president of the college might inhibit them in any way.

Altogether, there were 180 students participating. My table of seven, like almost all, was all-female—not a surprise when you consider that 85 percent of our student population is female. From what other hosts told me,it was otherwise a decidedly diverse group in terms of majors, economic status, ethnicity and class—we had students ranging from first year to senior. Questions had already been assigned to the students, which may have encouraged them to think more deeply about the book. At one table, I hear, each student seemed to focus exclusively on the one question assigned to her and the conversation was not as free-flowing as one might hope. That did not happen at my table. Moreover, I can say without question that there were some very impressive analytic thinkers at my table—most of whom, I believe, were not at all inhibited by me. The issue that dominated at my table was the moral dilemma that the book’s male protagonist, an immigrant from Cameroon, faced when confronted with a difficult demand by his boss’ wife—and that led to a probing, thoughtful discussion. Other aspects of the book dominated at other tables: the disillusionment with the American dream; gender issues raised by the relationship between the protagonist and his wife. (This issue gained little traction at my table, which I found puzzling.) One table got into a heated discussion about gentrification, and particularly the gentrification of Harlem where the protagonist lived, which they felt was ignored by the author.

What I heard most often, however, was the way in which our Presidential Scholars, some of whom are immigrants or children of immigrants, identified with this couple from Cameroon—and how poignant it was that they had read this book, and were having this discussion, in the shadow of President Trump’s announcement that he was
ending the program that had protected the “Dreamers,” the children of undocumented immigrants.

The Great Hall was alive with talk that evening—more so, said one professor, than other years, at least in his experience. There were even rumblings of social activism prompted by the Trump announcement. Another host said she was chagrined by how little detail she remembered compared to her students, who conducted what she called a rigorously intellectual and provocative dialogue. Indeed, I was impressed by the interpretive skills, the critical thinking, demonstrated by the students at my table. It would have been fascinating if Ms. Mbue had been with us that evening, hopping from table to table, to ask her own questions and to respond to the students’ perceptions.

As it happens, an article appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education just the other day called “The Essential English Department”—an ardent defense of English as an academic discipline. In it, the author wrote that the best thing undergraduates can gain from literature is “a sense of the deep rich empowering pleasure of the literary experience, a sense that might keep them returning to the well for the rest of their lives.” Well, as a career college, FIT does not offer subjects like English as majors (although it is one of our popular liberal arts minors). Still, I suspect that for this group of undergraduates—no matter how career-focused—the pleasure of literature already has a foothold in their lives. Personally, I took great pleasure in this “book party,” a gratifying display of student excellence at FIT and a wonderful way to launch the new academic year.

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Thom Browne Honored at Couture Council Luncheon

What a pleasure it was to honor Thom Browne at our annual Couture Council luncheon earlier this month. The designer, whose innovative collections for men and women have been universally celebrated by his peers, accepted the Artistry of Fashion award with great humility from his long-time friend, Whoopi Goldberg. “This man brings joy,” she said—and she was right.

Across the David Koch Theater, where the luncheon was held, 500 people smiled broadly throughout the ceremony, both touched and charmed by Mr. Browne. It helped, of course, that his Hector handbag—a witty take on his beloved dachshund—perched on a podium nearby. Unlike the tailored Browne outfits so many admirers, male and female, wore that afternoon, Ms. Goldberg was dressed in a large bold and brilliantly colored robe, also designed by Thom Browne.

This year’s luncheon raised $943,000, the second highest grossing luncheon in our 12-year history, a tribute to the hard work of the Couture Council, its treasured beneficiary, the Museum at FIT, and of course to Thom Browne.

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