Moving Forward While Giving Back: Meet Young Alumna Monica Matthai Warsaw
By Melissa Sharp
Monica Matthai Warsaw has always been grateful for the opportunities that her Centennial Scholarship created. The impact was so profound that she hoped to one day be in a position to tangibly give back in a similar fashion.
Warsaw, 29, of Ventura, Calif., a technical product developer for Patagonia, is now living out that desire.
“I felt the Wilson College of Textiles did so much for me, and, specifically, the Centennial program did so much for me and my career,” said Warsaw, a 2012 alumna. “I just felt called to give back and bridge the gap between the industry and students. I believe alumni are the missing puzzle piece.”
First, Warsaw and her husband Josh created the Matthai Warsaw Centennial Scholarship. Then, she was named as an inaugural member of the Dean’s Young Alumni Leadership Council where she currently serves as a co-chair of the recruiting committee.
“I think the Centennial program really helped me fulfill my college years, but also learn how to connect with industry members and really develop myself in a way that was not just about my degree,” Warsaw said. “It showed me how I could be a better contributor in the workplace and then return back to the school and connect with people.”
I felt the Wilson College of Textiles did so much for me, and, specifically, the Centennial program did so much for me and my career,” said Warsaw, a 2012 alumna. “I just felt called to give back and bridge the gap between the industry and students. I believe alumni are the missing puzzle piece.
While Warsaw and Mary Grace Wilder, of Washington, NC, have never met, they are kindred spirits. Wilder, a sophomore, received the Centennial Scholarship that is supported by Warsaw. The Centennial Scholarship was introduced by the North Carolina Textile Foundation in 1999 as a part of the Wilson College of Textiles’ Centennial Celebration.
“Ms. Warsaw’s generosity is inspiring,” said Wilder, who is studying product development in Fashion and Textile Management. “One day I want to support another student in the way she has supported me. She has had a profound impact on my life, and I really look forward to meeting her. I know she works for Patagonia, which is so cool because we talk about that company all the time in all of my classes. So it’s neat to have that connection.”
Warsaw went to work for Patagonia the week of graduation in 2012, and has progressed from an associate product developer to a product developer in women’s sportswear to her current role working with the performance side.
The roots of Warsaw’s work were being nurtured even before she arrived at NC State. While attending Athens Drive High just a few miles from the Raleigh campus, Warsaw, who was interested in a fashion design program, was introduced to the Wilson College of Textiles’ Summer Textile Exploration Program (STEP). That proved to be a game changer.
“I was always into clothing design and pattern making, and the whole order of operation of apparel creation, so I really liked the program,” Warsaw said. “And I liked that it was within a greater university setting, but still a fashion design program. I had decided to go to NC State before I received the Centennial Scholarship, so that was the icing on the cake.”
The Centennial Scholars program left a lasting impression. As part of it, prior to her freshman year, Warsaw attended a retreat prior that allowed to meet fellow classmates and network. She credits Cindy Istook, a Cornelson Distinguished Professor of Textile and Apparel Design, as being “a constant throughout my time” at NC State. Also, Warsaw studied abroad at the University of Manchester the second semester of her sophomore year and also traveled about Europe, visiting with industry influencers.
Wilder can relate.
“Because of the Centennial Scholars, I am in a position to build my leadership skills and make connections with successful men and women in the textile industry,” she said. “I know that without Ms. Warsaw’s support, I wouldn’t have the same opportunities that I do.”
Being in the industry and staying actively connected to NC State gives Warsaw a unique perspective. She likes what she sees from her vantage point.
“I think the Wilson College of Textiles is already doing all the right things,” Warsaw said. “I believe it is embracing a lot of new technology, which I think is really good because it’s either evolve or die, right?
“Most of the degrees are science based, so they lead with technology instead of art. That’s not to say that art is not important, because of course it is. But it’s helped [the college] thrive within the apparel industry as a leader of education.”
Warsaw also has hopes for the Young Alumni Leadership Council, which is still in the infant stages.
“The hardest part is trying to create something that can live forever,” she said. “So I think we’re just trying to figure out how to do that right now. We’re in the beginning stages.”