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Leading the Way: Textile Pioneers Begin New Journey

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Written by: Tony Hoppa and Joanne Zhang ’20

Reflecting the same trailblazing spirit that has continually reinvigorated the textiles industry, the Wilson College of Textiles has launched its first need-based scholarship to help recruit next-generation talent to NC State University. Specifically focused on North Carolina’s rural counties and first generation university attendees, the Textile Pioneers Scholarship Program aligns with NC State’s land-grant mission to provide access to students while adding to the Pack’s geographical diversity.

This year’s inaugural class comprises five talented Textile Pioneers, four of whom are first in their family to attend any university: Jeana Grace Bowker, Brooke Doll, Alex Hutchens, Emma Myer and Leah Reid – from Sampson, Harnett, Craven, Beaufort and Randolph Counties, respectively.

Funded by generous donor support, Textile Pioneers Scholarships award eligible first-year students $14,000 annually over four years. An additional $4,000 in enrichment funds will support personal and professional growth.  

While NC State is proud to mentor and educate students from all 100 counties of North Carolina, it has become increasingly competitive to gain entrance into the university and the Wilson College. The Textile Pioneers Scholarship Program aims to increase student quality while simultaneously enhancing access for students from diverse geographic and socioeconomic backgrounds – a growing challenge facing universities throughout the nation.

In North Carolina, counties are categorized by tiers based on four factors: average unemployment rate, median household income, percentage growth in population and adjusted property tax base per capita. Ascending in order of magnitude, Tier 1 counties pose the greatest economic challenges and barriers to higher education. 

“Being able to provide focused support to students from rural North Carolina who have extraordinary leadership potential but also financial need is near and dear to my heart,” said David Hinks, dean of the Wilson College. 

“As a first-generation college attendee myself, knowing that Textile Pioneers may share that distinction in their families resonates deeply with me,” Hinks noted. “I am so grateful to our passionate donors who have already provided more than $5 million to support our first need-based scholarship. This is one of the most exciting developments in the Wilson College.”

Driven by its mission, the Wilson College is committed to advancing the success of students and the textile industry in North Carolina, the U.S. and around the world. The Textile Pioneers scholarships will help provide critical talent necessary to deliver innovative solutions to global challenges. 

To meet that need, the college is already working to create additional access for Pioneer Scholars by funding at least four additional Textiles Pioneers each year. According to Michael Ward, executive director of the North Carolina Textiles Foundation, that ambitious goal makes private giving not only critical, but even more impactful.

“Many students from Tier 1 and Tier 2 counties are highly talented and motivated, offering the intellect, creativity and passion for service that reflects our ‘Think and Do’ spirit at NC State,” said Ward, who also was the first in his family to attend college. “We are deeply grateful to our founding Textile Pioneers benefactors for their transformational gifts that will allow our Pioneers to achieve their educational goals and lead the textiles industry to a bold future.”

Founding benefactors include The Edward M. Armfield Sr. Foundation, Dr. Robert Barnhardt, Bill Chandler ‘72 and his wife Janice Chandler, Cone Mills Charitable Fund, Robert Fleming ‘50,  Chuck Flynt ‘62, Lyle Gardner ‘67 and his wife Rhonda Gardner, Glen Raven Inc., Chuck Horne ‘73 and his son Wesley Horne ‘04, Brian McMurray ‘86 and his wife Konni McMurray, Steven Wilson, Zeno Windley ‘68 and his wife Ann Windley, and Steve Zeis ‘61 and his wife Frosene Zeis.

Funding commitments allow the Wilson College to offer specialized support services to complement its current rural recruiting efforts. Mentoring and guidance are provided during high school to enhance success with the university application process – an opportunity available regardless of which university and college a student may ultimately choose.

Upon admission and throughout the next four years, Textile Pioneers will receive dedicated mentoring, advising and tutoring to enhance academic and professional success. Additionally, they will have access to leadership training and professional skills development opportunities provided by summer internships, co-ops and networking with alumni and industry leaders.

In addition, Textiles Pioneers will benefit from enrichment experiences such as study or work abroad and undergraduate research prior to graduation – and personalized career counseling and support throughout their lives.

Befitting their scholarship name, Wilson College’s Textile Pioneers are following new paths to achieve their educational goals so that others may follow. Welcome, Textile Pioneers!

 Jeana Grace Bowker

 Jeana Grace Bowker

Jeana Grace Bowker hails from Clinton, North Carolina, where she attended Harrells Christian Academy. Awarded the Windley Family Pioneer Scholarship, she plans to study fashion and textile design and pursue her passion for sewing and designing apparel.

“When I was younger, my grandfather taught me how to sew and we sewed home decorations together such as quilts and pillows,” Bowker recalls. “Ever since, I have had a passion for sewing and taught myself how to sew and design apparel.”

Bowker discovered the Wilson College of Textiles through her own research of top fashion programs and guidance from her college counselor. Additionally, coming from a smaller high school, she knew she wanted the close knit family feeling that Wilson College offers.

Involved in almost every club offered by her high school, Bowker had a leadership role in all but one by her senior year. In addition to her extracurricular activities in school, she operated her own business selling handmade and seasonal decor and clothing. 

She believes that these activities were instrumental in her growth as a student and a person. “Every day I learned how to manage my time and prioritize,” she said. “I also learned many ins and outs of the design and business world.”

In four years, she hopes to improve and grow her business, Grace and Love Designs, through knowledge gained at NC State. In addition to her major, Bowker hopes to minor in business administration to understand more of the business and operations side. Her goal after graduation is to have her business become a household brand. She’s not sure what plans are in store for the future, but being a fashion designer has always been her dream.

For Bowker, it is an incredible honor to be named a Pioneer scholar. “Being awarded this scholarship now lets me focus on my future without a huge financial roadblock,” she said. “I am so thankful to have received this award. I am really excited about all of the doors this will open for me!” 

Brooke Doll

Brooke Doll

Brooke Doll joins the Wolfpack and the Wilson College of Textiles from Angier, North Carolina, where she attended North Carolina Virtual Academy. She has been awarded a Pioneer Scholarship and plans to study fashion and textile design with a concentration in fashion design because she loves all aspects that go into creating a garment. 

“The most appealing thing about the major is my ability to make a difference within the textile and fashion industry,” she noted. “Creating awareness through art and clothing and trying to save the planet are really important to me, so being able to do that through a general passion of mine is really exciting.”

Doll found the Wilson College of Textile through the Summer Textile Exploration Program (STEP) which helped her conceptualize her thoughts about the textile industry. After attending the program, she knew that she wanted to make a difference in textiles. 

Doll decided to pursue her education here because she felt that it was a safe and comfortable environment. She sensed that the Wilson College would allow her to grow and dive deeper into textiles in a way that she hadn’t seen at any other university.  

“I think I bring a unique set of ideas and outlooks,” Doll acknowledged. “I am always thinking about my next project and idea and reviewing how I could make something I’ve created even better next time. I’m hoping to bring a consciousness of the earth and our impact, but also creativity within that consciousness.”

During her time in high school, volunteering made a big impact on Doll. It made her realize that wherever she may end up, she needed to make a difference in the world somehow. “I had the ability to see how other people were living and how Earth is being directly impacted with our actions – and it made me realize how important those things are to me.”

Over the next four years, Doll knows she’ll have great experiences with the educational opportunities available through the Wilson College of Textiles – and adequate resources to make the most of her time at NC State. 

“It means so much to me to be a recipient of the Pioneer Scholarship,” said Doll. “It’s truly a dream come true.” 

Alex Hutchens

Alex Hutchens

Alex Hutchens is from New Bern, North Carolina, where she attended New Bern High School. Awarded a Pioneer scholarship, she plans to study fashion and textile management with a concentration in fashion development and product management. She has always been intrigued with the design process and how improvements can enhance sustainability.

“I hope to learn more about sustainability as this has become an important concept in the fashion industry,” she said. “I would like to see how it has evolved and will continue to do so.”

Hutchens learned about the Wilson College of Textiles through the Summer Textile Exploration Program where she completed a fashion design project by upcycling old apparel garments. She chose the Wilson College not only because it would provide her the best education but also thoroughly prepare her for the textiles industry. 

The Wilson College of Textiles will allow me to expand my knowledge creatively and divergently and I know that I would not be provided with this opportunity elsewhere,” she said.

Coming from a town smaller than Raleigh, Hutchens knows that it will be immensely different. Yet, by bringing her diverse viewpoints and ideas to NC State, she believes she will be able to help strengthen the community.

During her time in high school, Hutchens participated in many extracurricular activities such as the National Technical Honor Society, Interact, Students for Justice, and the Student Government Association where she served as the senior class secretary. She was also the captain of the New Bern High School Drill team and a member of the dance team.

In the next four years, Hutchens hopes to apply her new knowledge and relationships formed through college internships to prepare for a career to improve sustainability for leading brands in the fashion industry. 

“Receiving the Pioneer Scholarship has enabled me to attend NC State University, which I otherwise would not be able to afford – or would have to work extensively to do so,” noted Huchens, who is a triplet. “It is a great relief to know that much of the burden has been lifted.” 

Emma Myer

Emma Myer

Emma Myer comes to the Wilson College of Textiles from Belhaven, North Carolina, where she attended Northside High School. Fascinated with chemistry and its application to textiles, she plans to study polymer and color chemistry as the recipient of the Glen Raven Pioneer Scholarship.

After researching different colleges, Myer chose the Wilson College of Textiles because of the unique blend of classes and opportunities – especially the chance to study abroad. 

In high school, she participated in Future Farmers of America which helped her develop communication and leadership skills. She also served as the manager for Northside’s basketball teams.

Just beginning her college career, Myer already is looking ahead to her future. “I see myself graduating from NC State and pursuing an interesting and fulfilling career,” she said. “And I hope to stay involved with NC State and the Wilson College of Textiles even after I graduate!”

As the Glen Raven Pioneer Scholarship recipient, Myer knows that she can pursue her education without financial stress. “Receiving the Pioneer Scholarship is a big honor and a huge opportunity,” she affirmed. “It takes a big part of the burden off my shoulders.” 

Leah Reid

Leah Reid


Leah Reid is from Asheboro, North Carolina, where she attended Asheboro High School. Through a Pioneer Scholarship, she plans to study fashion and textile management  with a concentration in fashion development and product management. She is interested in the business portion of the major and how it will go hand-in-hand with the creative aspect of garment design. 

“What appeals to me most about my intended degree and career path is the creative and team collaboration I will get to work in every day,” she explained.

Reid found the Wilson College of Textiles through an exhibit fair at the North Carolina DECA Career Development Conference. She selected the Wilson College because of its ability to prepare students for the competitive scheme of the fashion and retail industry in addition to the resources offered at the college and NC State University. 

A leader in her community, Reid can bring a unique leadership style by bridging groups together at the college. “I like to lead as a friend who values all opinions of the group, as well as deems no job less important than another,” she said. She hopes to make an impact using her skills by adding to the family and team learning environment at the Wilson College of Textiles.

In high school, Reid was actively in DECA, a program that prepares emerging leaders. “DECA taught me business and interview skills that I will use for the rest of my life,” she said. “It also helped me build my confidence and my leadership potential.” 

In four years, she sees herself joining the Wilson College of Textiles alumni family with a strong background in the industry. “I see myself empowered to take on my first career with many supporters behind me,” Reid said.

After graduation, she plans to start a career in merchandising for a rising fashion company. “I would like to be involved directly with the management of our products and brand development or another dream of mine is to own a prom and formal wear shop much later in life.”

In receiving the Pioneer Scholarship, Reid feels supported by the North Carolina Textile Foundation, the faculty and the entire Wilson College community. “Choosing a major intended for a competitive industry made me both excited and nervous, but receiving the Pioneer Scholarship, I feel supported by the Wilson College of Textiles,” she said. “They believe in me and my potential which is one of the most meaningful things that has come out of this opportunity.”

Learn more about how you can make a difference in the lives of Textile Pioneers by donating to the Pioneer Scholarship Program.