Ritika Burman ’15 and Jessica Singleton ’09 thought that they were participating in their final interviews as nominees for the inaugural Wilson College of Textiles Distinguished Young Alumni Award. Until, that is, Andrew Hicks ’10 and ’11, Awards Committee chair on the Dean’s Young Alumni Leadership Council, and Tim Creedon, development coordinator for the North Carolina Textile Foundation, broke the news – announcing their selection as the first recipients – leaving both awardees momentarily speechless.

The new award recognizes Wilson College young alumni under 40 years old for professional achievement; reflection of Wilson College core values; service to industry; community and public service; and entrepreneurship.

“Our alumni have amazing stories, and we wanted to add to Ritika’s and Jessica’s to make the announcement of their Distinguished Young Alumni Award recognition as memorable as possible,” said Hicks. “It was a fun way to share the news and also learn more about their Wilson College of Textiles experience to share with students and alumni.”

Making a Difference

After graduating with Bachelor of Science (Home Science and Human Ecology) and Master of Science (Textile and Clothing) degrees from Delhi University, Ritika Burman made her way to the Wilson College of Textiles to pursue her passion. She earned a doctorate in Textile Technology Management in 2015 with a focus on sustainability in the textile, apparel and footwear industry.

Burman found the Wilson College attractive for its reputation as the best textiles institution in the U.S., the diversity of the students and a comprehensive and rigorous curriculum.

“I had a diverse cohort – out of seven, only two were American students; five others were from around the world,” she said. “It was an amazing experience to spend time with people from different backgrounds, learning about their lives, culture and thought process.”

Ritika and Dr. Xu

Yet, Burman also learned something else about the Wilson College: the deep commitment from faculty to help students succeed.

“I started in fall 2012 and was very interested to pursue research in the field of sustainability and social responsibility, which at that time was considered more of a fad and not the necessity that it is now,” Burman said. “I discussed my interest with my committee chair, Dr. Yingjiao Xu, who completely supported me even though it was a new area. We worked together on the topic and she provided me with all the resources and guidance to succeed.”

Through all the research she conducted, Burman was able to move forward in her career. She joined SGS – a global inspection, verification, testing and certification company – as a corporate responsibility associate, helping clients implement social sustainability strategies and develop innovative ways to address issues including child labor, modern slavery, and health and safety. Most recently, she served as manager of Responsible Business Services before pausing her career to take care of her pre-school child during the pandemic.

“It’s been five years since I graduated and Dr. Xu and I still keep in touch,” Burman noted. “It shows me that the Wilson College values students and I feel very fortunate to receive the Distinguished Young Alumni Award. It is an honor.”

Reflecting on her own journey, Burman recalls her childhood in India, where her mother taught high school and also volunteered teaching underprivileged children who came to their home. 

“I grew up watching these children, and later, saw conditions of workers during tours of textile and clothing factories during my master’s program, that’s when I felt that there needs to be a focus on improving lives and safety of everyone around us,” she explained.

Looking back, Burman also sees how seemingly random experiences in her life have shaped her thinking. From encountering intense heat in a dying and printing factory to completing projects on ethical sourcing and natural dyes to volunteering with underprivileged children just as her mother – “one way or another, these things have impacted my thought process.”

For Wilson College students, Burman offers this advice:

“Follow your dream. Pursue what you really want to do – because the Wilson College faculty will guide you and help you achieve your dreams.”

No Looking Back

As often the case, a chance encounter changed Jessica Singleton’s life. She started at NC State as a zoology major only to realize her true passion was art.

But in the midst of exploring options with the College of Design – life happened.

While riding the NC State Wolfline bus, Singleton bumped into a friend who steered her to the Wilson College of Textiles – and the rest is history.

Singleton graduated in 2009 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Textile and Apparel Management with a concentration in Fashion Development and Product Management. She went on to earn an MFA from Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) where her thesis collection was featured in Teen Vogue and Women’s Wear Daily.

Today, she serves as technical designer and mask expert for US Men’s Domestics at HanesBrands Inc. In this role, she creates the tech packs and patterns, and conducts product fitting for each seasonal collection for men’s inner wear.

She also is the founder and owner of her own business, Laché Supply & Company, which specializes in menswear design.

“Being recognized with the Distinguished Young Alumni Award means everything to me,” said Singleton, who attributes her Wilson College experience as the foundation of her success.

“The knowledge to learn the entire industry and not just the field you major in – that was the game changer at Wilson,” she affirmed. “We started with classes on fiber science and learned the full process before moving up to create a fashion show.”

Jessica (Fulks) Singleton

To that point, Singleton recalls how her professors at SCAD called her a quadruple threat “because I could design a full collection, design textiles and prints, create technical packs and patterns, and sew the final garments with precision.”

Her Wilson professors made that possible, and the hands-on learning has been a career advantage.

“The opportunity to work with professors on pattern-making programs like Gerber Accumark as well as various machines proved to be more beneficial than anything I’ve ever experienced,” she said.

That was especially evident during a trip to Vietnam, when Singleton had a Eureka moment in a factory.

“It was really cool to see the machines and know their uses … I was like, ‘Wow, I’ve seen this before!’ she recalled. “There’s just no other college innovative that way like Wilson where you actually get to see what it’s like in the industry.”

Active as a student in Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, the African American Textile Society and its Fashion Exposé fashion show, and other organizations, Singleton has stayed involved with the college to share her talents with others.

“My advice to students from what I‘ve learned at Wilson College and NC State is to try to remember everything because you’ll definitely use it in your job,” she shared. “I’ve used every single thing that I’ve learned in textiles. Even if you retain just a little bit of that knowledge, it’s going to help you in your career.”