By Devin Steele

A recent gift to the NC State Wilson College of Textiles will support North Carolina students studying textiles from rural towns and communities in the state.

Glen Raven, Inc., an innovative, global textile company based near Burlington, North Carolina, recently donated $250,000 to support the college’s fledgling Textile Pioneer Scholarship Program as well as the Dean’s Textile Innovation Fund. The first needs-based scholarship program at the Wilson College, the Textile Pioneer Scholarship Program aims to identify and recruit qualified students from economically challenged Tier 1 and 2 counties – that designation being determined by calculating counties’ average unemployment rate, median household income, percentage growth in population and adjusted property tax base per capita. Currently, a little more than 25% of Wilson College students hail from Tier 1 or Tier 2 counties.

Since the Textile Pioneer Scholarship Program’s launch in 2019, eight students have entered the Wilson College as Pioneer Scholars, and the aim is to add four per year and possibly more as the program continues to gain support, according to Michael Ward, executive director of the North Carolina Textile Foundation (NCTF), the fundraising arm of the college.

Offering substantial support to future textile leaders was an easy decision, according to Glen Raven CEO Leib Oehmig, an NCTF board member whose company employs more than 700 people in North Carolina.

“The textile industry remains alive and well, and Glen Raven and our industry peers are continuing to create amazing innovations for the global markets that we all serve,” Oehmig says. “NC State’s Wilson College of Textiles is leading the way in preparing the next generation of leaders that will elevate our industry to new heights. Glen Raven has been around for more than 140 years, and we’re focused on the next 140 years. Therefore, we want to attract the best and brightest to our industry and to Glen Raven. We can think of no better investment than in those deserving students from diverse, underserved geographic and socioeconomic backgrounds.”
He adds: “We’ve all needed someone to believe in us and through the Pioneer Scholarship program, Glen Raven is able to demonstrate that we believe in those students and invest in those who may not otherwise have an opportunity to succeed.”

Wilson College of Textiles Dean David Hinks says he is “deeply grateful” to Glen Raven for its donation, which is helping to catapult the launch of the Textile Pioneer Scholarship Program.

“We can’t thank Glen Raven enough for their tremendous contribution,” he says. “We recognize the importance of providing opportunities for students across all 100 counties, and this helps level the playing field for many in order for many to compete and thrive.”

By attracting and educating students from economically challenged areas, a higher chance exists that they will return to their rural roots and help improve the economic prosperity of their region, Dr. Hinks adds.

“Most textile manufacturing in North Carolina is in rural areas, where a lot of the innovation in textiles is occurring,” he says. “These students understand the environment in their home region, and recognize that they may one day have a chance to help these regions prosper.”

Hinks says that Glen Raven represents the “height in innovation in textiles,” adding that he has always been impressed with their design-thinking approach to innovation, which he has recognized by visiting its manufacturing plants and innovation centers in North Carolina and around the globe. Glen Raven’s Sunbrella fabric brand is world renowned.

A lunch meeting discussion between Oehmig, Hinks and Ward led to the generous donation, according to Ward. And Oehmig was more than willing from the “get-go” to assist in one of the Wilson College’s biggest areas of need, Ward adds.

“We appreciate Glen Raven’s generosity and the fact that they are a North Carolina-based textile company,” Ward says. “They see the value in investing in textile education. And they are a tremendous leader for us and for our students through internships, mentorships and site visits, as well as through their investment in philanthropy with the Wilson College.”

Current Pioneer Scholars already are on a path to success, thanks to the gift of education they are receiving from companies such as Glen Raven.

“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,” Alex Hutchens, a current Pioneer Scholar from New Bern, North Carolina, says. She plans to study fashion and textile management with a concentration in fashion development and product management.

Another recipient, Jeana Grace Bowker, who grew up in Clinton, North Carolina, intends to study fashion and textile design.

“Being awarded this scholarship now lets me focus on my future without a huge financial roadblock,” says Bowker, whose grandfather taught her to sew and helped develop her passion for sewing and apparel design. “I am so thankful to have received this award. I am really excited about all of the doors this will open for me!”

About Devin Steele

Devin Steele is founder and publisher of U.S.-based eTextileCommunications.com, The Voice of the U.S. Textile industry, which covers the entire value chain of the textile, apparel and sewn products industry. A graduate of NC State’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences with a degree in English, he has covered the industry for more than 25 years.