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New Camp Connects Fashion, STEAM for Middle School Students

3D program design my middle school student

Above: Students in the Wilson College’s new Fashion Camp learned how to design garments, including the one seen above, using a 3-D program.

By Sarah Stone

A new program at the Wilson College of Textiles is showing students how they can turn their love of fashion into a viable career. 

Students from Wake County, North Carolina, are taking part in the college’s first fashion program for middle schoolers. It’s the brain child of Associate Professors Anne Porterfield and Kavita Mathur, who both teach in the Department of Textile and Apparel, Technology and Management, as well as graduate student Jasmine Jackson. Dr. Porterfield’s expertise in 3-D design software and Dr. Mathur’s specialty in textile technology makes this possible. 

“We had this broad vision of doing this kind of a program not only that helps recruitment but also helps build relationships with local schools,” Mathur says. 

A grant from the NC State Office of Outreach and Engagement is funding the program. Students have experienced hands-on learning despite the virtual format. First, they received a library of fabric samples to help familiarize them with the physical properties of a range of materials. 

“Then that gives us a kind of segue into how we can virtualize the fabric,” Porterfield explains. “By taking certain measurements of the fabrics themselves we can actually put them into the software and see them react in kind of the same way that they would in real life.” 

Middle schoolers then combine their knowledge of materials and the software to design, simulate and render virtual garments. Making connections for young students between Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics (STEAM) and the textile industry is a key goal for program organizers. 

“The connection really exists throughout the program in a much more subtle way. The students are working with three dimensional shapes in the garments that they’re making,” Porterfield says. “And so they’re getting a sense of how shapes can kind of go together to make other shapes, and so there’s a little bit of that kind of 3-D geometry built into it.”

The week-long camp wrapped up in August, and now students are completing a series of “Saturday Academy” sessions to give them more confidence in a future in a STEAM field. 

“We wanted to have time to revisit the skills that they learned during camp to remind them that they learned something and to help build their confidence as learners of software in general,” Portferfield says. “So that they can start to consider themselves as being positioned to pursue a Bachelor of Science degree ” 

Both Porterfield and Mathur emphasize the camp would not have been possible without the persistence and assistance of Jasmine Jackson. Jackson is pursuing a doctoral degree in textile technology management and worked with the faculty to bring the camp to life after plans were set aside at the start of the pandemic. In addition to allowing her to pursue a passion for 3-D design software, involvement in the camp also advances Jackson’s doctoral research. 

“The main research question focuses on the lack of STEAM career exposure in minority-based communities,” Jackson says. Although this workshop is a pilot study observing how middle school children perceive art, STEAM, and fashion through technology, being able to expose them to these subjects is a win in itself.”

However, Jackson says the most rewarding part of the experience for her is seeing how engaged students are in the material. Participants said they loved seeing how they could change dress designs virtually. 

“It’s a little harder sometimes with middle school kids and you’re like, ‘Alright, hopefully they don’t think this is lame,’ but they’re excited,” Jackson says. “The students actually like it, and they’re learning from it and they’re thinking of other careers that can possibly be something they may want to go into. I mean, you never know, we may be teaching the next big designer in fashion.”