Putting PEP in the Wilson Step: How Research Opportunities Impact Student Experiences
By Ali Early
The Wilson College of Textiles aims to provide students with a holistic academic experience that will advance the textiles industry. The Provost’s Professional Experience Program (PEP) is one method through which the research efforts of students are encouraged and financially supported by NC State faculty. Since the creation of PEP in 2015, the program has grown tremendously. More than 500 undergraduate students across the university participated in this program for the 2021-2022 academic year.
Addie Seay, a senior in fashion and textile management (FTM) with a concentration in brand management and marketing, has flourished under the mentorship of Professor Karen Leonas during her time in PEP. Her research focuses on sustainability in the global textile supply chain complex and how Wilson College faculty are applying the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through their research.
“This experience was my first time being involved in the research process outside of a classroom setting,” Seay says. “I had a personal and professional interest in sustainable efforts in the textiles industry. Through my project with Dr. Leonas, I was able to develop useful skills that allowed me to push myself out of my comfort zone and build relationships with faculty members.”
For her primary research project, Seay created a framework for a website that showshow faculty members in the Wilson College community incorporate the concepts of the SDGs in their research.
Over the past few academic years, Leonas has sponsored multiple PEP students on a variety of projects. Leonas emphasizes that research experiences should facilitate two-way relationships. Students will acquire knowledge on their personal interests, and faculty members have the opportunity to learn about future directions in the textiles industry from students.
“To see students develop professionally is extremely fulfilling,” she notes. “I have had the opportunity to work closely with students that will eventually shape the textiles industry in the future, which is very exciting.”
The contributions of Seay and Leonas are particularly important because of the tangible nature of their work.
“The textiles industry has had a considerable impact on the environment, technology and society,” Leonas says. “Additional research is needed to bring attention to a variety of these issues, and factual information needs to be disseminated to consumers so that they can make informed decisions.”
Seay is also looking forward to seeing what the future of textiles will bring in terms of innovations and how her novel platform can contribute to research in this field.
For those interested in assisting in the research process, Seay suggests that students should consider what they are most passionate about and connect with faculty members that have similar interests.
“Working on a project that you already have an interest in can make for an engaging and rewarding learning experience,” Seay adds.
Leonas says students should not hesitate to reach out to faculty members.
“Faculty members want to nurture professional, symbiotic relationships with students by assisting them in reaching their fullest potential and achieving the goals they may have for themselves in the process,” she says.