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Giving Back

NC State Leader Genevieve Garland ’00, ’02, ’13 Honors a Lifelong Mentor by Paying Forward Her Invaluable Support

Genevieve Garland (left) and her mentor Cynthia Istook pose for a photo at Garland's commencement ceremony.

To think that she’d be referred to as “Dr.” one day would have seemed unbelievable to Genevieve Garland’s younger self. Even though this achievement would make her the first in her immediate family to pursue two advanced degrees, she found those unchartered waters exhilarating.

An additional push in the right direction came from Garland’s closest confidant on her path to higher education: Professor Cynthia Istook.

Genevieve Garland ’00, ’02 M.S., ’13 Ph.D.

“Dr. Istook was such a hands-on professor and so engaging. It was hard not to have an instant connection with her,” Garland says. “She introduced me to CAD [computer-aided design] software and body scanning equipment. I realized that I could pursue both of my passions: science and creativity.”

Istook arrived at the Wilson College of Textiles as an associate professor in 1997, a year after Garland began exploring campus as a first-year textile and apparel management student. In 2010, Istook became the first woman to be promoted to the position of full professor in the college’s more than 100-year history. She was also the first woman to be appointed to a named professorship when she became the Cornelson Distinguished Professor of Textile and Apparel Design in 2018. 

“At the time, there were not many women in the textile industry,” Garland shares. “Dr. Istook was leading research in emerging areas like body scanning and CAD. I’ve always looked up to her as a woman researcher and leader in the college.” 

While Istook has served in various roles throughout her academic career, she most values her position as a trusted adviser to her students.

I try to be someone my students can come to when they need to talk. That came easy with Genevieve. We had a close relationship, and she was like a daughter to me.
— Cynthia Istook

During Garland’s senior year, Istook stepped in to nurture and guide her through one of the most challenging times in her life: laying her mother to rest. While many of her classmates were planning trips for their upcoming fall break, Garland was facing crushing heartache.

“Your senior year is a formative time in your life, so losing my mother felt incredibly intense,” Garland recalls. “It happened the semester I graduated.”

She credits her close relationship with Istook, her friendships and the Wilson College community with keeping her afloat. Garland didn’t just survive the most painful time of her life; she thrived. After losing her mother, she pushed herself to excel in her courses and lead various campus organizations. She was even honored with the Outstanding Apparel Student of the Year Award from the American Apparel and Footwear Association.

Cynthia Istook
Professor Cynthia Istook had an incredible impact on Associate Vice Chancellor Garland, both personally and professionally. Professor Istook made history as the college’s first woman to be promoted to a full professor and the first woman to be appointed to a named professorship.

Istook, whose own mother passed away when she was a high school student, was amazed by Garland’s perseverance. Not only did Garland shine academically, but she also went above and beyond to help her fellow classmates succeed. 

“She was a natural-born leader,” Istook says. “Genevieve stood out because she always looked for opportunities to go out and share her knowledge.”

Their friendship and mentorship became even more profound after the loss of Garland’s mother. That closeness extended to Istook’s household, as well, where her children often saw Garland around their home. They considered her a close friend of the family. 

“Losing a parent, especially at a young age, really impacts a person. It’s unreal, and everything changes,” Istook says. “Being able to share my first-hand experiences with Genevieve and be there for her felt meaningful to me.”

Paying it forward to benefit the next generation of textile students

Garland knows that her time at the Wilson College wouldn’t have been the same without Istook’s thoughtful guidance, reassurance and expertise in the textiles field. 

“Navigating through the process of obtaining a graduate degree is not easy,” she remembers. “If it weren’t for the college and having a mentor like Cindy, I don’t think I would have gone to graduate school. They opened my eyes and made me realize that this is something I could do.” 

Genevieve Garland and Behnam Pourdeyhimi, executive director of The Nonwovens Institute, look over samples
Prior to becoming NC State’s associate vice chancellor of research operations and communications, Genevieve Garland served as the director of partnership and innovation at The Nonwovens Institute. In this photo, she’s pictured with Behnam Pourdeyhimi, executive director of The Nonwovens Institute, looking over samples.

Garland went on to become a three-time Wilson College of Textiles graduate, earning a bachelor’s degree in textile and apparel management in 2000 (now called fashion and textile management), a master’s degree in textiles in 2002 and a Ph.D. in Textile Technology Management in 2013. Today, Garland serves as NC State’s associate vice chancellor of research operations and communications and the chief of staff within the Office of Research and Innovation. In this leadership role, she provides strategic leadership while supporting the NC State community’s research, scholarship and creative activities.

On November 1, 2021, Garland decided to honor the most important relationship in her professional life and a glass ceiling breaker in the textile industry by creating the Cynthia L. Istook Textiles Graduate Endowment.  

“Cindy was someone I looked up to, and she continuously involved me in the research process while I was an undergraduate student,” Garland says. “It’s important to me that she be recognized for the role she played in my life and the lives of many other students, but, first and foremost, I created this fund in her name to honor her significant contributions to the field.”

Garland aims to help graduate students, especially those with financial need, stay on the path toward earning their degrees at the Wilson College of Textiles — just like she once did. By alleviating their financial burden, Garland hopes to empower students to focus solely on their academic pursuits and their passion for textiles research.

Graduate school can really shift one’s perspective. It definitely shifted mine. I hope that the Cynthia L. Istook Textiles Graduate Endowment will inspire the next generation of textile students to pursue graduate degrees and encourage more alumni to give back in this way.
— Genevieve Garland ’00, ’02, ’13

When Istook heard how Garland had honored her, she was moved to tears.

“I was very emotional that Genevieve would do that,” Istook says, wiping her eyes. “In the end, it’s about how you touch other people’s lives that matters. Not what kind of job you had, but if you made a difference in somebody’s life.”

Garland looks forward to hearing how the students supported by her endowment will follow in her footsteps.

“I’ve thought about creating something like this for a long time,” Garland says. “Graduate school opened up many opportunities for me, and I hope to open those same doors for many others.”