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Eskenazi School offered summer externship due to canceled internships


Whitney Parkhill makes a presentation showing how the company Stitch Fix utilizes data for driving decisions. Parkhill is a former IU apparel merchandising student. Courtesy Photo

Most students in the Eskenazi School of Art, Architecture + Design rely on internships during the summer to prepare themselves for their future careers. However, due to the pandemic, students in apparel merchandising and fashion design were unable to gain experience from summer internships.

Janis Shaffer and Dana Olsen are co-directors of the Center for Innovative Merchandising, and together they came up with the idea to provide an externships for students this summer who missed their opportunities to participate in internships. Olsen said a little over 80% of students in the Eskenazi School participate in an internship within Eskenazi’s program.

“Internships are an important part of the program and development,” Olsen said. “Because of so many internships being canceled, we wanted to provide some experience for students.” 

There were 34 students ranging from rising sophomores to seniors majoring in apparel merchandising, fashion design and business. It was offered during the first six weeks of summer. Students worked on case studies, data analysis and creative thinking. Olsen said they wanted to make assignments as similar as possible to if students were working at an actual internship.

Each week students interacted with guest speakers via Zoom, including former CEO of Finish Line, divisional merchandise manager from Vans, a senior advisor of Belk, a senior account executive for Marc Jacobs and a handful of other employees and representatives from different companies.

“The two of us both have many connections throughout the retail industry allowing us to find many guest speakers,” Shaffer said. “I am a part of a LinkedIn group with generally 75% alumni and over 2,000 people total.”

Shaffer said alumni who now live around the world were eager to be guest speakers and help students. Students were able to learn about a variety of different jobs and positions.

Lauren Wong, a fifth-year student majoring in apparel merchandising, was supposed to go to the New York Field Seminar in New York, led by Shaffer, at the beginning of May. Wong said soon after her seminar was canceled, Shaffer reached out to her informing her about the summer course.

“The main concept I was able to take away from this course was to be very open minded with future opportunities,” Wong said. “After hearing from different professionals in different industries, I’ve learned to be more flexible throughout my career.”

Wong said she was also glad there was a variety of different guest speakers. She was able to learn about careers within luxury stores and major companies like Google, instead of just learning about representatives from general department stores. Although Google isn't directly retail related, their representative spoke on the importance of businesses having a strong digital platform since COVID has been impacting brick and mortar sales. She said hearing different perspectives was very encouraging.

“This course has taught students to learn to be flexible and roll within the industry and where it’s taking you,” said Shaffer. “It was ironic to us that students were encouraging us to have this class again for other merchandising students.”

Wong said she wants other students to be able to take this course in the future because she was able to gain exposure to many different individuals and network with them. She said all of the guest speakers were very open about their careers with her and her classmates.

“This was really meaningful because a lot of students in my class had internships canceled and were still given the opportunity to network and seek opportunities," Wong said.

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