The Annual Career Fair is an exciting time at Davenport University for many students as they dress to impress recruiters from more than 70 employers and hope to land a great job. However, for students who do not have access to professional clothing, the Career Fair can be an intimidating and uncertain time.
From past experience, DU staff members knew that on average a dozen students are turned away from the Career Fair each year because of their lack of professional attire. They suspected that there was more to this problem than the students’ lack of awareness or unwillingness to comply with the dress code. That’s when a Davenport staff member saw a student need and stepped in.
Regional Internship Manager Brandi Melkild created the Panther Resource Closet to help. The closet provides new or gently-used professional clothing at no charge to enrolled students. It also is stocked with unopened non-perishable food items and personal hygiene products. The Panther Resource Closet will host an open house Tuesday, Jan. 16.
Students may access the closet anonymously or by contacting the Center for Campus Life, Career Services or the Office of Experiential Learning for support. The closet is open at the lower level of the Academic Building, near the Campus Public Safety Office and is staffed Monday through Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and from 5 to 6 p.m.
The Creation of the Panther Resource Closet
“I started collecting clothing from staff and faculty, and personally purchasing and donating second-hand clothing to have available to students to have before the Career Fair,” Melkild said.
To help launch the project, Melkild turned to the Career Services Program Fund, which is largely supported by staff and faculty donors. With this backing, she was able to fund the items that were needed immediately before the 2017 Career Fair.
“Every student who didn’t meet dress code was given the opportunity to immediately upgrade his or her outfit by visiting the closet. Every student had professional attire options,” Melkild said with tears in her eyes.
Class Projects Help Build Project Success
After the success in early 2017, Melkild wanted to expand the closet and ensure its sustainability. She presented the project as a business case to Professor Steve Bayus, the facilitator for BUSN 489 — a business experiential learning class that provides field experience to students.
In the spring of 2017, the students were tasked with the role of consultants, developing a specific plan of operations and business design for a DU resource program located on the W.A. Lettinga Campus in Grand Rapids. Over the semester, the students researched similar offerings at other colleges, conducted an on-campus need survey and developed recommendations for staffing, generating student awareness, procuring inventory and budgeting.
The students and faculty involved in this project were personally invested and it became more than just a class assignment. Their needs assessment results highlighted the importance of a resource to address professional clothing needs, as well as other resources on campus. Of 51 DU students interviewed, 36 percent wished they had better fitting or more appropriate business clothes and 66 percent did not own a business jacket. In relation to the need for non-perishable food items, 24 percent of students interviewed reported skipping a meal because they couldn’t afford food and 47 percent reported spending the largest portion of their budget on food.
“We need to be proactive to help our students battle hunger and clothing needs on campus,” said Jenny Hendricks, one of the undergraduate student consultants enrolled in the course. “This service helps meet the short-term needs of students until they reach long-term independence.”
The following semester after implementing the business plan created by the undergraduate class, Melkild presented the idea to a master-level Project Management in an Operations Environment class taught by Justin Littlefield-Lawwill. The master’s level course developed a project plan with a goal of operating the Panther Resource Closet throughout the 2017–2018 academic year.
Give to the Panther Resource Closet
Donations are accepted at the Center for Campus Life. The closet’s current greatest needs are men’s suit jackets, belts, ties, non-perishable food items, personal hygiene products and shoes.