Educate May 2017

Clothing That Makes A Difference: Gator Career Closet

Written By: Caroline Redmond

Tucked away in the heart of the University of Florida’s campus is a not-so-hidden gem that is helping students find their first jobs, get into their dream graduate schools and be more confident individuals. In true UF fashion, the Gator Career Closet grooms students for success.

The Closet makes professional clothes and accessories available for students to check out for business events, professional interviews or career fairs. The team that runs the closet knows not all students can afford to dress for these situations, so the Gator Career Closet was created with a vision of helping students show off their true potential not only on paper, but in person.

Dr. Jen Day Shaw, UF associate vice president and dean of students, said, “The closet is all about helping students put their best foot forward,” Shaw said. “People feel more confident when they look good, and we don’t want appearance or lack of confidence to hold a student back from getting a job or getting into the grad school they want.”

The space strives to be welcoming and affirming to every student who comes through the doors. The staff helps students select clothing, while providing special training to suit students’ specific needs. In a recent session, the closet invited an expert on disabilities to educate the staff on how to help students in wheelchairs dress in professional clothing.

The Gator Career Closet is co-located with UF’s U Matter, We Care program, which Shaw said is an ideal spot because if a student is especially struggling or needs more support, the U Matter, We Care program is right next door to help.

The closet is coming up on its first anniversary in July 2017, and it has had an exciting first year. As of February, the closet had loaned out almost 1,500 items to over 600 students. It averages 57 items loaned out per week but sees a spike when certain events like the Career Showcase comes to campus. The staff members at the closet said they have learned a lot in its first year that will help them as they enter their second year.

In the year to come, they plan to make the closet more sustainable and partner with more companies and individuals in the community so that they can expand the options for students. The closet staff anticipates that since they have now been open for almost a year, more students will hear about the closet’s various resources. Throughout the year, the closet has hosted events to spread the word to students about the services. During the fall, it held a Gator Career Closet Expo Fashion Show where student volunteers modeled their clothing. With the outpouring of success from these events, they hope to host more events similar to the fashion show in the future.

The closet receives no funding and relies solely on the donations of businesses and families to remain in operation. People can contribute to the closet either by donating clothing and accessories or through financial contributions.

John Mitchell of John Isaac’s Clothing, has been a big contributor to the closet ever since he first heard about it via social media. Mitchell has since donated multiple ties, mannequins and gently used clothes to the closet and is currently working on raising funds to donate new suits and shirts. As a local business owner, Mitchell understands that confidence is key when it comes to interviews:

“When someone is dressed appropriately and feels comfortable in the clothes they are wearing, they perform better,” Mitchell said. “If they are not confident in what they are wearing, they spend too much time worrying about how they look and not the questions being asked in the interview.”

Right now, the closet’s biggest need is not only a larger inventory, but a wide range of styles. The more items in stock, the more choices students will have and the greater the possibility that the closet will be able to help every student who comes in.

Mitchell said he believes that the impact of the closet reaches farther than just the UF campus. “It is a great service to the students at UF and is really helping our community out by prepping these kids to be successful employees and getting them in front of the right employers with confidence,” Mitchell said.

The Gator Career Closet opens its doors for all students. Here, students can walk in feeling welcomed and walk out feeling as confident and valuable as their degree. 

CAROLINE REDMOND is a fourth-year telecommunications student at the University of Florida. In her spare time, Caroline enjoys reading, spending time outdoors and yelling at contestants on Chopped who try to make last-minute vinaigrettes. She also considers herself an amateur cat photographer — her muse is her cat, Snoop Dogg.

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