Ever heard the old saying “Dress for success”? Ashleigh Brock in the Cohen Career Center is making sure William & Mary students have access to a professional wardrobe to make the best first impression.
Brock, an assistant director who works with freshmen and sophomores, recently launched a program called Suits for Scholars. It provides current W&M students with the opportunity to borrow professional attire for job, graduate school and internship interviews, as well as professional networking events and other career-related opportunities.
“Making a good first impression is extremely important,” said Brock. “This service recognizes that sometimes students either have a time crunch or a financial crunch and getting the right attire in order to feel confident in those professional scenarios might not always be possible.”
Inside the 11,000-square-foot Cohen Career Center is a closet stuffed with an inventory of men’s and women’s professional clothing. Hanging on the metal racks are full suits and individual items such as dress shirts and blazers, along with accessories ranging from traditional ties to colorful jewelry.
Brock said that students have the option of choosing from about 120 new and gently used items, which have been donated to the Center by faculty, staff, students, alumni and members of the Williamsburg community. The program is offered to undergraduate, graduate Arts & Sciences and master of accounting students, with a dry cleaning fee being the only cost to borrow an outfit.
Brock said the idea for Suits for Scholars was born last January when she and her colleague, Tiffanie Rosier, were chatting about how some prospective job seekers were coming to career fairs and events underdressed.
“We were seeing students showing up to career fairs less appropriately dressed than we would have liked them to be,” said Brock. “We wondered whether this was a matter of them not knowing what professional dress was or not having the means to buy attire.”
Brock collaborated with Anna Martinez ’14, a marketing assistant in the office, and the duo started brainstorming how the Center could help students dress for a job-related or networking event. It just so happened that a coat closet in the hallway had been sitting empty since the building opened in 2010.
“We had the space; now all we needed was the clothing,” said Brock.
After conducting some initial research, Brock found that most university career centers were committed to teaching students about professional dress, but few offered a career-attire borrowing program. Columbia University, however, had received a generous donation from two major retailers – Macys and Bloomingdales – to help ensure students were able to dress professionally as part of their career preparation.
“I knew at a public school we probably couldn’t expect to get that large of a commitment right away, but I thought we do have people who love William & Mary and the students,” said Brock. “And while they may not always be able to give enough money to build a program or name an office, I guessed there were people out there who would want to contribute in a small way that would have a big impact on students.”
Brock’s intuition was right. Responses to help with the program starting flooding her inbox after she sent out emails to the internal community, posted a blog on the Career Center’s website and shared the news with alumni via Facebook.
“I started getting donations in the mail from all over the place – some local, some far,” recalled Brock. “Some of the best donations we’ve gotten have actually been through the mail from people I will probably never meet in person.
“We were sort of overwhelmed just by the response,” she quipped. “We had people from the local community who would bring a carload of things.”
One of her fondest moments was when Sara Collins, an alumna from the Class of 1996, MBA ’00 emailed Brock offering to help with the program.
“Sara wanted to do more than just donate – she asked if she could do a small fundraiser,” explained Brock. Brock replied yes, by all means, and within one month Collins had raised nearly $600.
The Cohen Career Center took the donation and purchased four suits for men and women – brand new – and added a few additional items to the closet.
“That little bit of money went a long way in purchasing some of the best things we now have available for students,” said Brock.
After the donations started to pour in, Martinez took on the initiative of building the administrative structure for the program, developing a system for cataloging all of the items and photographing the available clothing for students to view online. She also oversees new item delivery.
For Brock, the project hits home on a personal level. During her senior year of college, she was in the running for an investment banking position at Goldman Sachs.
“Up until that point I hadn’t done anything that required a full, business professional look,” she recalled. “I remember being panicked because they called on Tuesday and wanted to fly me to New York for the interview on Friday and I had nothing to wear.”
Luckily, Brock’s mother was close by and came to her rescue. They did some last-minute shopping to help her find a sharp looking navy blue pinstriped suit.
Brock didn’t end up getting the job, but hasn’t forgotten the stress that came with preparing for that interview. She hopes William & Mary students won’t have to face the same dilemma.
Brock’s suit, along with many others, now hangs in the Suits for Scholars closet, waiting to be borrowed.