The idea of "new year, new you" was in full swing Wednesday when Penn State students made their way to the second floor of the Bank of America Career Services Building for a bit of a professional wardrobe overhaul.
Since November, students in Penn State’s University Park Undergraduate Association, paired with the Career Services Center, have been collecting gently used suits, shoes and other items to stock a "closet" of free, professional-attire clothing.
"A lot of times with career fairs and everything, students aren’t dressing their best because they don’t have the financials for it," said Madeline Fortin, the association’s Smeal College of Business representative and an organizer of the event. "If they could come here for free and get the suit, we thought that would be a great idea."
Penn State is a top destination for recruiting. According to 2013-2014 reports, some of the companies picking up the most Nittany Lions for jobs were PricewaterhouseCoopers, JPMorgan Chase, Amazon and IBM.
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Fortin, along with association representative Divy Agnihotri and Career Fairs Coordinator Sherry Rice, said the idea was floated separately within the association and Rice’s department. But the ball really began rolling when they teamed up to make the event university-wide.
Agnihotri and Rice call their first effort the "pilot semester" for the closet, noting that the team was in contact with other schools, such as Purdue, to learn what worked.
"Penn State is a leader every year in business recruiting, but there are always students who don’t have the attire to get to those interviews or look professional enough," said Agnihotri. "If other universities are doing it, why can’t Penn State?"
They are still trying to find the best formula for the event but hope it will continue annually or once a semester.
Robert Al-moustafa, a communication arts and sciences major, heard about the event via email and brought a friend, Jake Levenson. Both said they felt a professional wardrobe has an impact on attitude and sends a strong statement to potential employers.
"If you’re willing to put in the effort to dress up, it makes you look nicer and you feel nicer when you’re trying to get an interview or speak to employers," said Levenson.
If you’re willing to put in the effort to dress up, it makes you look nicer and you feel nicer when you’re trying to get an interview or speak to employers.
Jake Levenson, Penn State student
The clothes on the drive’s newly purchased coat rack boasted labels from a variety of stores, including Jos. A. Bank and Express.
Near the end of the day, fewer suits were available and just a smattering of shoes, pants and jackets. Levenson and Al-moustafa walked away with nothing, though they perused the options and Levenson held up a pair of pants that, given his smaller size, appeared better for a weight loss commercial than an interview.
That’s what Rice said she hopes to improve -- an increased number of donations to suit all students’ needs.
"We’re working with UPUA to try to make this a more broad and broadly known event," she said. "That was the hardest part -- finding a way to reach everyone."
About 200 students attended, and faculty and staff donations totaled about 100 men’s and women’s pieces. Rice said the team hopes to advertise more heavily and reaching out to the community and businesses.
200 The number of students attending the event.
100 The number of donations.
Near the end of the day the women’s selection was dwindling — organizers said many women came within the first hour of the drive — but sophomore Sarah Richards did not leave empty-handed. Despite her busy schedule, she managed to come around 2 p.m. and snag a business skirt.
"Just because I’m at Penn State doesn’t mean I have money. I calculated and I have like $200,000 worth of loans to pay afterward, so I figure anything can help," Richards said. "I’m just really grateful."
Noelle Rosellini is a Penn State journalism student.