The Department of External Scholarships and Fellowships Advising at Stony Brook University started an initiative this semester called the Red Hot Career Closet and Mentoring Program, which provides clothing and mentoring to students from low-income families for interviews, internships or their first work experience after college.
The program will be giving out donated clothes, shoes, bags, overcoats and accessories from students, faculty and community members. Mentors working in the program educate participants about professional norms to boost confidence within students to display their talents and skills.
Jennifer Green, external fellowships advisor, who helps students prepare for jobs and internships, started the program.
“I look back to my personal experience, and I didn’t know the normal for professional clothing,” Green said, referring to her time in college. “Then I thought, students probably don’t have money to buy a suit.”
The idea came about when a student approached Green because she had nothing to wear to an upcoming interview. After Green gave the student one of her own suits, she realized that other students might need professional clothing as well.
Green toyed with starting the Red Hot Career Closet for years, but winning the Presidential Mini-Grant for Departmental Diversity Initiative allowed her to finally make it happen. The grant makes it possible for the program to be piloted by External Scholarships and Fellowships Advising, the Center for Civic Justice and the Career Center.
“I got a lot of enthusiasm from both the Center for Civic Justice and the Career Center to get it off the ground,” Green said.
Since the program is still in its pilot stage, it will first be offered to a small number of students who have to go through an application process, in which they have to demonstrate financial need and explain what they’ll use the clothing for.
“I feel that students will use this program because it’s a very real thing happening. I’ve already been approached by students to know if they can use something right now,” Green said.
Clothing recipients are allowed to keep the donations, but Green is worried that she won’t be able to accommodate the demand. The pilot program — ending this semester — will help evaluate what Stony Brook students need and will use this information for when the program is officially launched next semester.
For students who don’t qualify for financial-based aid, a program by JCPenney called “Suit Up” hosts events where students can get discounts. Green explained that she didn’t want to leave out students who might not be able to demonstrate financial need.
“In this event, the prices for their professional clothing are drastically reduced. JCPenney also works with other institutions, and it’s been very successful,” Green said.
Mentorship is also a popular portion of the Red Hot Career Closet, Green said.
“What’s really exciting is I’ve had staff come forward saying they want to be involved in the mentoring portion,” she said. “I’ve had amazing responses.”
Kathleen Flint Ehm, director for graduate and postdoctoral professional development, believes the closet will be very useful for students.
“When students are headed to their first big professional interview, they want to focus on the interview and being amazing, not worrying about having the right thing to wear,” she said.
Ehm explained how the Red Hot Career Closet now allows Green to focus on students with the greatest financial need while continuing to provide the critical mentoring that prepares students to navigate future professional situations.
“Seeing the smiles and effortless confidence of Jen’s past students, I know the Red Hot Career Closet will be a valuable resource for Stony Brook,” Ehm said.
After the program finishes its pilot period this semester, it will be located permanently in the Career Center in Fall 2019.
“The program is a whole package and I hope it will provide a baseline for future purchases,” Green said.
The mentoring will be done by Green, her fellow interns and colleagues from the Career Center and the Graduate School. Green said she feels humbled by the responses she has gotten and that people have even approached her asking to donate money.
“The enthusiasm is heartening,” Green said.