Huskers 'Suit Up' for professional opportunities
Partnership with J.C. Penney offers deep discounts, knowledgeable assistance
Internships, interviews, class presentations, campus events, new careers — they’re all part of the student experience at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Suiting up for these opportunities can present multiple challenges for students as professional attire comes at a hefty price, budgets are often tight, and a general knowledge about fashion and sizing can be lacking.
To help students overcome these hurdles, Nebraska's Career Services teamed with J.C. Penney for Suit Up, an event that offers professional clothing and accessories at deep discounts, $10 hair cuts and assistance with sizing and fashion choices. The second Suit Up event, held April 15 at J.C. Penney in Lincoln's Gateway Mall, drew more than 670 students.
For Nick Schmit, a second-year student in the Professional Program in Veterinary Medicine, Suit Up was a chance to transition away from a suit bought when he was a junior in high school. It also helped him prepare for an upcoming transition to Iowa State University, where Nebraska students go to finish studies in the shared veterinary medicine program.
"In the veterinary medicine program, every Thursday is professional attire day at Iowa State," Schmit said. "We are expected to show up in suits or shirts and tie. I'm excited to be able to get something that will fit a little better than my old suit."
One of the first things Schmit did at the event was to step inside the store's portrait studio to get measured by a trained J.C. Penney employee.
"This is a really good sale, and I’ve had a lot of help with finding the right sizes and putting things together, which is good, because I have no idea what I’m doing,” he said.
Christina Thibodeau echoed this sentiment. While she’s only a junior, Thibodeau said she needs dress clothes for upcoming class presentations and interviews for internships.
“Most dress clothes are way out of a student’s price point, so this is really great to have for college students,” she said.
The events are open to the entire campus community, but the aim is to make sure all students, regardless of their financial status, can be ready to take on any opportunity that presents itself, said Bill Watts, director of university advising and career services.
“Nationally, there has been more attention paid to the achievement gaps and equity gaps that exist for students who face socio-economic difficulties,” Watts said. “We want to find ways to make sure all of our students are successful, and to give them the maximum return on their investment.”
Watts said Career Services staff had been considering various approaches to address this challenge when Amber Pape, project coordinator, was approached by J.C. Penney corporate officials to gauge interest in partnering on a Suit Up event. Pape worked with the Lincoln store’s general manager, Brian Tadlock, to set up the first event held in September 2017 — just prior to the university’s career fairs — and it was wildly popular, with 684 students shopping.
“The timing for the spring event was a little later in the semester to look ahead more for students who have summer internships and for new graduates who are beginning their careers,” Watts said.
Watts and Pape said they expect the events to continue for as long as J.C. Penney is willing. The events take a lot of preparation and about 24 campus volunteers are needed to work alongside a full slate of JCPenny employees.
“We are fortunate that Penney’s has chosen to collaborate with us on this," Watts said. "Based on the success of these first two events, it’s a service that is needed and appreciated by our students."
Tadlock agreed, adding that the Lincoln Suit Up events are among the largest held at stores in the nation.
“It’s an important step for students to be able to buy that first career outfit, but it can be a daunting experience,” he said. “I think we’re providing a really positive experience to these students and making that transition a little easier.”
It certainly seemed that way for Kyle Murray, a junior professional golf management major from Beatrice, who capped his shopping with a $10 haircut in the J.C. Penney salon.
"I bought three suits — coat and pants — and two ties and saved $522," Murray said. "I spent pretty much all the money I could, but it was worth it. Now I'm ready for professional meetings, internship interviews and any upcoming weddings for my friends."