We always hope that our graduating Blugolds will stay in the Chippewa Valley and bring their unique talents and perspectives to jobs in the area business community, and it seems that area business leaders have the same hope.
A team of community leaders, part of the 2019 Leadership Eau Claire cohort, chose to base their nine-month team project around the UW-Eau Claire Campus Closet, a student support program offering access to professional clothing free of charge to any students in need of proper attire for interviews, internships or even the first day of new job.
Leadership Eau Claire (LEC) is a program of the Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce that combines leadership skill building with community education. According to the LEC website, a cohort of participants from a wide range of local organizations and businesses take part each year in a nine-month program aimed at providing a "bird's eye view" of the issues facing the community. Teams all take on a worthy project to support, building the leadership skills to become successful agents of change in the community.
How community leaders plan to help
The Campus Closet, which has already provided clothing to approximately 150 students this fall, was chosen to present their program as a potential LEC collaborations project, and was ultimately assigned to a team which had identified this student resource as their first choice. Erin Shadbolt, a nurse administrator overseeing home hospice, palliative care and senior services at Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire, shared the story of this LEC project and what the team hopes to accomplish with the Campus Closet.
"Teams were asked to rank our choices after hearing all the project presentations, and Campus Closet was our first choice," Shadbolt said. "Our team was really excited to be selected to work on that project. The cohort is composed of people representing all different aspects of the local business community, and one thing we all feel strongly about is that students who come to Eau Claire for their education can then be hired into this community."
Shadbolt's team of business leaders share a common battle to recruit and retain a highly talented work force, and they see UW-Eau Claire as an invaluable local asset in funneling the talented pool of Blugold candidates right here where they are needed.
"The Campus Closet felt like a meaningful project for us," Shadbolt said. "It's meaningful in the basic spirit of helping others, but also meaningful in recruiting and retaining talent in the Chippewa Valley."
The Leadership Eau Claire cohort teams will work on their various community projects over the course of approximately nine months, ending in April. The Campus Closet team is well underway in partnering with campus leadership and students to find the best ways to support this vital student support endeavor.
Fulfilling the EDI mission
Dr. Demetrius Smith, program director for the division of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) at UW-Eau Claire, has been overseeing operations of the closet since last April, and is thrilled to have the support of the Chamber project team. Smith also happens to be part of the current Leadership Eau Claire cohort, working on a different community project with his own team.
"The total concept of the EDI division is to ensure we offer all students everything they need in order to succeed here and when they leave this campus, so this program fits very well into that," Smith said. "It provides that little extra push that some students may not receive because of whatever their unique situation may be."
In moving forward with ways to keep building and improving the Campus Closet model and operations, Smith has found tremendous partnership through this Leadership Eau Claire team project.
"They're providing their expertise in support of the Closet, coming here monthly to meet and brainstorm ways to improve the program and help our students," he said. "One great idea they've come up with is establishing an off-campus drop-off location, which will be a huge benefit. This will provide another useful access point for community members to more easily donate clothing."
In addition to establishing this off-campus drop-off location for donations, Shadbolt's cohort plans to establish an annual community clothing drive as a way to ensure a steady supply of quality clothing donations.
Shadbolt explains the idea of the annual drive and how it will serve as both a logistical asset and a marketing tool, making the Campus Closet more known to area businesses that are Chamber members.
"We will likely organize it around an existing Chamber event. Many of us in the business community invest in work clothing, and maybe it doesn't fit for very long, or we decide it's no longer a style we appreciate and we all have things we can donate," she says. "We felt that establishing an ongoing annual event would be a meaningful avenue for those items and ensures a flow of donations to the program."
A third idea of the LEC cohort is to simply amplify awareness of the Campus Closet for students who still may not know about this resource.
"We hope to create a marketing campaign pointing out all the items that are available, making sure that all students understand that access to appropriate business clothing will not be a barrier to their success in interviewing or job seeking in the community."
Campus Closet fast facts
- The Campus Closet is located in Brewer Hall, Room 49, in the basement level. This relatively new space (see related story) also is home to the Campus Harvest food pantry.
- Hours of operation are Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 2-5 p.m.
- Any student with a Blugold ID may visit the Campus Closet up to three times per semester. Students unable to visit during regular hours may schedule an appointment by emailing Dr. Demetrius Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Donations to the Campus Closet can be made at the Brewer Hall location during open hours. Two additional drop sites (one in Davies Center and one off campus) are in the works, so stay tuned. Community clothing drives also are in the preparation phase and will be announced as plans are finalized.
For upcoming additional hours and/or donation drop-off locations, see the Campus Closet website.