Portfolio production. Mock interviews. One-on-one career counseling. These are just a few of the career preparedness tools Bay Path University students have access to through our signature WELL (Women as Empowered Learners and Leaders) program and the SCLP (Sullivan Career and Life Planning Center). Since 2013, that list has also included a personalized shopping experience for head-to-toe professional attire, made possible through the University’s donor-funded Professional Image Fund.
The Professional Image Fund allows undergraduate students with a high financial need, particularly those who are Pell-eligible, to purchase professional outfits within the context of a personal shopping experience. Bay Path’s apparel partner for the program has been DressBarn, a women’s clothing store with a mission to, “...inspire women to look and feel beautiful by being a welcoming style destination that dresses her for life.”
West Springfield, Massachusetts, DressBarn store leader Kristen Jemiolo has been working with Bay Path staff and students through this partnership since its inception. The program has also visited
“Our collaboration with Bay Path has helped us to live the mission at a store level,” Jemiolo said. “Each time we help a student to find the perfect interview attire, we are helping to build their confidence and give them knowledge about which styles work for their body. Many of the students have never shopped with us before, but throughout the years we have had many students return as shoppers.”
Participating students like Betty O’Brien ’18 echoed Jemiolo’s sentiments, remarking upon her surge in confidence after donning a well-fitting, professional look.
“It's been almost five years since I've bought professional clothes,” O’Brien said. “I used to dress up all the time for my career. When my youngest son, Kevin, was diagnosed with a rare form of brain cancer, all that changed. At that time, I also gained a lot of weight, so my self-confidence in my image has been very low. The outfit I was able to receive through this program was the first time in a very long time I felt amazing! This outfit is just the beginning of more great things to come. Feeling great about yourself is the first step in being able to do all the things taught at Bay Path--not shrinking back, finding our voice and taking action. I'm so humbled and grateful to have been chosen for this experience; no words can explain what it means when someone invests in you.”
Over the past five years since the launch of the program, the Professional Image Fund has served more than 200 students who can select shoes, accessories, dress pants/skirt, top or dress, jacket, and handbag during their shopping experience. For some, it’s the first opportunity to own a career-ready outfit, or the first time they’ve ever even tried on professional clothing.
“I never thought I’d be able to obtain an outfit that matched myself as a professional at this stage in my life,” Carly Robinson ’18 said. “This new outfit provides me with the confidence to take on the world with my newly earned degree.”
Not only do participants leave the experience ready to tackle professional challenges like interviews head-on, but they also build community and forge friendships watching each other transform during the process.
“The best part of the day was seeing the other women getting their outfits,” O’Brien said. “One woman got dress pants for the very first time. Another tried on a print for the first time and looked amazing, and another chose a great dress that made her look and feel so incredible.”
If you'd like to contribute to the Professional Image Fund, visit www.baypath.edu/give.