Speight’s advisors encouraged her to apply for FLAIR as she approached the final year of her undergraduate degree and began her transition into the master’s program.
Speight was beginning to hone her skills in fashion trend forecasting. “I wanted to work for a major company to better understand what’s causing people to dress in certain ways,” she says.
Through FLAIR, Speight was one of four fellows paired with an experienced professional for an individualized mentoring program. Not only would she receive scholarship money, but she’d also gain opportunities to learn workforce-ready skills.
“I knew I would learn a lot in my courses and through my practicum project,” Speight says. “But I liked the idea of having a mentor who could teach me things I might not learn specifically in my program.”
Twice a month, Speight met with Yvonne Johnson, Senior Director of Product Development at Cotton Incorporated who graduated from the CARS department in 1982.
“In the fashion industry, trend forecasting presentations are audience specific, and there’s a particular way you want to portray yourself and present your research,” Johnson says. “In one of my first meetings with LaParia, she told me that she wanted to grow her confidence in presenting, so we really focused on public speaking and presentation skills.”
Johnson gave Speight an assignment she wishes someone had given her at the start of her career. “I challenged her to do some research to identify a few role models to study aspects that she would want to emulate.”
Speight was assigned to choose a fashion designer, a motivational speaker, and a political speaker of interest to her. She watched Ted Talks and YouTube clips and compared and contrasted what made them so effective in delivering their messages. After studying these potential role models, Speight prepared a series of mini presentations she’d present to Johnson, who would offer feedback to help her improve.
Johnson also provided Speight insights on how to tailor her resume to specific positions, and conducted mock interviews to further develop her skills. “It’s great to have a network of people who can offer connectivity and support in future endeavors,” says Johnson.
If a company is trying to meet the needs of all its consumers, it’s in their best interest to look through a broad, inclusive lens.”
As her FLAIR capstone project, Speight prepared a presentation on fashion trend forecasting. She presented it to Johnson and the other three FLAIR mentors, as well as CARS graduate faculty members.
Johnson was very impressed. “LaParia just shined. She spoke so eloquently and had obviously taken into account the things we talked about.”
As Speight completes her final internship with QVC, where she’s working in their fashion trend and lifestyle department, she feels confident in her ability to gracefully move into the next stage of her career. “I feel very well-prepared,” she says. “I’m keeping my eyes open to different opportunities, and I feel like whatever I pursue, I have a good chance of getting it.”
That’s the type of confidence Dr. Hodges hopes to build through FLAIR, a program she hopes will provide students what they need to compete in a competitive job market. “If you look around and don’t see anybody in a leadership position that looks like you, you lack that sense of belonging that gives you the self-assurance to forge ahead on your career path,” she says.