September 22, 2016

Community Work and Learning, Dress for Success expand their "seamless" partnership

Stephanie Herr '17 receives some advice on a professional wardrobe from Lisa Schroeder. Photo by Jaelyn Miltz '20.

With some new threads, a smile from their image coach, and a bulwark of professional advice, St. Kate’s students experienced first-hand the community services of Dress for Success Twin Cities — a nonprofit dedicated to women’s empowerment and economic self-sufficiency. Earlier this month, nearly 30 Community Work and Learning interns benefited from group “suitings” in which they were fitted for new professional workplace attire, be it for job interviews or their current internships.

For more than five years Dress for Success and St. Kate’s have partnered in a multitude of ways, including paid internships through Community Work and Learning's Career Ready Internship Program and service-learning course collaboration. And in yet another collaboration, this month’s fittings mark the first time that Dress for Success has serviced St. Kate’s interns themselves.

Each student was paired with her own image coach. The coaches are volunteers contributing time and wisdom gleaned from their own professional experience. Oftentimes these individuals are businesspeople making time outside of their already bustling lives, such as the busy Minneapolis restaurant owner who came in to help suit St. Kate’s students after a full day of work. Others, like Marsha Lalley, take advantage of retirement to help out a cause near and dear to their hearts.

“I’ve always wanted to see women successful in the workplace,” says Lalley, a former MCTC instructor and 3-year Dress for Success volunteer with an impeccably polished outfit of her own. “What we do is more than just the clothes — it’s helping them be independent. It’s critical! It can help a woman’s life take a different path.”

Career Ready interns, their new business attire and the image coaches who suited them. Dress for Success spokesperson Lily Lamb is first from left in front row. Photo by Jaelyn Miltz '20.

Dress for Success Twin Cities' mission is to empower women to achieve economic independence by providing a network of support, professional attire and the development tools to help women thrive in work and in life. The end goal, ideally, is to achieve a sustainable living wage job for their clients. And by pairing professional mentors with clients who may not have the funds or know-how to assemble suitable workplace attire, Dress for Success helps to create a community of support around women. With St. Kate’s focus on women and social justice, the two are “a very natural pair, both in terms of location and in terms of mission,” says Lily Lamb, volunteer and communications coordinator at the Twin Cities location.

Although it’s a natural focus of the organization, Lamb says that at Dress for Success, the clothes are only the first step. “You can give someone a suit, and it’s that first introduction — that first step through the door for them — to be successful and really begin to see themselves in a different way than they have before," she says. "Ultimately, that suit isn’t going to get them a job. It’s all of the other professional development skills and empowerment that they’re working on that allow that to happen,” which is where their career development programs come in.

As such, Dress for Success and St. Kate’s “work together seamlessly,” adds Lamb. “One of the things we love about partnering with St. Kate’s is that you have such a holistic view of what makes not only a great student, but a great world citizen. What makes someone important in the world, engaging in their communities, rigorous in their academic work? How does that inform who they are as a person? That’s a view we really support and appreciate.”

And the outcome? Just ask Stephanie Herr ‘17, Data Entry and Outreach Intern at Fairview Health Services. “The team at Dress for Success helped me feel confident in my appearance for work at my internship or going into a job interview,” she says.

A success, not only for the interns but for the people who made it happen — Lamb and D’Ann Urbaniak Lesch, director of Community Work and Learning, plan on continuing the intern suitings each semester. “I loved it,” says Lesch. “The opportunity to bring students together in a space and do any sort of reflection and conversation is always so valuable, and the benefit of having that one-to-one mentor-mentee suiting was an amazing addition to our intern orientation.”

St. Kate’s Community Work and Learning is the recipient of an external grant from Great Lakes Higher Education Corporation, funding intended to help the University provide more of these internship experiences in the community. Students can’t always afford to work internships for free, and without the help of the Great Lakes grant, says Urbaniak Lesch, this semester would have yielded only about 10 interns instead of the 30 who are currently out and about making a difference in their communities. Click here to read more about the grant.

By Michelle Mullowney '17