By Savannah Nolan– 1851 Contributor
Q&A Series with Dean Potter Part 1:
Lasell University’s professor, Kathleen Potter recently got promoted to become the new Dean of Lasell School of Fashion. In this series, get to know Dean Potter as she discusses her goals as the new dean and reflects on her own college experience.
Q: When you first became a professor at Lasell, what made you choose Lasell as a university to work at?
A: I think I can basically boil it down to two things. The first is the people and the second is the programs. So the people I’m talking about are the student body, our faculty, and staff. So when I came to the school, it was an incredibly warm welcome by both groups of people, and that’s before I even started. And so that, I think that is part of how I knew that I would be able to mesh well with the group here and to contribute and complement the brilliance that was already here … As for the programs, I think the fact that we have three unique disciplines within the fashion industry as majors for students is huge. I think the breadth and depth of the opportunities that we’re able to offer is another piece that really drew me in.
Q: What do you like about Lasell’s fashion program and how does it differ from other fashion programs you have been a part of?
A: So there’s not a lot, but there’s a good number of schools in our region that have fashion programs but we are the only one that has these three distinctive programs, which is sort of thing I love for several reasons.
One is that it mirrors and mimics what’s happening in the industry and I think we’re kind of right on in terms of being able to offer these different aspects of the industry to our students. And the other thing is that it allows for this cross-disciplinary experience of the student. So a designer who is really passionate about their art and their creativity might sit alongside a merchandising student who really gets the business side of fashion and understands what kind of power operationalizes the creative, to create this multi-billion dollar industry. And that person might be sitting alongside a fashion media student who understands that without having really effective channels of communication to get the word out about what’s going on in fashion what’s happening with a fashion brand, and being at the cutting edge of the different ways that’s happening in 2020. I just think really it’s reflective of what’s happening in the industry and it creates this great exposure to different areas of the industry. I think that makes our students more ready to go into their careers, even if they haven’t studied all three in-depth, that exposure and that opportunity to work with students across the three disciplines I think is really a benefit …
So the program is obviously at the core of what we are, who we are, what we deliver. But it’s all of the other stuff that happens outside of the program and outside of individual classrooms. I think it makes our school fashion so special and so distinctive, so polished. Lasell’s Fashion Collection, Studio 1851, the NRF, DECA, you name it on and on. From there we have developed a good number of really solid opportunities for students to get involved in on an ongoing and regular basis.
Q: What are your goals for the school of fashion and what do you hope to accomplish as Dean?
A: I think my biggest goal for the School of Fashion is to provide leadership and vision and to be an advocate for all members of the school of fashion. From students to faculty to staff I want to really be a central place or person that can provide a strategic vision for where we’re headed. And I think that’s an important part of the leadership role, is to be able to think about developing a strategy in a holistic way, but in a way that is organized and meaningful and has action steps that will enable it to actually come to fruition, and so that’s definitely part of my goal. But I will say that within that goal is to do that with lots of feedback and voices. So I could never and would never claim to be able to do that on my own. And so I really think that one of my goals is to ensure that faculty and student voices continue to be heard and that wherever I can, I will amplify them and I will advocate for them. (…) Thinking about getting the word out about the amazing things that our students are doing and making sure that that’s known out in the community beyond the school and making sure that prospective students are aware of it, looking, as I’ve sort of mentioned, looking at, you know, thinking about curricular oversight, thinking about the places where maybe we do need to make an update because there’s been an industry change, thinking about strategic partnerships and external relationships. That’s a big one, I’d love to see some formal strategic partnerships with different key companies that there could be a mutual benefit and we could develop a relationship with them.
Q: So how do you think your prior areas of experience as a professor in the fashion industry, in areas of buying, merchandising, marketing, visual merchandising, event production, advertising, promotions, styling, and leadership roles will help you achieve your goals as Dean?
A: I think that there are some skills there that will translate to me, hopefully being able to reach some of my goals for the school of fashion. But then I would say in a more general sense, I think that one of the things that I’ve learned over my career that I often share with students is that you go through these experiences and you learn different things along the way. And yes, you might be learning them through a specific lens, like the fashion industry, for example. But a lot of these kinds of things are transferable. And so I think I will take some of the things that I learned from industry, some of the things that I learned from my previous institution working in higher ed and I can bring those in and fine-tune them and tweak them and kind of customize them for the style here because Lasell is such a unique and special place that it’s not sort of a one size fits all kind of a thing in terms of applying your skills. (…) My hope will be to inspire and to motivate teams to really be able to enlist their help to meet these goals. I think that’s one thing that you really have to you can’t lose sight of because you do need to do things as a team. It’s very difficult to do things as an individual person these days. Right. It’s just not the way that our professional worlds are structured.
Q: Can you reflect for a moment and look back at your college self.. Would you have ever expected yourself to become a professor or even a dean?
A: Right off, Dean, probably not. (…) I probably would think, you know, in college, I think I envisioned myself, quite honestly, working in the industry. So I studied fashion in college and I was really excited about it. And so I really thought I would end up at probably one of the bigger fashion industry companies that’s headquartered locally or I would end up doing something entrepreneurial. I will say in the teaching part, I may have had an inkling while I was in college, and I think it was because I was so passionate about learning what I love. I loved my fashion courses in college, and so I changed my major when I was in college. And when I changed to fashion, it was like I had found my calling. And so because I was so passionate about it, I can remember a couple of instances where I was like, “I really like this. I wonder if I could teach it?” So there may have been some inkling of possibly teaching and when I was in college.
Q: So you mentioned you had switched your major in college, what made you want to switch to fashion?
A: So I started off as an interior design and architecture major. And so my kind of journey through creative fields is interesting, it starts way back.
I can almost remember a moment when I was six years old and I decided I wanted to be a fashion designer. If you know, I’m going to do it myself, but I got Fashion plates upon fashion plates for every Christmas and all that kind of stuff. And I loved it and it was fashion, fashion, fashion. I had a middle school teacher that wrote to Ralph Lauren and Vera Wang, and they sent packages to me for school. (…) So especially when I got to high school, I had this weird I don’t know, this fear that if I didn’t become one of those designers that my middle school teacher had written to Ralph Lauren, or Vera Wang that I wouldn’t be successful somehow and it was so misguided and I should have spoken to someone at the time looking back to get some mentoring advice on that.
And so I thought, okay, it’s not practical. So I said, “Okay, well, I have to do something creative because it’s just in my blood.” And so I also happen to love interior design, so I started taking a drafting class in high school so that I could start to gear up for an interior design and architecture education, and there was a program that was accredited locally. I got in and I went and it was great. I still to this day love interior design. But I got into these classes and it was sort of like I appreciated the discipline very much, but I was really much better at taking something and working with it and crafting it into something better at its best self. It wasn’t awesome at designing from scratch. And you think about what merchandising and even media to an extent is. That’s really what it is. You’re taking something and you’re improving upon it and you’re breathing this additional level of life into it that that actually does, in fact, bring it to life. And there’s something kind of magical about that to me that I really love. And all of a sudden and so I started looking at my college’s website. I’m looking at the required textbooks for the fashion merchandising degree. And I thought, oh, my gosh, I want to read those in my spare time, be doing that. And so I changed my major. It was like a light bulb went off and the fire was lit. And I was like, yes, I’m going back to what I always knew since I was six years old. This is where I’m supposed to be. So it sort of makes sense that I would have ended up in fashion education because of that path and being involved in that way.
Read Part 2 here