Asia Mack, a second year fashion design student at Mercer, wasn’t sure what to major in when she finally picked fashion. She considered accounting, a choice she says seemed safer and “more practical.”
“A lot of people want to go into fashion,” says Mack, “but a lot of people are afraid because their parent might not want them to do it.”
Ultimately, she took a chance and began studying fashion when the program was first offered at the college in 2012. Mack says this one of the best that she ever made.
“I love the fashion program. I really do love it. I had always wanted to go away for college, but the program here is so family-like. I’m glad I didn’t go away.” Mack says.
The growing fashion program, which includes both fashion design and fashion merchandising, is gaining momentum as the first students to complete the program have either earned their Associate’s degree on time or successfully transferred to a four year school of their choice.
The core of the fashion program is Allegra Ceci who was hired full time and given the task of starting up the new program. Ceci had worked for Calvin Klein and Coach and had college level teaching experience prior to coming to Mercer.
“Allegra is very mentor-ish,” Mack tells The VOICE.
“Every class with her keeps you engaged with unique projects and work. She tries her hardest to push for the program, even though the higher up fashion schools might ignore Mercer.”
In an interview with Ceci she said: “It’s very interesting, hearing from a lot of people, especially area residents. They’re all saying ‘If only this program had been here 5 or 10 years ago, I would’ve gone here.’ There’s a definite need for it.”
Ceci, who previously taught as an adjunct professor at Berkeley College in New York, said she was interested in leaving the industry. She contacted MCCC about a teaching position after hearing a program was being developed.
“I realized I was more excited about going to the night class I taught [at the time] than my regular 9 to 5 job, which is never really 9 to 5 in Manhattan,” Ceci said.
After a lengthy hiring process in which many people were interviewed, Ceci eventually landed the full-time tenure track job.
She says “I try to have every class be a multi-media, multi-sensory experience because the industry is so media-driven. I know some professors who have no cell phone policies, but I have them use their cell phones in class…I might bring up a slide and say ‘OK, so this is the new fragrance launched by Alexander McQueen. Find out where this is being sold.’ And I will have somebody find it on their phone and ask ‘Why do you think it’s only being sold there?’”
In terms of how the Mercer program fits with others like it Ceci says: “It’s all very portfolio driven. Many students apply to the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in Manhattan right out of high school and they just don’t have the portfolios that these schools are looking for. I have two students now in an independent study with me where we’re converting their physical portfolios to digital.”
The program has doubled enrollment in the past two years, from 25 to 50 students.
Some changes to financial aid along with the usual community college turnover rates have presented setbacks, but Ceci says this flux is to be expected and won’t significantly affect the program.
For Asia Mack, one of the major problems the program faces is how people perceive the James Kerney Campus which where all the courses are held.
“There’s a stigma related to Trenton and to the James Kerney Campus that we need to break. I’ve lived in the area my whole life and the way that people talk about it is exaggerated a lot.” Mack says.
As the program has developed a stronger focus on merchandising, Ceci’s specialty, there has been talk of offering some courses on the West Windsor campus, although the Trenton campus has more dedicated resources for the students.
During the protracted and bitter faculty contract negotiations this year, the college decided not to renew the contracts of several full-time faculty members –a move that has since been reversed– and at the height of the struggles it appeared that other newer hires, such as Ceci, might also receive pink slips. Such a move would have devastated the successful program but was ultimately avoided.