Kohl’s Department Stores made a major gift that named the Kohl’s Department Stores Center for Retailing Excellence in the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Human Ecology (SoHE). For the last two years, Kohl’s also has partnered with the center to elevate the annual runway fashion show into a high-profile event that includes a student design gallery.
“It’s a great opportunity for our design students, for those in graphic design, for models who want to build a portfolio, for retail-marketing students and those who want to work on promotion, and the design students who are featured talents,” said center Executive Director Jerry O’Brien. “The runway show and gallery provide our students the chance to learn what it takes to set up and run a major event. Kohl’s is setting a wonderful example for how corporate entities can get involved, and the students are getting a richer, more valuable experience as a result.”
The center has 24 corporate partners supporting its various programs, and the placement rate for its graduates is more than 90 percent.
Those corporate partners’ gifts fund the salaries for O’Brien and an outreach coordinator, as well as half the salary for an internship coordinator.
Gifts also support a faculty director, attendance at conferences, networking events on campus, corporate visits and international trips, as well as many services for students. “We do a lot to help students prepare for the industry and network with the industry.” O’Brien said.
Through SoHE’s retail major, the center interacts with close to 200 students. “We also work with marketing majors, journalism majors, economics majors, industrial engineering majors and supply chain people,” O’Brien said. Counting students in various degree programs, the center touches somewhere between 450 and 500 students a year.
“We are helping students expand their definition of what retail is and see if they fit.”
Jerry O’Brien, Executive Director, Kohl’s Department Stores Center for Retailing Excellence in the School of Human Ecology
The center has made a major impact in clearing up misconceptions about the retail industry. “You mention ‘retail’ to many students, and they think either ‘buyer’ or ‘store manager,’’’ O’Brien said. “It’s much more than that. Our design students work on product development, supply chain issues, overseas sourcing, community action through things like corporate giving programs. We are helping students expand their definition of what retail is, and see if they fit.”
Corporate involvement also helps bring high-powered speakers to campus, such as the chair of Kohl’s and the chief executive officers of ShopKo, Roundy’s and Farm and Fleet. “That helps the students get a nice broad picture,” O’Brien said. “The executives talk about their companies and how they developed their careers. They’re very frank, and we have great conversations.”