Cougar Career Closet Continues to Aid Students
By Eric Breier
Cal State San Marcos student assistants who work at the Cougar Career Closet have become accustomed to correcting a common misconception.
“When students first hear about it, they ask, ‘So I have to return the clothes?’ ” said Sophie Cruz, a career peer in the Career Center and a third-year psychology student. “When we tell them it’s completely free, they’re kind of taken aback by it. Anything free is great for college students, especially professional wear, which is so expensive for students.”
The Cougar Career Closet was founded by the Latin@ Business Student Association in spring 2017 to provide free professional clothing for any CSUSM student needing proper attire for career-related events. While the LBSA is still heavily involved with marketing and acquiring donations, CSUSM’s Career Center now runs the daily operations.
“LBSA was phenomenal in jump-starting it,” said Brenda Dumas, recruiting and events coordinator for the Career Center. “They had so many donations from the get-go and just really jumped in and created it. We were just thrilled to be able to house it here and be a part of it.”
The closet was an immediate success and has continued to grow each year, serving 469 students in 2017-18 and 538 in ’18-19. More than 200 students have already been helped this academic year.
“Students are extremely happy with the program, and it’s very beneficial for them,” said Christina Marquez, lead student assistant in the Career Center and a criminology and justice studies student who will graduate in May.
Donors provide all of the clothing for the closet, from men’s suits to women’s blazers and much more. With CSUSM Giving Day on Dec. 3, Dumas and Student Services Coordinator Monica Gillie are hoping that donors will also be inspired to help the Cougar Career Closet reach its $1,500 fundraising goal, money that will be used to provide students with gift cards if they’re unable to find clothing in their size and assist with tailoring and dry-cleaning costs.
While the Cougar Career Closet has an impressive inventory, it is always in need of additional clothing to ensure a wide variety of sizes and options for students. Donors don’t even need to leave their car to make a donation – they can simply call the Career Center when they arrive at Craven Circle and a student assistant will come out to their car to collect the clothes.
Gillie notes that while some may think of the closet as geared toward students preparing to interview for post-graduation jobs, it is an invaluable resource for all students.
“Your first year here, you might not be thinking, ‘I need business professional clothes for a job or an internship,’ ” Gillie said. “But a lot of times there are class presentations. So we tell students to also come get professional attire to wear for class presentations or whatever their need may be.”
The Cougar Career Closet opened as a single room located in the Career Center (Craven Hall 1400). It has since expanded to two rooms, and an unused restroom was converted into a dressing room and storage space. But as inventory and demand continue to increase, the student assistants say they could use even more space.
“I feel like it could easily expand because the rate we’re getting donations in large amounts is crazy,” said Izabella Llanos, a kinesiology student in her first year at CSUSM after transferring from Napa Valley College. “We had a lot of donations come in recently and we could put out everything and not have it stored away if we had that extra space.”
For the first time, students this semester are enjoying expanded shopping times through a new appointment-based system. Students simply make an appointment through Handshake, and one of the Career Center’s student assistants helps them navigate the clothing options. Students are allowed up to four items per academic year, and they can even take advantage of the offerings for six months after graduating.
“I feel like it’s almost a sense of relief for them that they don’t have to worry about going and spending that extra money on professional clothing when they can just come here and easily access it and it’s totally free,” said Carla Carangue, a student assistant majoring in biochemistry.
It’s a sentiment echoed by Julia Sanz, a student assistant majoring in women’s, gender and sexuality studies.
“The best thing for me is when you can see that sense of relief in students,” Sanz said. “They came in and had no idea what they were looking for and you can help them find an outfit and they just think, ‘OK, one less thing I have to think about.’ Now they can focus on their interview or presentation because they feel comfortable and confident.”
For information on donating gently used professional attire, contact the Career Center at firstname.lastname@example.org or 760-750-4902.
Eric Breier, Public Affairs Specialist
email@example.com | Office: 760-750-7314