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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

ODU Human Resources Management Students Seek to 'Clothes the Gap'

When she teaches in the Strome College of Business, particularly at the start of each semester, Rachel Frieder likes to make a well-dressed first impression.

"I've had students say to me, 'Are you a lawyer?'" Frieder, assistant professor of management, said with a laugh.

When dropping off clothes at the dry cleaner recently, Frieder was struck by high cost for simply getting clothes cleaned.

"Imagine if you are someone trying to buy professional clothes for a job interview," she said. "There is this cycle. To get out of poverty and find employment, you have to look the part. But in order to do that, you need to be able to afford the clothes."

The thought gave Frieder inspiration to develop a service project for the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) student organization at Old Dominion University, for which she serves as a faculty co-adviser.

The program created by the club is called "Clothes the Gap."

For the month of March, students in the club will collect donated business attire, in a bin in the Constant Hall dean's suite, and at 30 different Albano Cleaners locations. At the end of the month, the clothing will be organized and delivered to job placement services programs in Hampton Roads, along with organizations like Samaritan House and Dress for Success.

Every student club at Old Dominion University has a requirement to perform some sort of service function.

"We wanted to tie the philanthropy event to the club's mission of preparing people for the workforce. It seemed to be a really good fit," Frieder said.

Jerika White, a senior management major from Chesapeake and club president, said members are enthusiastic about the initiative because financial concerns are real for students, as well.

"If I'm looking to buy clothes for a job interview, I have to be careful to balance costs with the other expenses of being a student, maybe buying just one pair of black slacks to go with several outfits," White said. "Well, what if you can't even afford one pair of pants for a job interview? That's why we thought the clothing drive would be something that could really be helpful."

Ryan Klinger, assistant professor of management and co-faculty adviser of the club, said the project also ties back to what students learn in management classes.

"One of the things that I try to teach students is the importance of making a good first impression during an interview, with a firm handshake, a friendly smile and appropriate attire. People without access to the right clothing face an uphill battle trying to land the job. I think it's really neat how the SHRM students have come together to do something about it," Klinger said.

Frieder said the response among faculty in the Strome College has been enthusiastic, particularly because of the opportunity to give-back to individuals seeking to improve their financial standing. White said her father, a local businessman, "has a whole closet of business clothes that he can't wait to donate to the cause."

White added that she hopes the project grows at Old Dominion University. She is looking to possibly partner with other student clubs to host a fashion show with the donated material, demonstrating the power of a professional look in making a strong first impression.

Frieder said the endeavor is also a good example of social entrepreneurship, applying the problem solving skills of business start-ups to social issues.

For more information, or to contact organizers of the clothing drive, visit the Clothes the Gap website.

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