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Student Places Third in NRF Foundation Student Challenge and Scores a Job

Student Places Third in NRF Foundation Student Challenge and Scores a Job

Ysa Gardner, who grew up in Berkeley, California, received an Associate of Arts degree from FIDM San Francisco in Merchandising & Marketing before moving to Southern California where she is expected to graduate in June with a Bachelor of Science in Business Management from FIDM Los Angeles. Along with Kaci Balfany (A.A. Graphic Design, B.S. Business Management) and Tiffany Makdissy (A.A. Fashion Design, B.A. Design), Ysa placed third in the NRF Foundation Student Challenge and will receive a $2,500 scholarship along with her teammates. Acting as entrepreneurs, they established a small business venture and pitched Nordstrom leaders an antimicrobial accessories and clothing line for the children’s department, “Berri+Cade x Nordstrom.” We chatted with Ysa to learn more.

How did it feel when you heard that your team took third place in the challenge? We were so proud of ourselves and grateful for the opportunity to participate in the NRF Foundation Student Challenge. Now Kaci, Tiffany, and I can say that we were finalists! When I heard we were third I was relieved and a little anxious as well. Relieved because the months of hard work were over. I was anxious because I really wanted a FIDM team to take home first place. If we weren’t first, then who was? I am so proud of [first place team] Emily, Etheline, and Ellie for bringing home the win for FIDM.

What was the most rewarding part of this journey? This competition has been going on since May. May! The world was on deep lockdown, people were scared for the future, and I hadn’t seen my friends in months. This competition kept me sane and kept me working in a positive direction. My teammates and I were essentially strangers, but through the hours and hours of connecting on this project, we have become friends. Oh, and I also got a job! I sent my resume and an earlier version of our team’s submission to a digital marketing agency and got an offer! They were really impressed by how “real” this competition was.

Did you divide the work up or work on everything together? Our team is made up of a Merchandising & Marketing major, a Fashion Design major, and a Graphic Design major. What an amazing pool of knowledge between us! We made every single decision as a team and allocated assignments based on each other's skills. Mutual respect played a huge role in our success. We would meet via Zoom three times a week or even more. During these meetings, we each had to take a lot of constructive criticism from each other.  

How did FIDM Instructors assist or help with your business plan entry? Sheryl Marcus and Tom Selinske were our mentors. We truly couldn’t have made it without them. They constantly pushed up and raised us up. They have helped so many teams before us with the NRF competition, but our teams are the first to make it to the finals and win!

What lessons did you learn while participating in this challenge? The biggest lesson I learned was a lesson about myself. While I love school and am academically focused, my schoolwork has never felt truly my own. This competition taught me what it feels like to have full control over my time, my decisions, and my vision. The freedom was daunting at first. Our team thrived off of this freedom in the end.

How will the $2,500 award help you with your goals? I didn’t even know about the prize money until we made it to the semifinals! I was working in a restaurant at the start of the competition in May. It goes without saying that my shifts were nonexistent. It was stressful losing that income, but also motivating. So badly did I want to get out of the service industry and start my career, that all of that free time made me dive even deeper into this competition. With this tuition money I can afford to devote my full energy to my new career-relevant job, and I quit my job at the restaurant!

Categories:  Business Management Merchandising & Marketing Student