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FIDM students stand on stage against purple background at NRF Foundation Student Challenge Honors night in New York City

Faculty Mentors Sheryl Marcus and Tom Selinske Prepare FIDM Students For Success in NRF Foundation Student Challenge

It is FIDM's honor to announce that for the second year in a row, FIDM Students placed first in the NRF Foundation Student Challenge. We congratulate Haley Shannon, Tooba Athar, and K-Lynn Ward for this year's win. For the last six years, faculty mentors Sheryl Marcus and Tom Selinske have played an integral role in preparing our students for success and, with the exception of one year, have made it to the semi-finals every time. To begin the process of putting together the student teams, Tom and Sheryl worked first with instructors in the Bachelor's programs to invite students from a variety of majors to apply. They built teams with a mix of skills and perspectives, and in July of 2021, began meeting with the students on Zoom.

"Once the students applied and were selected, Tom and I looked at their backgrounds and majors, and diversified the teams resulting in each member bringing something different to the table," said Sheryl Marcus. "It’s one of the unique opportunities that students from different majors have to work together. The dynamic amongst the varied and layered expertise truly made an incredible experience and allowed for the students to learn from each other. It was one of the highlights of the process!"

The students were tasked with acting as members of the Kohl’s product development team and had the opportunity to develop a new private label brand that embodies the meaning of diversity and promotes equity and inclusion through product assortment, marketing strategy and pricing. 

We caught up with Sheryl and Tom to learn more about how they prepare our students for success.

Tell us about the process you went through to prepare FIDM Students for success in the NRF Foundation Student Challenge. 

Tom Selinske: The process we went through was multifaceted. This included a review of the NRF requirements. Having them do extensive research on Kohl’s and the focus on inclusivity, equity, and diversity. Our students identified an opportunity area in adaptive apparel. They then developed their concept, designs and approach and worked to complete the required 30-page pitch deck and 90-second video.

Sheryl Marcus: The process itself is quite demanding! Once the students made the semi-finals, and the summer quarter class was completed, we continued to meet with the students at least twice a week to finesse their pitch deck, based on the first round of judge’s feedback. We continued to meet at least two times a week to prepare them for the next revision as well as the first round of questions from the judges. They role-played their answers to as many questions as we could come up with that could possibly be asked of them until they were comfortable. They had a final opportunity to “perfect” their pitch deck and 90-second video for the last submission, which resulted in their position as finalists. Their commitment was truly remarkable. As mentors, it was critical that we prepared them for every possible comment/question that could be asked. 
Please provide an example of feedback you provided the students that helped them improve their submission. 

Tom Selinske: Throughout the project we met to provide feedback on their progress. The feedback included areas where we thought they could go into more detail regarding their ideas. It could be regarding phraseology, where you could say something with less words and get the point across more directly. We gave them feedback, with the help of a Graphic Design instructor, Rich Gordon, on their pitch deck graphics and format. Additionally, as they developed the video, we gave them feedback on how to emphasize storytelling and the importance of having the imagery and music evoke an emotional response. 

FIDM Faculty Mentors Tom Selinske and Sheryl Marcus stand with students at NRF Foundation Student Challenge Honors night
What, specifically, about your industry backgrounds made you the perfect fit to be the mentors in this challenge? 

Sheryl Marcus: Having been a retail executive, VP of Stores for The Broadway and Regional Director for Sunglass Hut, for a total of over 20 years, allowed me to experience all parts of a retail organization from the content, merchandising, marketing, operational and financial aspects of the business. Of major importance, I worked with hundreds of different people and have an innate love of training and development and an undeniable passion for the business.

As a part of FIDM community, it is clearly a mission of mine to be as current with the industry and the dynamic changes that are taking place daily. In fact, truth be told, I feel more industry expertise as a result of what the students teach me and what it takes to be relevant for this generation.   

Tom Selinske: For me, my experience as an entrepreneur aided the team in looking at a focus on the customer and developing the product concept and then taking it to implementation using all the elements of sourcing, finance, marketing, and merchandising. 
As this is the second year in a row that FIDM placed first, what do you think sets us apart from other colleges in terms of how we set our students up for success?

Sheryl Marcus: Tom and I have done this challenge together for about six years and have made it to the semi-finals every year but one. Of course, last year we placed first and third as well as first this year. We have learned so much during this process, especially how to create, what we believe to be, an outstanding pitch deck. This is in huge part due to Rich Gordon, who has provided us with what we call “the secret sauce.” We also have learned how to really maximize the individual student skills and help them to complement each other.

Lastly, we have always received great feedback on the creative aspect and have been challenged on the financial sections. Voila! Enter Louise Wallace who helped the students, more than I can possibly put in writing, to ensure their individual product elements, costing sheets, manufacturing opportunities, etc. were well thought out, accurate and could be defended during the interviews. She has been incredibly supportive of the NRF Foundation opportunities, and I am forever grateful! 

Tom Selinske: FIDM's instructors have the skill to blend design and business and take ideas to execution at a very professional level. I think we are set apart at FIDM with this ability to integrate real-world experience and translate this experience into educational lessons that the students can relate to and use in their careers. I think that is the FIDM difference in our ability to blend design and business. 

Anything else you'd like to share? 

Sheryl Marcus: The college was first introduced to the NRF Student Foundation by Chairperson Marlene Dunn and I truly never understood what it provided for students. To have students recognized and rewarded is simply the best! I now understand her perspective of the competitive, national acclaim that this provides for FIDM. It is an honor and privilege to have worked with all of the students over the years. 

Tom Selinske: This is outside professional validation from national executives on how FIDM delivers for students. We interacted with senior retail executives from many companies through each stage of the competition and outperformed over 20+ college teams, two years in a row, as national champions. The world needs to know how well we do in combining design and business that is nationally recognized. 

Categories:  Apparel Industry Management Apparel Technical Design Business Management Fashion Design Merchandise Product Development Merchandising & Marketing Faculty Industry Partnerships