Daily Pilot by Sara Cardine: New ‘career pop-up closet’ gives Vanguard University students a leg up on the competition

Finding a job in a down economy is a challenge for any college student, let alone those whose budgets may preclude them from dressing for success — but Vanguard University has tailored a solution to helping kids in need get interview ready.


Samson’s Career Pop-up Closet, a small boutique fashioned out of a defunct coffee shop building on the west end of the Costa Mesa campus, showcases quality secondhand clothes and accessories appropriate for a range of job-related activities, from interviews to internships to networking events. 


The clothing boutique, which made its campus debut Tuesday during a preview event, is designed to help disadvantaged students increase their social capital and gain a competitive edge in the job market, said JJ Smith, director of Career Services.


“We wanted to provide a resource that would remove any barriers that might stand in the way of students’ standing out and feeling confident, because we really want our students to make a positive impression on employers,” Smith said. “[Professional attire] really does make a difference in the eye of the interviewer.”


To that end, Samson’s Career Pop-up Closet (named for the school’s leonine mascot) offers male and female students who register through the Career Services Department the opportunity to select one full outfit per semester — a jacket, pants, shirt, tie and shoes for men or a dress, suit, top and bottom for women plus one accessory and one pair of shoes.


Even during the pandemic, when most classes are conducted online, the boutique will be available by appointment on Wednesdays, from 2 to 4 p.m. and Thursdays, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.


The effort is a collaboration between Vanguard’s Career Services Department and its Living Well Community Resource Center, which oversees an on-campus food pantry for students.


Amanda Lebrecht, the university’s associate dean of student success, said most Vanguard students qualify for financial aid. A survey circulated before the pandemic indicated only 50% of the student body was able to regularly fulfill basic needs such as food, housing and clothing.


“Half of our students do not feel they have their basic needs met — and this was before the pandemic,” Lebrecht said. “So, we have a great need for this.”


To help communicate that need, Samson’s has “hired” its own publicity intern through April. Senior marketing major Camille Jacome helped set up the shop on campus and will soon transition to promoting it across social media. 


“I personally wish I had this resource when I started four years ago,” said the 21-year-old, recounting her own experience taking transportation to the nearest mall to fork over a small fortune on work clothes. “This is much more cost-effective and, honestly, there are some beautiful pieces in there.” 


Volunteers are sorting through high-quality, gently used donations collected from faculty and staff, but hope to partner with nearby retailers, clothiers and dry cleaners to increase inventory and secure discounted rates for qualifying students. 


Vanguard University President Michael Beals said because many who attend courses are first-generation college students, staff and faculty want to do all they can to set them on solid career paths.

“As we gather professional clothing donations, including my own donations, and create partnerships with local organizations, I know this initiative will provide much-needed support for our students as they begin interning and entering the job market,” he said by email. “Samson’s Career Pop-Up Closet also provides a way for our administrators, faculty, staff and students to give back as they are able — a true testament of our mission.”


Sophomore Mason Fernandez, who on Tuesday selected a suit and tie from among the racks, admits he’s got a lot to learn about dressing to impress.


Fernandez’s high school prom was the first and last time he was required to suit up, so he borrowed a suit from his grandfather and had twin brother Lance tie his tie for him.


“I don’t actually have my own set of clothes to wear for professional events, so I think this is really helpful,” the 19-year-old biochemistry student said. 


“I know a lot of students might be struggling or worry that they don’t have professional attire for interviews, so that would be especially on their minds,” Fernandez continues. “It’s definitely on my mind.” 


Click here to read O.C Register's Story on Samson's Career Pop-Up Closet