While exams, research papers, and group projects are an important part of the learning process, these evaluations typically don’t hold much weight outside of the classroom. What if instead, a student project could translate to real-world job experience?
For students studying Textiles and Apparel at University of Texas (UT) Austin, their group project isn’t just for class; it comes with an exciting opportunity to work with a successful jewelry company in their desired industry, Kendra Scott. To sweeten the deal, students in one lucky group will have the chance to see their final design produced and sold in stores.
Leading these students is Jessica Ciarla, an associate professor at UT Austin who teaches Accessory Design, Development and Merchandising. Drawing on her own professional background, Jessica’s teaching philosophy is to broaden students’ perspectives of the industry by showing them the many roles and processes behind bringing a product to market.
Some important initiatives for the young, budding jewelry designers taking this hands-on, experiential course include making 3D models of their jewelry and 3D printing those designs with the help of Autodesk Fusion 360. “This class isn’t just design; it’s a product development class and draws on students’ ability to work across job functions and expertise,” Ciarla says. “They have to be able to conduct research, manage the project, sketch their designs, use CAD in Fusion 360, and employ storytelling to convey their vision.”
Introducing a new tool to the design process
For Jessica, it was essential that her students be able to use manufacturing design technology to build a physical model of their jewelry. Many of her students come from other departments, drawn in by the uniquely creative outlet of jewelry design. It’s typical to have a geology student, dance student, business student, and design student all working together in one group.
Additionally, most of these students had never worked with CAD software before but were still asked to learn this completely new tool to complete their final project.
Autodesk supplied a 90-minute onsite Fusion 360 workshop for Ciarla’s students to cover the basics, and the aspiring jewelry designers picked up the terminology and workflows surprisingly fast. Once they got a feel for the software and started working, they quickly began exploring unexpected and innovative designs. The students had come so far after that single workshop that by the time it was over, they had embraced the power of the platform to design beautiful creations and even 3D printed full-scale mock-ups.
From student to professional jewelry designer
At the end of the semester, students present their products to the class and post their designs online. Then fellow students and the general public vote for their favorite online, with the winner receiving a special prize: their design produced and sold by Kendra Scott (voting will be open on December 7, 2022 only).
The latest student-designed product to hit store shelves was the course’s first foray into men’s jewelry design. The bracelet, inspired by the design of the South Congress Bridge in Austin, hit store shelves in September 2022 and quickly sold out.
Kendra Scott has a longstanding relationship with UT Austin, paving the way for Kendra Scott’s Women Entrepreneurial Leadership (WEL) Institute on campus. All proceeds from the winning students’ designs go back into the WEL Institute to support the next generation of female leaders.
Maddy Ailes, a UT Austin graduate in textiles and apparel design, took Jessica’s course in 2020. Reflecting on her experience, she says, “I grew up wearing Kendra Scott and was so excited by the chance to take part in this course, given their close involvement.”
Inspired by the act of sharing jewelry with friends and loved ones, Maddy’s group developed a multi-functional pair of earrings that can be detached and worn separately as rings. The innovative design proved to be a winning idea, and was selected for sale in stores the following year. After winning, the group got to work with the product development team at Kendra Scott, learning firsthand what it takes to move a product through development.
Learning from professionals and getting hands-on experience with industry tools is essential to Jessica’s mission for the course. To help students secure roles in their desired careers, she feels they should be equipped with a broad array of knowledge and skillsets that are sought after by employers
These skills proved to be more than helpful for Maddy’s career. Soon after graduating, Maddy secured a role on Kendra Scott’s product development team, where she is heavily involved in the job functions she had previously studied in Jessica’s class.
“It really is a full-circle moment,” she says. “My whole path leading up to product development started with this course!”
Maddy’s successful move from student to professional exemplifies what’s possible when we open young minds to career opportunities they had never imagined. With educators like Jessica at the helm, the next generation of designers is in good hands.
Jessica Ciarla’s autumn 2022 students have wrapped up their hard work on their group earring projects. See the spotlight video showing the groups’ designs. (Public voting will be available through the link only on December 7, 2022.)