CHARLESTON -- As graduates pour out of Eastern Illinois University, landing a job can become a daunting task.

While good grades and experience might get people far, they will likely be shut down if they are not properly dressed for interviews, said Linda Moore, director of career services.

Moore added that proper dress shows that the person is socially aware of the situation and what appropriate clothing to wear.

It can be even more difficult when the cost of a suit and other dress attire is not cheap, for the most part.

Scott Stevens, business professor, noticed five years ago that acquiring a suit might be difficult for some.

Stevens said he asked a graduating student, Chris Cummins, if he was going to a job fair, to which Cummins replied, "No," because he did not have the right clothing.

Stevens said Cummins was not afforded the same opportunity many others were.

The discussion drew on, and Stevens and Cummins figured he could wear his father's suit, but was still without shoes. Stevens then offered his own shoes, a shirt and a tie, while his wife Janice Stevens, career services adviser, offered to iron the suit.

"The shoes were too small, but I was too grateful, humble, modest, whatever you wanna call it to say anything," Cummins said. "I was just thankful to have professional attire to wear to the career fair."

Cummins went to the fair, got an interview and then got a job.

"I wouldn’t have stood a chance," Cummins said. "I was so beaten up mentally and emotionally that if it weren’t for Scott and his wife Jan picking me up, motivating me, assisting me with my resume, giving me the suit, etc., I wouldn’t be utilizing my education today. That is putting it nicely."

After that, Stevens said the idea sprung up to help more students who might be in similar situations.

"I got thinking about that experience, and I said, 'You know, that young man is probably the tip of the iceberg,'" Stevens said. "There are probably a lot of students who don't have the means, finances or the clothes to go to (a job fair)."

Stevens started talking to other professors along with those in the community and, through word of mouth, started collecting dress attire for men and women that can be given to students for a job fair, an interview, and future career endeavors.

After a some years of doing this, Stevens collected an inventory of suits to give to students from professors, friends, family members and some community thrift shops.

Stevens now has a large collection of men's suits donated by the community and Eastern faculty.

Stevens said there are roughly around 50 men's suits, 30 men's blazers, 30 women's suits, 15 women's blazers and 20 pairs of shoes in his inventory.

Since its inception, this drive has provided suits for many students, especially during job fairs.

Stevens said he often will get around 12 people looking for a suit for the fair or a potential summer internship interview.

Cummins said numerous other students who probably had some similar difficulties in getting proper attire fall into the same situation he was in.

"You go to college to get an education and then start a career. You don’t start a career by going to a career fair wearing torn up hand-me-down clothes," Cummins said. "Not only does it leave a bad first impression, you may be automatically disqualified from the huge pool of other well-qualified individuals. Not everyone has everything handed to them."

Stevens said no matter what the reason, he thought he might help to make sure students in need get a leg up in their job field.

"You hope that you help a student who might not have the clothes to make the right impression," Stevens said.


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