Students and faculty visited FabScrap, a textile recycling facility in Brooklyn, in 2019. Here they listen to an explanation of how the bags of fabrics in the background are sorted and reused or recycled.
Achieving sustainability in the fashion industry is more challenging than you might imagine at first. The challenge is global with many elements at play: What materials are used? How and where are they harvested or created? Who makes the garment? Where is it made and under what conditions? How is it transported and where is it sold? How does the consumer use it and how do they dispose of it?
Professor Margaret Frey and Lecturer Fran Kozen from Cornell's Department of Human Centered Design created a new class – FSAD 3200: Global Textile & Apparel Sustainability – to answer these questions after students expressed a desire to explore these issues.
The class, first offered in fall of 2021, immerses students in the real-life, contemporary challenges of sustainability in the fashion industry. For the first offering, 60 students from all eight of Cornell’s undergraduate colleges enrolled in the class, demonstrating the broad interest in the issue.
The course was structured to address the connection of fashion to the 17 sustainability goals outlined by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. Guest lecturers from a variety of academic and professional disciplines, including Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, Cotton industry researchers, and industry representatives from material developers, garment production contractors, sustainability managers, clothing rental firms, and waste upcycling firms spoke in the class. In addition, students worked in groups to address sustainability challenges posed by industry mentors.
Yasser Gowayed (left), inaugural chair of the Department of Human Centered Design, and Rachel Dunifon, Rebecca Q. and James C. Morgan Dean of the College of Human Ecology, at the launch of the new department.
The College of Human Ecology at Cornell launched its new Department of Human Centered Design (HCD) Nov. 10, uniting the faculty from two existing departments and creating opportunities for new collaborations.
“This will increase the impact and profile of our design work in Human Ecology and beyond,” said Rachel Dunifon, Rebecca Q. and James C. Morgan Dean of the College of Human Ecology. “Here in the college, we use our unique design expertise to promote human health and well-being and address the most pressing social issues we face today. I know the Department of Human Centered Design will be a leader on campus and beyond in this work.”
The new department includes 26 faculty members from the previous departments of Design + Environmental Analysis and Fiber Science & Apparel Design. It will retain all the programs, majors and areas of strength of the previous departments, while providing new opportunities to collaborate and develop new initiatives. Benefits of the new department include more resources, flexibility, diversity of faculty expertise and student support.
HCD’s multidisciplinary approach will build on materials, design, biology, chemistry, engineering and social science concepts and methods. Faculty research areas include apparel design, design innovation and strategy, fiber science, health and well-being and sustainable futures.
“The expertise and knowledge of the faculty cross boundaries of sciences and art and that is what the future of design needs,” said Yasser Gowayed, professor and inaugural chair. “You need the anthropologist, the artist, the psychologist, the engineer, the scientist. Otherwise, your design will lack an important aspect.”
Gowayed added that this department could serve as a model in higher education.
“I believe if universities are going to be effective in our society in hundreds of years to come, they will need to look like the Human Centered Design department structure today,” he said.
Keith Green, professor, with a joint appointment in HCD and the Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, said the new department exemplifies radical collaboration at Cornell.
“The Department of HCD lies at the interface of materials science, social science and design – defined very widely – with a deep focus on understanding and improving the lives of human beings and their connections to and stewardship of other living things and our planet,” he said.
Green, whose research focuses on human-machine interaction, was a member of the faculty-led integration committee that evaluated the potential of merging the two departments. He said the new department respects the rich practices of the past while, at the same time, evolving these practices and integrating new ones in a technologically focused world.
“The department has theoretically no limits,” he said. “It’s about the future: how we live and interact with what surrounds us and with what we are inseparable from. The questions that HCD poses and strives to answer will be of a complexity and urgency that will challenge and stimulate its students and faculty members.”
The origins of both departments can be traced back to 1925, as the Department of Household Art and the Department of Textiles and Clothing. They evolved separately and then joined together in 1969 as the Department of Design and Environmental Analysis (D+EA). They stayed together until 1985, when the Department of Textiles and Apparel split from the D+EA.
The units have grown together over time, thanks in part to shared approaches and resources like computer-assisted design and computer-aided manufacturing, and faculty research has become more closely linked. A number of recent faculty hires pursue research topics that span the disciplines, including assistant professor Cindy Hsin-Liu Kao, who researches wearable tech.
“I believe this new department will provide students a unique environment to explore the intersections of art, design, science and engineering, and the creative space on how to apply this transdisciplinary lens to making a positive impact on some of the most pressing issues concerning the human condition today,” Kao said.
Amaya Garnenez works with Lejla Camdzic, right, in the Stache Lab.
A new program in the College of Arts and Sciences will support undergraduates working on research projects with faculty members over the summer.
The Nexus Scholars program, funded by nearly $5 million in philanthropic support, will leverage the student-to-faculty ratio and the vibrant research enterprise in A&S to expand opportunities for students, while also enhancing the culture of collaborative scholarship at Cornell.
“We have positioned the College of Arts and Sciences as the nexus of discovery and impact, and the Nexus Scholars program embodies that ethos very well,” said Ray Jayawardhana, the Harold Tanner Dean of Arts and Sciences. “Being part of a research endeavor as an undergraduate can be a life-changing experience. This ambitious new program expands the opportunities for our students to participate in front-line research and make discoveries alongside our faculty.”
Along with the eight-week paid summer research experience, Nexus Scholars will also take part in professional development workshops, career exploration events and have the chance to join a cohort of students who are similarly passionate about research.
The Nexus Scholars website will showcase a host of research opportunities across the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences and math. Undergraduate students will be able to explore the projects listed on the website, as well as others through their own inquiries, and apply for support. Program staff will help match faculty and students.
The program will help solve a problem for undergrads who may never have done research before. “Many students don’t know how to find a faculty mentor or how to ask about summer research,” said Michelle K. Smith, senior associate dean for undergraduate education in the College and the Ann S. Bowers Associate Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.
It will also be a boon to faculty, especially faculty who don’t already work with undergraduates.
“Most humanities faculty are used to solitary work in archives or conducting oral histories. They love working closely with undergraduates, but are often unsure about how to involve them in their projects,” said Tamara Loos, professor and chair in the Department of History (A&S). “The Nexus Scholars program offers historians and other humanists the chance to involve undergraduates in their research by teaching them how to conduct and transcribe oral histories, how to conduct historical research in digitized newspapers about race relations or the U.S. reportage on the Vietnam War and how to curate public history exhibits.”
David Pizarro, associate professor of psychology in A&S, will be the inaugural faculty director of the program. He said the program will help students who don’t know how to get involved in research or who might be intimidated to reach out to a professor to join their team.
“We hope that the Nexus Scholars program can remove some of these barriers, enrich the educational experience of our students, and make a positive contribution to the research community at Cornell,” Pizarro said.
The program is open to all A&S students, and administrators hope it will reach first-generation college students, students from underrepresented minority groups and female students interested in science and math.
The program is made possible through a number of alumni gifts, including from Elaine Wong ’97 and Fritz Demopoulos.
“More diverse and creative thinking in the sciences will undeniably lead to substantial gains in our understanding of the physical world,” Wong said. “Encouraging young women at Cornell to academically explore and eventually pursue science-centric careers will certainly contribute to that vision.”
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