Outstanding salukis, SIU and its unique majors
April 23, 2021
From automotives to fashion, Southern Illinois University stands out by offering rare majors to students. SIU is one of only a handful of colleges in the nation to offer an automotive technology degree and the only public school in Illinois to offer a fashion design degree.
SIU’s automotive technology program started in 1938, according to department chair Michael Berhmann. The university was offering non-credit training until 1952, which is when an associate’s degree began to be offered for the completion of the program.
Since then, the automotive technology program at SIU has grown into a full, four-degree program offering graduates opportunities to work with major automobile manufacturers and auto components.
The automotive technology program is located in the Transportation Education Center by the Southern Illinois Airport and offers students facilities to work on gas powered vehicles and diesel semi-trucks .
Students are afforded the opportunity to do more than be an automotive technician, which other programs, such as Universal Technical Institute or Wyoming Technical Institute, offer their students.
“When you look at our classes, sometimes it appears that it looks like we’re training individuals to become technicians, but we’re going much further,” Behrmann said. We’re getting into the ‘why’ factor. Instead of just how do you go about diagnosing and repairing. Our graduates are going to be the ones that are going to be developing the diagnostic procedures that technicians around the world are going to be following.”
Only 12 other universities in the nation offer a program similar to SIU’s, according to Behrmann.
“Another unique piece about SIU automotive is that we’re the only automotive technology program in the world that’s part of a major research institution,” Berhmann said.
Of those 12 schools, only three to four draw the major automotive companies to recruit from, with SIU being known for the quality of the education produced, according to Berhmann.
“Not only are we teaching the latest and greatest, part of our mission is connecting our students with our faculty and our industry to be working together while they’re in school to be developing the next cutting edge. The next latest and greatest,” Behermann said. “That’s what we do at SIU. We’re not only teaching about what’s going on in the industry we’re working with the industry to be developing the future. That’s what it means to be a research institution.”
SIU is referred to as the premier automotive program in the industry, according to Behrmann.
“If anyone in the automotive industry is recruiting at university, typically, they’re recruiting here at SIU,” Berhmann said.
Xhorxhino Pali came to SIU’s automotive program after obtaining his associate’s degree because he wanted to pursue other opportunities.
“I already got an associate’s degree, but I feel like it wasn’t enough to get to what I want and to get jobs that I would like to do,” Pali said. “getting a bachelors here at SIU is giving me more opportunities.”
Morgan Belsley, a freshman from Athens, Ill., switched to the program after initially coming to SIU for the physiology program.
“I switched to automotive this semester because my step-dad really got me interested in cars,” Belsley said. “I’m more hands on. I definitely like it better because you can do more than just sit and do biology work all the time.”
The automotive program at SIU isn’t the only major offering students hands-on knowledge to students. The fashion design and merchandising program gives students the opportunity to learn about and design clothing.
“Fashion is one of those things where nobody ever thinks it’s important,” Laura Kidd, the program director for fashion design and merchandising, said. ““if you don’t think clothes are important, take ‘em off.”
While other schools in Illinois offer a fashion design program, SIU’s is the only one offered by a public university in Illinois, which sets it apart from the other opportunities available to students.
SIU’s fashion design and merchandising program started in the 1940s, according to Kidd.
At the time it was part of the College of Home Economics and in the 1980s the university dissolved the college and the clothing and textiles program, which was what the program was known as at the time. In the early 2000s, the program landed under the school of architecture and design.
Initially, the school only offered fashion design and merchandising tracks to students, however in 2011 a fashion styling track was added, according to Kidd.
“That’s the really unique one. I’m not sure there’s any school anywhere, that offers a separate specialization in styling,” Kidd said. “That’s not incorporated into our name yet.”
In the next few years, the school will change its name to fashion studies to better reflect the addition of the new degree track.
In total, the program offers three tracks students can pursue.
The merchandising track offers has students focused more on the economics of fashion and an understanding of what items people buying.
“As a merchandiser, you have to understand who you’re selling to,” Kidd said.
Students can also take the stylist track within the program, where the focus is more working with clients, understanding who you’re shopping for and their tastes.
However, stylists can also end up working on television shows or movies.
“If you happen to get a job on a television show, you have to be able to understand the character, what they would, what they wouldn’t wear, that type of thing,” Kidd said. “A lot of it is that type of behavior.”
Stylists work with clientele to create an image of what you’d like to look like and help to create who you are, according to Kidd.
The design track offers students opportunities to design their own clothes and bring their own fashion designs to life.
In the senior year of the design track, students have to create a garment collection, from concept, pattern drafting and model sourcing.
“Some of them might not have ever seen a sewing machine before and by the time they’re graduating they’re doing a garment collection for their senior show,” Kidd said.
Students who come to SIU to pursue a degree in fashion design and merchandising will be put into fashion classes right away.
“There are some schools where you do your gen. eds. For two years, then you get into your major. I think that’s waiting too late,” Kidd said. “What happens when you think your major is one thing, then all of a sudden you’re a junior, what’re you going to do?”
SIU’s fashion design program has quite a few advantages over other university’s programs, according to Kidd.
“If you look at most fashion departments, you’ll see that there are more departments that focus and major in merchandising than they do in design,” Kidd said.
SIU’s program stands out since students are able to do more design work, if they choose, than merchandising.
Another difference is the program doesn’t fall under older, home economics or family and consumer sciences core tracks. SIU’s fashion design and merchandising students don’t have to take child development or food and nutrition classes since the program is its own, unique major, as opposed to other schools.
“It’s kind of nice, if you say you’ve been in fashion, it’s nice to know that your degree has the word ‘fashion’ in it,” Kidd said. “That’s very attractive to a lot of students.”
The personal attention and instruction SIU’s fashion instructors provides
“I had one student who came here for a year, went up to Columbia, and then back,” Kidd said.
The student came back because she felt as though she wasn’t learning anything since the instructors wouldn’t spend much personalized time with the students, according to Kidd.
Ebun Daley, a senior from Chicago chose to come to SIU’s fashion design program after researching programs online before making a decision.
“I saw that they had a really good program,” Daley said. “I know they were in the top 50 for universities to have a fashion program, so I decided to come here”
Daley came into the program as a sophomore and didn’t even know how to sew. Now, as a senior working on her senior fashion show, she has sewn together and designed a line of swimwear titled Twisted Swim.
Paige Gower, a senior from Robinson, Ill. initially came to SIU to pursue a degree in social work before switching to fashion design.
“I decided I wanted to do something where I could work with my hands everyday,” Gower said. “I feel like fashion is always changing and I feel like it’s always going to be something different, so I think it’ll keep me interested for my whole career, hopefully.”
If SIU students are looking to do something outdoors, then the school’s outdoor recreation program offers opportunities to enter the outdoor industry.
“The unique thing about the outdoor recreation program, specifically here at SIU is the availability we have to the natural resources,” Brian Croft, a professor in the outdoor recreation program, said. “Having the Shawnee National Forest, Giant City State Park, Touch of Nature, provides us with opportunities to teach rock climbing, mountain biking.”
The access and availability to the resources southern Illinois provides helps to set SIU’s program apart from others in the state.
Colleges from the Chicago area, central Illinois, Indiana and Missouri, have partnered with SIU’s program since the amenities don’t exist elsewhere in the Midwest, according to Croft.
“Everyone comes here because of the access we have to natural resources,” Croft said. “that’s what makes this place and our program so special.”
There’s a lot more to outdoor recreation than just taking groups on hikes or rock climbing. Trail building, guiding, teaching people about the plants and animals in a certain park and land management are all aspects in the outdoor recreation major.
“It seems like such a narrow field, but the more you get into it, it’s obscenely employable,” Croft said.
Noah Large, a senior from West Dundee, Ill., came to SIU for the forestry program before finding the outdoor recreation program.
“I actually learned about outdoor rec through one of my advisors and just sounded like [something] I’d love to do,” Large said. “That’s what inspired me to switch over to outdoor rec, because I just have a massive love for the outdoors.”
If a student from another major is interested in the outdoor recreation program, the school offers rec. 200 classes, which offer college credits for a weekend class.
“I tell people, try one of our rec classes,” Croft said. “It’s just one credit, take it for fun, if anything, it de-stresses you and you get a credit for going canoeing or rock climbing. But you never know, it might be something that you’re looking for and you just don’t know it yet.”
SIU stands out from other universities in the state and nation, with some of the programs it is able to provide its students.
“Education opens up doors of opportunity,” Berhmann said. “Whether you’re getting a certificate, associate degree, baccalaureate degree, a graduate degree, it doesn’t matter, education is opening up additional doors of opportunity.”