Family and consumer sciences students welcomed back with renovated labs

Contact: Chris Hybels

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Western Michigan University's Department of Family and Consumer Sciences renovated its labs the summer to meet new industry standards for fashion and nutrition students. The overhaul of the fashion and food labs included improved ergonomic spaces, food-grade stainless steel storage, a new computer lab and high-speed pattern plotter.

Located in North Kohrman Hall, the fashion and nutrition labs in the building have gone through multiple transformations since the building was constructed in 1965. Originally serving and accommodating curriculum from the College of Industrial and Engineering Technology (now College of Engineering and Applied Sciences), the labs have been repurposed several times to fit the needs of different programs.

"When we decided to renovate the labs, we couldn't afford to do a long multi-million dollar renovation of the spaces," says Dr. Suzan Smith-Ayers, chair of the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences. "So the renovations we did over the summer were doable, affordable and a step in the right direction for our students."   



Demonstration of the pattern plotter printer.

For students in the fashion merchandising and design programs, they will now have their own computer lab with the latest design software. The computer lab will be connected to the existing construction and design labs to form a fashion suite and streamline the student's production process.

The addition of the computer lab comes at a time where fashion is intersecting with technology. According to Dr. Mary Simpson, assistant professor of fashion merchandising and design, after the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a massive increase in the use of technology among designers and merchandisers in the industry.

"We saw the use of technology jump leaps and bounds, and it really sent us faster to renovating our spaces. In addition, the updated technology has helped us expand our course offerings," says Simpson.

The centerpiece of the computer lab renovation is the program's new state-of-the-art pattern plotter printer. Used in the fashion industry, plotters create designs, patterns and templates for clothing production. Students will have the opportunity to learn how to create patterns with the plotter in Simpson's upcoming apparel line development course.

"I print off my pattern, I go next door to the construction lab to cut my pattern, then I go to the design lab to sew my garment. It's just a workflow space that is logical and accessible and easiest for students," says Smith-Ayers.  


Chef Russell Barrett taste testing during his culinary skills course.

In order to maximize the potential of the food lab used by the nutrition and dietetics program, the department relied on the expertise of part-time instructor, Chef Russell Barrett. With more than a decade in the food industry, he helped lead the department through the renovation process. 

"Chef selected and laid out the stainless steel shelving and storage units we have installed. With the reorganization of the space, it will obviously improve the experience our students will have," says Smith-Ayers.

The most noticeable difference for returning students will be the removal of the wooden overhead cupboards. Original to the space, the cupboards have now been replaced with open shelving and racks making it easier to access equipment. 

"I would literally have to open the old wooden cabinets every time to look for something," says Jennifer Converse, president of WMU's Student Dietetic Association. "The new shelves look a lot more professional, and it will save so much time just looking for supplies." 


Smith-Ayers and the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences would like to acknowledge the following for their contribution to the renovations: Casey WhitePat LemMatt LovettRandy MiddaughRandy BriningerMatt ClareMatt DanneffelGlen BrighamMoore Electrical Service, Inc.Gaurav DaveVinnie Renda, and Educational Technology Services in the College of Education and Human Development.

For more WMU news, arts and events, visit WMU News online.