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North Carolina Textile Foundation staff held a virtual town hall on March 17 to update alumni and friends of its activities and raise awareness of the upcoming Day of Giving.

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Support textile/apparel industry on N.C. State’s Day of Giving

Generous donation creates Blue Bell Pioneer  Scholarship Endowment for underserved students
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Posted March 18, 2021


By Devin Steele


Many U.S. and global textile and apparel manufacturers as well as brands and retailers proudly count N.C. State Wilson College of Textiles alumni in their employee rolls, and the college continues to hold a major stake in the future of the industry.


Through its innovation, research and education, the Wilson College of Textiles – the only remaining four-year institution for textiles and apparel in the U.S. – will remain a major pipeline for preparing the industry’s future talent.


That’s why Wednesday, March 24 is important to the College and the industry as the university holds its annual Day of Giving. That day, graduates, friends and industry partners have the opportunity to make a world of difference in students’ lives and the industry’s continued success, according to Michael Ward, executive director of development at the North Carolina Textile Foundation (NCTF), the fundraising arm of the Wilson College.


“Investing in textile education means investing in the future leadership of our industry companies,” he said. “Regardless of level of support, whether it’s $10 or $100, everyone makes a difference. We remain deeply grateful to our partners in the textile industry for their unwavering support.”


Ward called the occasion a “day of celebration” for the foundation, the Wilson College and the industry. For one, the event is the last Day of Giving during the university-wide Think and Do the Extraordinary Campaign, the most ambitious fundraising effort in the history of N.C. State, with a goal of $1.6 billion in private support from the university’s alumni and friends. “We want to finish strong in that campaign and celebrate how far we’ve come together,” he said.


In addition, the day offers a chance for the College to officially celebrate a new endowed scholarship, courtesy of an enormous gift from the Blue Bell Foundation, and carry on the legacy of a large, Greensboro, N.C.-based international apparel company. Blue Bell, Inc. survived and thrived for more than 80 years before being acquired by VF Corp. in 1986. Plus, that day, a portion the Blue Bell Foundation gift can be matched if the Wilson College reaches 200 donations by 1 p.m.


Name to live on in perpetuity


The generous donation will enable the Blue Bell Pioneer Scholarship Endowment to fund the education of students from rural areas of North Carolina at the Wilson College of Textiles. One student will be awarded the scholarship each year. The newly established Pioneer Scholarship provides funding for students from non-metropolitan North Carolina areas who have an interest in the textile industry.

Blue Bell Foundation caretakers want to continue to provide opportunities for those interested in a career in apparel-related industries, according to Sam Tucker, a trustee of the Blue Bell Foundation and a former NCTF board member who spent more than 40 years in manufacturing management and human resources at Blue Bell, Inc. and VF Corp.


“We wanted the scholarship to be earmarked for a student interested on the apparel side, because that’s our legacy, and to go to a student who is deserving from a merit standpoint,” Tucker said. “And the fact that it could be targeted to students from underserved or rural communities really resonated with us.”


Blue Bell, Inc., the original manufacturer of Wrangler jeans in the 1940s, once operated about 70 plants, many in those small towns in North Carolina, he added. The Blue Bell Foundation was created in 1944 to provide a fund for various philanthropic purposes, including support for literary and educational endeavors.


“Without those plants existing anymore, we thought it was a good time to sunset the foundation and leave a legacy for Blue Bell, keeping the name out there in perpetuity,” Tucker said.


Ward said the donation will indeed keep the Blue Bell name alive, change the lives of aspirational, worthy students and provide a major boost for the foundation and the college during the university’s larger fundraising campaign.


“It’s important and meaningful to the N.C. Textile Foundation and the college, being able to preserve the legacy of those multi-generational families in our industry's history,” he said. “Blue Bell left a giant footprint in our industry, and we’re happy to be able to carry on that name with a scholarship. We are so grateful that they were able to support us in such a big way for our Day of Giving. The Think and Do the Extraordinary Campaign has been transformative for the Wilson College, and to have Blue Bell continue that momentum and celebrate with us is very gratifying.”


As someone who for years had recruited at N.C. State for Blue Bell, Inc. and VF Corp., then later serving on the N.C. Textile Foundation board, Tucker said he has always been impressed with the quality of student at its textile school.


“I developed an affinity for N.C. State,” said Tucker, a University of Georgia alumnus. “The students we recruited were super top notch and well prepared. And the (Wilson) College of Textiles always tended to be ahead of the curve in terms of anticipating new technology and how to prepare students for what companies need.”


On the Blue Bell Pioneer Scholarship Endowment, he said the “perfect scenario” is for a student who wants to work on the apparel side but without the means to pursue that dream to have that opportunity.


“If we’re able to send outstanding students to the Wilson College, we know that in four years, they're going to be game-changers for the companies that hire them,” said Tucker, who worked with Wanda Urbanska, director of development at the NCTF, to advance the conversations and create the framework for the scholarship. “They will be leading the industry into the future. We’re happy to play a part in shaping those leaders.”

Transformative growth


Indeed, the N.C. State Day of Giving will provide an opportunity for the Wilson College of Textiles to celebrate the strides it has made in the last few years before turning its attention to higher achievements, Ward said.


“Five years ago, we had a strong endowment of about $40 million,” he said. “Today, we’re at $75 million, and we want to grow that to $100 million. We’ve made great progress.”


Ward added that 1,884 donors have supported the Wilson College through the NCTF during the Think and Do The Extraordinary Campaign, raising $63 million for the college.


“We aspire to add 130 new donors to reach 2,021 in 2021, reflecting the commitment of the Wilson College community to shape the future of textiles,” he said.


Along with many other achievements, donor support has enabled the college to:


  • Address the greatest needs through the Dean’s Textiles Innovation Fund;

  • Preserve the only college of textiles in the nation, thanks to the naming gift from the Wilson family;

  • Establish 21 endowed scholarships and one endowed professorship;

  • Create the Textiles Diversity and Inclusion Fund to continue building community; and

  • Launch the Textiles Pioneer Scholarship Program to recruit students in rural North Carolina.


“This has been truly an evolutionary time for the college,” Ward said. “We look forward to recapping this campaign for everyone to see the impact and realize the difference our donors are making.”


If you’d like to donate to the Wilson College of Textiles on N.C. State’s Day of Giving, please click here.

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