|14 Sep 2023
It started with a notebook-filling conversation between two textile-design alumnae on a New Jersey beach some five years ago.
After preliminary discussions, it was there—in Beach Haven—that Marcia Weiss and Marnie Collins solidified plans to create a ground-breaking MS/MSc joint-degree program between Thomas Jefferson University and Heriot-Watt University in Scotland.
Both Weiss and Collins were trained at what was then called Philadelphia College of Textiles and Science, with the latter having studied abroad at the Scotland university during her junior year at Textile. Flash forward to today, and they are co-directors of the innovative program, which will welcome the first cohort in fall of 2023.
“Marnie’s family spends vacations there together in the summer and she invited me to come visit. So, we sat on the beach, making notes as to what this program could look like,” says Weiss, the textile design program director within the Kanbar College of Design, Engineering and Commerce at Jefferson. “That’s really where we drafted the program.”
“It was the most fun meeting ever,” says Collins during a recent conversation which showcased the pair’s comfort in being able to finish one another’s sentences. “When you’re at your most relaxed is when you come up with your best ideas, and this meeting was really productive.”
When discussing a program that expands Jefferson’s global footprint, while uniting two of the world’s oldest and most esteemed textile institutions, the co-directors can barely contain their excitement for what it offers to students.
When it commences next year, 12 students will travel together for studies at each university where they will be immersed in the global textile design market. The plan is to enable students to develop technical and artisanal skills for foremost industry or entrepreneurial ventures, with unprecedented access to extend and expand their professional networks through involvement with global trade fairs, access to famed archives and placement into premiere textile design industry internships.
“We’re very excited to introduce this first-of-its-kind program that establishes the global model for 21st century professional education,” Weiss says. “It unites and builds on the textile legacy of these two institutions, while forming an exciting springboard for the future.”
While the two overlapped at Textile, they did not know one another during that time. It was the decades old study-abroad program (the first offered by Textile), collaborating on a joint undergraduate course and teaming up on a research paper, which brought them together. With a mutual respect existing between the universities, the pair focused on the calling cards of each to help create a well-rounded experience for students.
“There are nuances of differences in how we teach, and the program that I lead now is actually a bachelor of arts degree, not a bachelor of science, so there are slight shifts,” says Collins, noting that she doesn’t know of any BS in textile degrees offered in the United Kingdom.
Weiss says that both noticed “a strong desire for an international experience” amongst their students, which sparked the genesis of those earlier discussions.
“Both of us focus on career opportunities for our students. As we think about developing this next generation of design professionals, the fact that both Marnie and I have extensive professional experience means we have wide-ranging connections and networks in the industry,” Weiss says. “This then supports our students in the opportunities in front of them.”
Collins shares that, from Heriot-Watt’s perspective, this collaboration marks the first of its kind with a U.S.-based university.
“It really is an unprecedented opportunity for students,” she says. “Graduates of the program will enjoy the benefits of earning a joint degree from both institutions, giving them a competitive advantage for employability.”
Adds Weiss, “This program is more than the sum of its parts, offering students the combination of an amazing master’s program at Heriot-Watt with an amazing master’s program at Jefferson.”
The first cohort will start at Jefferson and then, as a group, spend half of their time here and the other half in Scotland, with travels to mainland Europe for shows and the like.
“What this program does is take the wealth of knowledge and experience and contemporizes it to the cutting-edge. It’s looking at the past and the future as being equal in some regards,” Collins says. “Students can immerse themselves into the ultimate experience in terms of global textile design.”
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