Following an extensive input-gathering process involving external and internal experts in the field, several Otis College board of trustees members, fashion program faculty and staff, department chairs, and academic directors, a detailed job prospectus was created and disseminated nationally and internationally. The search committee for the position included members of the fashion faculty/teaching staff, current Otis College design chairs, one faculty member each from another design departments and from liberal arts and sciences, the associate provost for academic administration, and the vice presidents for institutional advancement and human resources and development. Open forums were conducted and community feedback gathered for search committee consideration, leading to the recommendation of three finalists for the position.
Jill Higashi-Zeleznik ('87) served as interim chair of fashion design during the 2016-17 academic year and was assistant chair of the department for the previous 19 years. Prior to joining the Otis faculty, she studied at Otis/Parsons and had a long and distinguished career in the fashion industry at the design director level, with a particular focus on turning around under-performing companies/divisions. Challenges in that arena entailed restructuring and developing design teams, evaluating market competition, enhancing the organization’s image and design, supervising creative direction, and analyzing all aspects of the production process.
“President Ferguson and I greatly look forward to working with Jill as the Otis fashion design program enters a new era,” said Randall Lavender, provost at Otis College.
During her years at Otis, Zeleznik has distinguished herself as a truly outstanding teacher and contributed substantially to the fashion design program’s strong reputation, which has garnered the respect of top industry leaders. At the same time, she has helped to build a robust network of alumni and industry partners who are integral to the program’s success. She is known for dependable leadership in a program whose linchpin is relevance and vision for sustainability, as well as for her strong capacities to develop students, foster their success, and help graduates achieve their professional goals.
As interim chair Zeleznik brought her expertise to bear in (among other ways) furthering fashion design’s new costume design emphasis, a recent addition to the program’s continued expansion of the opportunities it offers students to engage a wide range of design challenges. She also maintains strong ties to the fashion industry, and thereby to the trends, best practices, and standards of an ever-changing field.
Going forward, Zeleznik will play a crucial role in evolving fashion design’s curriculum, reflecting the fact that the industry itself continually expects more and different things from program graduates. She has creative ideas for implementing new cross-department collaborative opportunities for students to address contemporary needs, enhancements for flexibility within the curriculum, and opportunities for students to focus on individual interests in addition to problems set by world-class mentors.
Students in the fashion design program become educated and practiced in all aspects of the design process as they work towards a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) in Fashion Design. The program differentiates itself from other art and design competitors by providing a structured curriculum with a singular emphasis on developing capable, innovative, and professional fashion designers (with a comprehensive knowledge of both moderate and designer markets). For decades, this formula has proven successful in shaping students into creative professionals prepared for a seamless transition into the industry.