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Five NC State Wilson College of Textiles Students Showcase Their Creativity and Resilience During an Unusual 2020 Spring Semester

The COVID-19 pandemic caused the Spring 2020 semester to take an unexpected turn.  Unaware of the coming health crisis, five NC State students from the Wilson College of Textiles left the US in January, 2020 to study abroad at the Lorenzo de’ Medici Institute in Italy. Unfortunately, their stay was cut short but their learning experience continued online and they all successfully completed their coursework and created stunning works of art and design.

The Lorenzo de’ Medici Institute recently published two journals (Fine Arts and Design) to showcase the Spring 2020 Creative Art and Design students. In their work, the students reflect upon an unusual yet successful spring semester.

Meet the Students

The Office of Global Engagement asked Jenna Spahr, Emma Rigby, Celine Borthayre, Colby Hopper, and Susannah Grover to share their experiences in Italy, how their studies abroad impacted their art and design skills and what they learned from the shifts required as a result of the pandemic. Four out of the five students featured in this article are graduating seniors majoring in Fashion and Textile Design at Wilson College of Textiles. Susannah Grover is a senior majoring in Fashion Textile Management.

After graduation, Jenna Spahr hopes to intern with the home design team at Kohl’s. She dreams of working as a textile designer one day.

“The five weeks I spent in Italy truly advanced me as a designer and challenged me to develop my skills and style when I design. I was able to take courses outside of what I’m normally used to doing. I was pushed to think of a broader and global market to design for and I learned new techniques through creating accessories. Taking in the beautiful culture of Florence and places I was able to visit in Europe broadened my inspirations too and I was able to come back to my studios at Wilson College of Textiles and have a refreshing new vision for my designs. Transitioning to online classes in the Spring of 2020 was a big change and was something I had to get used to with different factors like the time difference and the experiences lost. Even though I was faced with a major obstacle, I became more adaptable and just went along with everything thrown my way.”

Emma Rigby is currently applying for graduate school programs abroad and hopes to study fashion in Europe.

“[While in Italy] I learned a lot about fashion photography which allowed me to creatively and skillfully photograph my own designs! It was also a beautiful country that inspired me a lot and woke up my creativity that had been fading a bit with the college burn out, driving me to try new styles of art. When reflecting on the Spring 2020 semester, I learned that I am stronger than I thought. Coming back from Europe in the circumstances that I did was extremely painful for me, and for a long time I wouldn’t even look at any pictures from the time or even think about it because it hurt so much to know what I lost. After some time passed I began to look at it from a perspective of the things I was lucky enough to experience while I was there, and it makes me want to go back again and finish the adventure. With the pandemic happening, it reminded me that I need to live in the moment, and that if I want to do something I should just go out and do it as soon as I get the opportunity, because you never know when something might get in the way of it.”

Celine Borthayre is currently applying to jobs in the fashion design realm but would love to eventually start her own business doing custom bridal and formalwear.

Being able to take focused design classes from such talented professors helped me advance both my technical skills but also my creative process in general.  I learned so many techniques about surface design and embellishments that I plan on using in my future career.The biggest lessons I learned during my time in Italy was the importance of adaptability and seizing the moment. None of us expected our study abroad experience to end up as it did but there were still so many moments to celebrate and memories to cherish from our time there.  It was ultimately a great lesson in using the time you have and making the most of it as you never know what the future will look like.” 

After graduation, Colby Hopper will be spending her summer as a design intern for American Eagle Outfitters within their sub-brand, Aerie. This fall, she will be returning to NC State’s Wilson College of Textiles to pursue a Master of Science in Textiles.

“My five weeks spent in Italy enhanced my skills as a designer in so many ways. The culture is rich in its contributions to art, fashion, literature and beyond. Being surrounded by that environment in itself influences your artistic development and empowers designers to think outside the box. Traveling to Europe, especially alone for the first time, was intimidating for me. However, I used my uncomfortability to take advantage of the opportunities in front of me and challenged myself as a designer to learn new techniques and develop creative pieces for my portfolio.One of the biggest challenges I overcame while abroad was the fear of uncertainty. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I arrived in Italy but I immediately fell in love. Eventually I began to feel homesick once the honeymoon phase passed. And just when I started feeling at home in Italy, the pandemic hit and I was sent home. Arriving back home was difficult and heartbreaking. I missed my new friends and especially the food! Online classes were confusing because of time zone and cultural differences as well as learning art on Zoom. The situation overall taught me to be grateful for what I have in the moment, and I realized how flexible and adaptable I could be.”

In Fall 2021, Susannah Grover will pursue her Master’s in Textiles at Wilson College of Textiles.
“I absolutely loved getting the chance to learn more about the art history of Florence. This course gave me the opportunity to study in depth the Florentine arts.I learned to appreciate every moment. I easily get caught up in doing as much as I can. During my five weeks in Italy, I was so worried about seeing everything I wanted to in order to get the most out of my experience. Being sent home early made me realize that there is so much more to life than doing the most that you can! As I reflect on my time in Florence, I cherish all the little moments.”

View Their Art

  • To view Celine’s art, please review the Design journal (pages 31, 87 and 93).
  • To view Colby’s art, please review the Fine Arts journal (page 7).
  • Emma’s work is featured in the Fine Arts journal (page 149) as well as the Design journal (page 35).
  • Jenna’s work is also featured in both journals. Please refer to page 161 in the Fine Arts journal and page 95 in the Design journal.
  • Finally, please view Susannah’s work on page 185 in the Fine Arts journal.