“I tell everyone that I am where I am today because I attended Illinois State University,” said Kathleen Embry. She added that her respect for Illinois State is one reason why she likes to donate her time and funds to the Family and Consumer Sciences (FSC) department, Alumni Relations and the College of Applied Science and Technology.
Embry earned her bachelor’s degree in 1984 and her master’s degree in 1989. “My bachelor’s degree in fashion merchandising/clothing and textiles fully prepared me to work in retail management,” Embry said. “During my graduate studies, I developed and honed my public speaking skills, learned the importance of networking and developed my passion for desktop publishing, which served me well for a good 10 years.”
After working in several management positions, Embry started Suddenly You’re Sewing on behalf of the Home Sewing Association, and then transitioned it into her own business, Kathy’s Sewing & Design Studio. Through her businesses, Embry taught thousands of children and adults how to sew. She said it was her dream to own an Internet business so she launched Sewing Supplies Warehouse. Embry enjoyed being an entrepreneur because of the freedom to set her own work schedule.
Embry made a career move to the International Academy of Design and Technology in 2000. She started as an adjunct faculty member and then moved on to program director for fashion design, dean of the School of Design Studies and to her current position as associate director of Education. The Academy awards associate’s and bachelor’s degrees in fashion design, interior design, merchandising management, information technology and visual communications. Embry is responsible for external relations, compliance, new program development, curriculum revisions and faculty development. She is also pursuing a graduate certificate in Training and Development and anticipates entering a Ph.D. program next year.
FCS faculty Ann Stemm, Myrna Garner, Margaret Ann Hayden, Lois Jett and Connie Ley all served as mentors to Embry. Stemm for teaching about quality workmanship, Garner about diligence, Hayden as someone who taught Embry to enjoy work, Jett who stressed the importance of fashion history and Ley who made Embry prove herself. Embry’s memories also include her roommates Carol Bowman ’84 and Lisa Shive ’94, grad school friend Laura Egger ’87, M.S. ’89 and “cube mate” Carol Weisheit M.S.’89. “And who can forget Avanti’s on Sundays with gondolas and orange pop, Friday nights in the library, Saturday afternoon football games, aerobics in the Student Rec Center, building snowmen on the Quad and Lox Stock & Bagel where I worked as a bagel maker throughout graduate school,” Embry said.
Embry embodies the get involved student model. She helped start the Fashion Merchandising Club and was president of the Graduate Student Advisory Council, where she helped establish the framework for the Graduate Research Symposium. Continuing that model as an alumna, Embry helped start several alumni chapters and served as president for one of the Chicago chapters, planning events and scheduling speakers and activities. She also served on the Alumni Association Board of Directors for 12 years, where she assisted in developing the Non-Resident Tuition Waiver and where was named an Illinois State University Outstanding Young Alumni.
Embry will lend her talents to the annual Science & Technology Week this coming April by spearheading the event, which will feature Tim Gunn of “Project Runway.” “It is a natural fit for me as I have worked in fashion-related jobs for close to nine years and have overseen the annual fashion show at the Academy for the last five years,” Embry said. “I also want to help increase outreach, to go beyond the University and pull in the community and other alumni. Plus, to have the opportunity to meet and work with Tim Gunn—what an invaluable experience. I am honored to be asked, and I am thrilled to offer my assistance and support “
Embry’s volunteerism also includes the Willowbrook Wildlife Center, where she works as a volunteer animal keeper. In her spare time, she enjoys cycling, riding local trails and participating in charity rides, and spending time with her parents, four sisters, one brother and 19 nieces and nephews. Embry also contributes her time and funds to the Humane Society of America, Fashion Group International and the Chicago Loop Alliance.
“When I return to Illinois State, the one thing that always amazes me is the excitement surrounding new parking garages,” Embry said. “When I was in school, we got excited about new bike racks. I only knew one or two people with cars. Seriously, I feel proud of the way Illinois State is building relationships and improving the campus. For example, the College of Business building lends credibility to the programs and the University. What seems like coming home is the way the campus, though growing, always feels the same. It is a big college on a compact campus. I always try to take time for a stroll through the Quad. To me, the Quad is the heart of Illinois State University, the place that put me where I am today.”