College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences

Joan Ellis, Apparel, Merchandising, Design and Textiles innovator, to retire May 12

Joan Ellis, chair of the Department of Apparel, Merchandising, Design and Textiles, retires May 12, 2017.

Joan Ellis, chair of the Department of Apparel, Merchandising, Design and Textiles, ends a 16-year career at Washington State University on May 12, retiring to Hawaii.

Ellis joined AMDT as an assistant professor in 2001. She became chair in May 2013.

A retirement party for Ellis is 3 p.m. Thursday, April 27, at Ensminger Pavilion. Hawaiian attire is encouraged.

From storefront to academics

Joan was raised in Billings, Montana. As a teen, she took a part-time job at a local sporting goods store. She started as a cashier, worked her way up to salesperson, and then designed window displays for the entire store. She eventually learned all facets of the business. That led to her to enroll in the merchandising program at Colorado State, and eventually, to WSU.

She took an unusual route into the clothing industry: When she was a teenager in need of a part-time job, her father encouraged her to apply at the local sporting goods store. She followed her dad’s advice, She started as a cashier, worked her way up to salesperson, and then designed window displays for the entire store. She eventually learned all facets of the business.

This experience led Ellis to enroll in the merchandising program at Colorado State, where she earned a bachelor’s and master’s in merchandising, followed by a doctorate in organizational development.

Teaching briefly at Kentucky, Ellis was hired at WSU, where she quickly took on teaching the department’s

For most of her 16 years at WSU, she taught the department’s introductory course, AMDT 108, giving students their first look at the realities of the apparel field. She continued teaching that course for most of her 16 years here.

Industry relevance, hands-on learning

As a teacher and as chair, she has championed industry relevance and experiential learning—education that helps students understand their strengths and become successful team members.

When alumni and industry representatives told her that students needed more management skills, Ellis stepped up and revised a senior-level course, AMDT 440, Advanced Retail Management, to stress teamwork, conflict management, motivating others, planning, effective communication, and other concepts that students need to master to join the workforce. In Joan’s words, “Adults learn by doing.”

Ellis founded the Cotton, Inc., awareness series at WSU that led to Cotton Awareness Day being observed in October. Students take part in yearlong projects that build their peers’ understanding of cotton fiber and textiles.

As chair, she doubled internships and increased the number of degrees conferred by AMDT. She also recruited new faculty members to enhance AMDT’s research and collaborate with industry to solve real-world challenges.

Reaching out and getting involved

For Ellis, AMDT is part of a global industry, and opportunities to interact with global partners in industry are critical. She championed industry visits and study tours, sending students out into the world and bringing global professionals to Pullman to share their experiences.

Under her tenure, companies such as Nordstrom, Eddie Bauer, Columbia, REI, Coldwater Creek, and Cotton, Inc., have visited AMDT classrooms and provided seminars for students. Hundreds of undergraduates have made industry visits to New York and Los Angeles, attended Nordstrom Day in Seattle and visited Cotton, Inc., headquarters in Carey, North Carolina.

Ellis has continued to build the department’s active industry advisory board, which represents dozens of top firms across the United States.

Last year, she founded AMDT’s new Alumni Group, a networking effort that helps former students, now industry leaders and professionals, stay connected to students and AMDT work. In her words: “Our alumni have found that it’s vital to stay connected. They need a place they can connect and combine their energies. Now, by being a part of the Alumni Group, they can make an impact.”

Promoting the department has always been one of her priorities. You can often find Ellis on Twitter, helping promote her students’ and faculty accomplishments. She also saw the department’s alumni newsletter go online and reach twice-yearly publication.

AMDT has one of the largest undergraduate populations in CAHNRS. To keep growing, Ellis helped launch a recruiting drive with DECA in high schools.

Three years ago, she led the department in its move to newly renovated home at Johnson Annex and Johnson Hall. With state-of-the-art teaching spaces, studios and labs, the new home drives AMDT to take its work to a new level.

More than thirty years after her initial foray into clothing, Ellis has continued coaching others who have spent time cashiering or designing window displays. Her experience is proof that the billion-dollar apparel industry is filled with opportunity, made possible through education and hard work.

CAHNRS is more than agriculture. With 24 majors, 19 minors, and 27 graduate level programs, we are one of the largest, most diverse colleges at WSU. CAHNRS Cougs are making a difference in the wellbeing of individuals, families, and communities, improving ecological and economic systems, and advancing agricultural sciences.

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Illustration of a woman holding wine near a music band. Text over the image reads: The Auction of Washington Wines Wine and Music Festival, WSU Tri-Cities Campus, June 10, Saturday 6 pm. Learn More. Support Wine.



With 24 majors, 19 minors, and 27 graduate level programs, CAHNRS is one of the largest, most diverse colleges at WSU.


CAHNRS students are awarded more than $600,000 in scholarships annually.


CAHNRS leads in discovery through its high-quality research programs. In 2014, CAHNRS received research funding exceeding $81.5M. This accounts for nearly 40% of all research funding received by WSU.  


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Check out what our academic departments and programs have to offer, from Interior Design to Agriculture to Wildlife Ecology. We have 13 departments and schools to prepare you for your chosen career.

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Students have a variety of options to pursue masters and doctoral degrees. Many of these have very specific background requirements, so we suggest exploring the individual programs for academic guidelines.

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“Well, if I’m going to be the favorite senior,” Carter said to himself, “I’d better start taking some ag classes.”…

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CAHNRS Office of Research

Agricultural Research Center

Mission Statement

The goal of the Washington State University CAHNRS Office of Research is to promote research beneficial to the citizens of Washington. The Office of Research recognizes its unique land-grant research mission to the people of Washington and their increasing global connections. The CAHNRS Office of Research provides leadership in discovering and applying knowledge through high-quality research that contributes to a safe and abundant food, fiber, and energy supply while enhancing the sustainability of agricultural and natural resource systems.

Research Update

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In each of the last three years (2014, 2015 and 2016), the field screening process has involved over 80 varieties, 2,000 advanced breeding lines and more than 35,000 individual plots from WSU cereal breeding and variety evaluation programs. Collectively, varieties included in these trials represent over 95 percent of the wheat acreage planted in Washington.

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Alumni & Friends

Welcome to alumni, friends, and supporters of the College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences (CAHNRS). You are a core part of our CAHNRS Coug family and have made major impacts in our college, communities, and throughout the world. We recognize only a handful of them here.

More than 9,000 alumni and friends contributed to our Campaign for WSU, the most ambitious fundraising effort in university history. The campaign concluded in 2015 with $215 million and endless amounts of impact. Here is a glimpse of what transpired in the Campaign.

Although the campaign concluded, momentum continues to make a difference in our land-grant mission and education. On-going investment in time and resources from our alumni and friends helps to advance our best programs, attract the most talented faculty, and support our brightest students.

There are so many ways to stay involved with CAHNRS. Share your news in the college’s magazine ReConnect. Get involved with student success or support our college as whole by making a gift to the CAHNRS Excellence Fund.


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