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.

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