Students Nathan Ankomah-Mensah, Muhammed Enayetur Rahman, Billy Connelli, Kiran Thakur, Gozde Cay and Professor Kunal Mankodiya demonstrate materials from the wearable biosensing lab. Photo by Nora Lewis.

By Abbie Judson and Erin Hassman

On Monday, Feb. 11, the University of Rhode Island’s College of Business, Business Engagement Center and Rhode Island Textile Innovation Network’s (RITIN), hosted their first annual textile industry networking event.

The event was held in order to recruit and train students for the future textile workforce and to also connect industry leaders, designers, researchers and Rhode Island government officials.

The event drew more than 200 attendees, including United States Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse, U.S. Representatives Jim Langevin and David Cicilline and URI President David Dooley.

Dr. Martin Bide, a URI TMD Professor, attended the networking event and said that he thought there was a great turnout.

“We had over 70 students sign into the event and I’m sure more that didn’t,” Bide said.

Over 20 businesses within the textile industry came to the event and students were able to walk around to their booths, learning more about the many different jobs and opportunities available during and after college.

Bide said it was great for students to learn about.

“Students might be surprised to learn how their future career can go beyond fashion,” Bide stated.

The event had a speaking program with businesses and a panel discussion. The panel discussion consisted of URI College of Business and engineering faculty members as well as URI students and alumni.

Briannah Plasse, a senior majoring in TMD and a minor in General Business, spoke at the event and shared her experience within URI’s TMD program.

“It was eye opening to see the number of textile companies we have in Rhode Island,” Plasse said. “The congressional delegation and TMD faculty spoke on the future of textiles, including its future right here in Rhode Island. The event made me even more excited to be entering the textile industry.”

Plasse in currently in her third semester interning in the dye laboratory for Kenyon Industries, a synthetic dyeing and finishing plant close to URI. She has also interned at Cardinal Health, a healthcare service company where Plasse said she ran tests on nonwoven textile products.

“The TMD department at URI has been incredibly supportive and helpful throughout my four years in the program,” Plasse said. “The professors are incredibly knowledgeable and experienced within their fields and are committed to helping students progress in their own areas of interest.”

Plasse said that her last semester has included valuable opportunities, such as an independent study and a teaching assistant position in Bide’s class.  

“Each staff member has contributed to my overall knowledge and passion for textiles,” said Bide. “URI’s TMD program has provided me many opportunities and has left me feeling well prepared for attending graduate school this fall.”

The RITIN was established in 2016 by Whitehouse and the URI Business Engagement Center. Aimed at fostering a network of industry businesses, designers, URI faculty and Rhode Island government officials, RITIN works on advancing the textile manufacturing industry.

Part of RITIN involves recruiting and training students who are planning on working in the textile industry after college. While this was the first academic networking event held by URI and RITIN, they are aiming to make it an annual event. Faculty from URI’s Department of Textiles, Fashion Merchandising and Design (TMD) and the College of Engineering were also in attendance. Other attendees included Shea High School students, URI students and URI alumni who are currently working in the textile industry.