Northern Illinois University

NIU Office of Public Affairs

Laura Smart
Laura Smart

Bette Montgomery
Bette Montgomery

Sarah Cosbey
Sarah Cosbey

To obtain a print-quality JPEG of this photo, contact the Office of Public Affairs at (815) 753-1681 or e-mail

News Release

Contact: Mark McGowan, NIU Office of Public Affairs
(815) 753-9472

December 3, 2008

New master’s degree at NIU offers specialties
in apparel studies, family and consumer sciences ed

DeKalb — Northern Illinois University’s School of Family, Consumer and Nutrition Sciences is ready to accept students into a new master’s degree program that offers two specialties in the field of family and consumer sciences.

The specialty in apparel studies is intended for professionals in the apparel industry who wish to enhance their understanding of the behavior of consumers of clothing and accessories. They will learn why consumers choose particular items over others as well as how clothing choices reflect human behavior.

A master’s degree in apparel studies also opens the door for graduates of textiles, apparel and merchandising (TAM) programs who hope to pursue doctoral degrees to obtain management positions at top retailers or to enter academia.

The specialty in family and consumer sciences education is intended for teachers of that subject in middle schools and high schools who wish to move forward in their careers while maintaining their teaching certification.

“With just about any occupation now, people who want to advance in their career need to strongly consider earning a master’s degree,” said Laura Smart, chair of the school housed in NIU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.

“It’s clear for teachers. They are required to get continuing education,” Smart added. “And the very top stores, such as Nordstrom, hire people with Ph.D.s in apparel-related fields because they recognize the added value of the ability to interpret and produce research related to apparel.”

Students in the apparel studies specialization will develop skills in critical thinking, communication and data interpretation related not only to the apparel and fashion retail industries but to consumer actions in regard to clothing.

Meanwhile, those fashion professionals who hold undergraduate degrees in business can gain a deeper and more academic comprehension of their field.

“For a number of years, we’ve worked with internship sites for TAM students where the only educational option that the bachelor’s degree-level supervisors have had is to get master’s degrees in business,” Smart said. “Ours gives a different focus in that apparel industry professionals will better understand both the product and the consumer of the product.”

Core requirements include courses in educational statistics and research methods. Students also can take courses in the economics of the apparel and textile industries, consumer behavior related to apparel, fashion process analyses, clothing and human behavior and issues in eating disorders and obesity.

A thesis is required.

“There is no other master’s degree in this topic in the state,” said Sarah Cosbey, the associate professor of textiles, apparel and merchandising who wrote the proposal for the apparel studies specialization. “This is for someone who is interested in continuing academic studies in the human behavior aspect of apparel, whether from a consumer or social-psychological aspect, or for someone who is entertaining going on into education with a doctorate.”

Teachers who choose the specialization in family and consumer sciences education will keep pace with a changing school of thought in what once was called “home economics.”

Family and consumer education is “vital” in northern Illinois, Smart said, and many recently built high schools boast excellent facilities. Some even have student-run dining facilities.

And, like the apparel studies specialization, this emphasis is unique in Illinois. A thesis is similarly required.

“Home Ec traditionally focused on what people did inside the home,” said Bette Montgomery, associate professor of family and consumer science education and coordinator of the textiles, merchandising and educational services area of FCNS.

“Now we’re looking at contexts outside of the home that relate to family life,” Montgomery added. “We look at the issues of families and communities today. There’s much more of a problem-solving and issues-oriented approach.”

Today’s field reflects a progression of what Marjorie Brown and Beatrice Paolucci started in their 1979 paper, “Home Economics: A Definition.” The two adopted theories of German philosopher Jürgen Habermas, who held that human beings could create mutual understanding through competent communication.

“Within the family, that could apply to parenting,” Montgomery said. “For example, parents really need to talk about what their beliefs are about raising children. What are their rules about discipline? What is their emphasis on particular family values?”

The new degree and its pair of specializations also benefits the School of Family, Consumer and Nutrition Sciences, Smart said: No school can retain its best and brightest undergraduates for advanced studies without strong and challenging graduate programs.

“It’s important for undergraduate students, in any program, to be aware there is graduate education in their field,” she said.

“With NIU serving so many first-generation college students, my experience over the years has been that even the top students – the ones we would really like to see in graduate school – have never thought of graduate school. No one has encouraged them to attend graduate school. This makes it easier for these students to conceptualize themselves as graduate students.”

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