Cougar Closet helps dress students for future careers

Closeup of someone's hands as they go through a rack of men's dress shirts at Cougar Closet.
Housed on the first floor of the Lighty Student Services Building on the Pullman campus, Cougar Closet offers students in need of professional clothing the ability to try on and pick out whatever gently used donated clothes they need to make an impression

Some of the most important moments for college students include their initial steps into the professional world, whether it’s attending their first career fair or meeting with prospective employers. These are times that can prompt anxiety even among the most prepared and punctual, so lacking the proper attire for these pivotal moments only compounds the potential worry.

This is where Cougar Closet comes in.

Housed on the first floor of the Lighty Student Services Building on the Pullman campus, Cougar Closet offers students in need of professional clothing the ability to try on and pick out whatever gently used, donated clothes they need to make an impression. An effort that began slowly and stagnated during the pandemic has seen a recent resurgence, according to Amanda Morgan, who leads the career and employment relations team with the Academic Success and Career Center.

“We were really on pause during the pandemic, as no one needed our clothes or was donating,” Morgan said. “The resumption of in-person events on the campus and beyond has really rejuvenated us, and our team has done a lot of work to advertise and promote the Cougar Closet to students and employers. For the latter group, it’s a great way to give back and support our students.”

As its inventory of clothing grew, Cougar Closet was able to expand to two rooms within Lighty, one for men’s clothes and one for women’s clothes. Students who visit Cougar Closet can peruse the inventory, try on outfits, and keep whatever they need at no cost. This year alone, more than 250 students have used Cougar Closet, the most demand the program has seen, with the most demand coming in the days before career fairs.

Jenna Frei, an accounting and management information systems major, couldn’t find good options for warm weather business attire and professional shoes in Pullman ahead of a Meet the Firms event.

“I looked everywhere in town and found very few things that fit,” Frei said. “If I hadn’t heard about the Cougar Closet, I would have had to find time to drive to Spokane and spend lots of money on required business clothes and gas. I went to the Cougar Closet with my friend and we both found things that actually worked, including shoes, for free. The Cougar Closet is an amazing program that I am very thankful for.”

Inside the rooms where students can peruse clothes are whiteboards with messages of appreciation from past students. Shelves and racks are regularly restocked with donations, so students are encouraged to visit regularly to see what items are available.

Members of the WSU community looking to support Cougar Closet can do so by dropping off their gently used professional clothing at Lighty 160 or at the dropbox located within the Brelsford Visitors Center.

Cougar Closet also picks up shipping costs for those who aren’t local looking to donate. New this year, the program has also set up an Amazon Wishlist with the most in-demand items, such as sports coasts, socks, belts, ties and men’s shoes. The ASCC also has a Cougar Closet giving page located on the WSU Foundation’s website that can be found by searching “Cougar Closet”.

Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories employees dropping off clothes to Cougar Closet as part of an annual donation drive in 2023.
Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories employees dropping off clothes to Cougar Closet as part of an annual donation drive in 2023.

In addition to individual donations, Cougar Closet is supported by a number of corporate partners as well as the university through internal grants. This year alone, employees of Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories donated 427 items as part of their summer clothing drive.

“We’re always looking for opportunities to help students in need and after we heard about this great program we knew it was a great way to show our support,” Amberly Wernecke, a senior program manager at SEL, said.

To learn more about Cougar Closet, visit the Academic Success and Career Center website. The WSU Everett campus also boasts its own Cougar Closet, with more information available on the campus’ website.

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