DENTON (UNT), Texas --When Subrina Hossain enrolled at the University of North Texas, she wasn't exactly sure what she wanted to do with her merchandising major.
She decided to become a buyer for a large retail company after taking a math class in probability and statistics, because she liked the "very analytical and strategic" work. And Hossain says being accepted into the Merchant Development Program of UNT's College of Merchandising, Hospitality and Tourism, has shown her that she's chosen the right future career.
"I am very grateful for being able to further my skills and become a well-rounded student and merchant because of this program," said Hossain, a senior merchandising and digital retailing major.
Created in 2013, the program is designed for students who have a passion for the retail industry and strong academic ambitions. Students must have completed a certain number of lower-level courses for their degrees in merchandising, digital retailing or home furnishings merchandising before applying to the program. They must also have a minimum grade point average of 3.0 and have worked at least 300 documented clock hours in retail.
Tammy Kinley, chair of the Department of Merchandising and Digital Retailing in the college, calls the Merchant Development Program "our merchandising honors program."
"We want to showcase students who have demonstrated talent in merchandising and who really enjoy the energy of working in retail and thinking about the customer. We're hoping the college will become a place where more employers will seek out talented students," Kinley said.
During three or four semesters in the program, the students are mentored by industry executives and shadow the executives on the job for 24 documented clock hours. The students also attend at least two classes on personal finance taught by UNT's Student Money Management Center, attend retail industry conferences; earn Microsoft Excel certification, complete a market internship at the Dallas Market Center and become active members of the National Retail Federation Student Association, among other activities.
Entering a merchandising curriculum-related competition is another requirement. During the 2013 fall semester, Hossain and three other students in the Merchant Development Program developed a comfortable shoe for women in urban workplaces for the National Retail Federation Foundation Careerbuilders.com Student Challenge. They became one of three finalist teams in the competition.
The students -- senior merchandising major Karen Saltzman, senior merchandising major Khuyen Nguyen, senior merchandising major Adrianna Solis and Hossain --presented their idea before a panel of judges in January at the National Retail Federation's Big Show annual convention and expo. The students had to create a 10-page business plan that covered their target market, trends, competitors, marketing and finance, writing the plan for the chief executive officer and senior team of Nordstrom.
In addition, the Merchant Development Program students must complete four advanced courses, including a study tour course that will take them to manufacturing facilities, retail establishments, museums, historical structures, and industry support organizations in Dallas, New York, London or Hong Kong.
Saltzman said being in the program will open many opportunities to her.
"Those of us in the program are the new faces of retail, and employers will see that we have potential," said Saltzman, who has been employed by Victoria's Secret for two years and plans to work in consumer analytics, marketing and trend forecasts for a major retailer.
Solis called working on the Student Challenge for the National Retail Federation Foundation "transformational and exciting."
"Participating in the challenge has helped me grow as a merchant and allowed me to experience the expectations of the real world of retail," she said. "And attending the Big Show was a transformational experience on both a personal and educational level. It was amazing to learn about retail from the industry's top leaders and game changers. The experience was incredibly inspiring and made me even more excited about my future."
Nguyen said she feels extremely lucky to have unique opportunities to evaluate and improve her skills, strengths and weaknesses through the Student Challenge and Merchant Development Program. She plans to become a retail buyer and work in digital marketing strategies after graduating.
"I have gained not only the real insights of the retail industry, but also the leadership, entrepreneurship and power of teamwork," she said.