By Amanda Brasier
What started out as a snow day diversion for a 10-year-old child turned into a lifelong passion and career for faculty member Dr. Nancy Oliver, who was selected as the Mace Bearer for the College of Fine and Applied Arts’ Spring 2021 commencement.
Oliver, who is retiring as an associate professor and program coordinator from the Apparel Design and Merchandising program, remembers her mother showing her how to use a sewing machine and starting her first project—a blanket for one of her baby dolls. “I must have been restless being inside during the snow, and my mother showed me how to use the sewing machine,” she said. “I vaguely remember the blanket had a print and I was able to make it puffy, but I’d enjoy seeing if it’s as I remembered.”
Like her parents, Oliver earned her bachelor’s degree from App State. She went on to earn her master’s from University of North Carolina at Greensboro and doctorate from the University of Tennessee.
During her career, she has taught different aspects of the apparel industry and its relationship to culture and society. “I enjoy the history, social and psychology of how apparel and textiles reflect our culture and can be used as a guide to the past and present,” Oliver said. “We’re in a very unusual time because of the pandemic, and our clothing in the future may continue to have an element of comfort since we’ve grown accustomed to wearing comfortable, casual clothing in our homes. Going forward, society may feel as if we are emerging from a cocoon and, like butterflies, will dress up in vibrant colors, almost a resurgence of the Roaring 20s.”
Returning to Appalachian
During the course of her career, Oliver worked in seven different states in diverse fields like marketing research and as a clothing extension agent. Her roots as an educator and love for the university and the region were ultimately what brought her back to teach at App State in 2009, allowing her to continue the legacy of her parents, the late Joe and Celeste Oliver, lifelong educators in the neighboring Caldwell County School System.
“My family always valued education and even as young children, my brother and I talked about ‘when’ we went to college not ‘if’ we went to college,” she said. “I love teaching and have always enjoyed working with college students. I find the current generations of Gen Z and Millennials inspiring as they are passionate about the environment and demand diversity, sustainability and equality.”
Evolution of Apparel Design and Merchandising Program
After returning to App State, Oliver joined the Apparel Design and Merchandising program in the Department of Applied Design. Two other faculty were hired around the same time—Dr. Anthony Wilson and Mary Ray. Oliver contributes a lot of the success of the program to the team effort and vision the three faculty had toward building the program into what it is today.
“As a faculty, we were adamant that it was important to provide students with a comprehensive background of the entire apparel industry inclusive of design and merchandising,” Oliver said. “I think that’s what makes our students more marketable after they graduate and this has been reinforced with feedback we have received from employers.”
The ADM program has continued to flourish; Oliver estimates that the number of students majoring in the program has tripled in her 12 years at App State. While Oliver says she will miss working with students and her Appalachian family, she plans to spend her next chapter continuing to pursue different forms of creative expression--painting, sewing and enjoying whatever comes next.