Finding her Purpose

Scholarship support gives DAAP student freedom to pursue her curiosity

Alexandra Papaioannou“I am in such a fortunate environment and I'm using up oxygen, like why am I on this earth other than to solve a problem?” Alexandra Papaioannou says. “I think everyone finds their purpose when they find a problem that needs solving.”

Papaioannou, a fifth-year student in the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning (DAAP), credits others in helping her resolve obstacles she’s met—--including her own desire to solve problems—while pursuing a degree in fashion design.

Scholarships benefiting DAAP’s fashion design students, such as the Jay Ott Endowed Memorial Scholarship and the Margaret Voelker-Ferrier Endowed Scholarship, have been life-changing for Papaioannou. Even though she lives with her parents and commutes from Dayton, Ohio, to UC, juggling tuition, co-op living expenses and fashion project costs has been tough.

Being a double scholarship recipient has given her much-needed financial help—and a boost of self-confidence.

“I’m just constantly questioning myself and thinking, ‘What if no one sees my vision,’” she says. “The fact that donors and my college would see my work as something worthy of that money and that scholarship title is really huge. I almost can’t wrap my mind around it—that they would give money to a kid they don’t know.”

Papaioannou says her constant questioning and desire to solve problems have made her path less than straightforward than others experience.

As a first-year student at DAAP, she had big dreams of designing for what she calls, “big name, glamorous brands.” But after her first co-op rotation, Papaioannou changed directions, developing the craving to solve problems and find what she calls a “higher purpose.”

Things began to look up when Papaioannou heard Liz Ricketts, a DAAP alumna, speak about sustainable fashion in her Fashion History II class.

Alexandra Papaioannou“I learned how much clothing is being thrown away and how this industry is affecting other countries and cultures, and I got fired up,” Papaioannou said. “I heard about sustainable companies and their approach to fashion.”

Papaioannou also took a class in communications and augmented reality, and this exposed her to the IT@UC Center for Simulations & Virtual Environments Research (UCSIM). UCSIM uses immersive technology applications like virtual and augmented reality for research, scientific collaboration and higher education.

Papaioannou was so inspired that she applied for a co-op with UCSIM and was able to work on projects with Cincinnati Children’s, the Medicaid Equity Simulation Project and UC’s Bicentennial—all projects that would make the world a better place.

From these experiences, Papaioannou changed her approach to her fashion designs. Using augmented and virtual reality allows designers to drape on a virtual model and skip the often wasteful and expensive process of draping fabric while designing.

“I started finding so much more satisfaction and happiness in my work,” Papaioannou said. “Not only could I be creative with my 3D modeling and texturing and animation, but, at the end of the day, I knew I was serving some higher purpose.”

Her scholarships were able to help her again when she wanted to pursue a dream internship in New York City. Her personal interest in astrophysics led her to reach out to Final Frontier Design, which specializes in aerospace garments and clients include NASA, Cirque Du Soleil and Boeing. Because of the financial support of the Ott and Voelker-Ferrier scholarships, the prohibitive cost of living in New York won’t stop Papaioannou from taking this opportunity.

Her scholarships continue to help her on her journey, allowing her skills, ideas and craft to evolve.

“I’m just hoping that, through this experience, I'll learn to be more purposeful with the design and the making process and, again having clothing that is going to have a higher purpose at the end of the day. After my experience at UCSIM, I didn’t know if I could go back to a regular fashion company,” she said.

Reflecting on her scholarships and all that she has learned at DAAP and through her co-ops and jobs, Papaioannou said she feels fortunate.

“If you’re a curious and self-motivated student, DAAP gives you the freedom to try new things with your career path,” she said. “I'll miss it when I graduate. I've loved it so much.”

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