Katie Kilponen aspired to be a dietetics major when she enrolled at Henderson State University in 2012. But when she attended a fashion merchandising class, she quickly changed her mind.
“I immediately fell in love with it after attending one class,” she said. “After graduating and looking back on all the classes I took during my time at Henderson, the only classes I truly enjoyed and where the homework didn’t feel like homework were my fashion merchandising classes.
“Every class I went to, I was eager to learn more, and that’s when I knew fashion merchandising was the right degree for me.”
During her senior year, Kilponen completed an internship with Dillard’s in Hot Springs. Not long after her internship ended, Kilponen decided to pursue a career with the Arkansas-based department store chain.
“I loved how involved the company was with each and every employee, as well as its clients,” she said. “It was around November when I then became an assistant sales manager for the shoe department. I would help manage and guide associates when the manager was not there.”
It wasn’t long until Kilponen became the juniors’ manager, and was soon tapped to run the children’s department. Three months later, she was promoted to assistant manager and transferred to the Park Plaza Dillard’s in Little Rock.
“Without my degree from Henderson, I would not have progressed as fast in my career,” Kilponen said. “Fashion is a forever changing industry and that’s what I love about it. We are constantly adapting to the environment we live in and fashion is no exception.”
She “highly recommends” a degree in fashion merchandising for students who are uncertain about which degree to pursue and who have any interest in retail, fashion or business.
“If you are a current student, expect the unexpected,” she said. “When I was told I had to do an internship with Dillard’s, I planned on finishing my three months and then moving home to Houston to start my career. More than a year later, I am still in Arkansas and could not be any happier.”
Kilponen came to Henderson after graduating from The Woodlands High School near Houston.
“I chose to attend Henderson because I was looking for a smalltown atmosphere, and I was also offered a golf scholarship,” she said.
Kilponen was a member of the Reddies women’s golf team for four years.
She describes herself as “dependable.”
“If I commit to a job or task, I will follow through,” Kilponen said. “I think a lot of that comes from the Henderson golf team as well, because we were always accountable for our actions and our team depended on each and every member.”
• This alumni feature is part of an ongoing project featuring Henderson’s outstanding undergraduate and graduate academic programs.