From the desk of President Leslie K. Guice

Dr. Kathleen Heiden: Fashioning three generations in human ecology

Jul 8, 2014 | Faculty Feature


Dr. Kathleen Heiden

Kathleen Heiden grew up outside of Ruston and first developed interests in fashion and design when her mother and grandmother taught her to sew as a child. She sewed a lot of her clothes in high school including all special occasion outfits. Her interest in design was formed because she could never find the exact pattern for the garment that she wanted to make, so she would alter patterns to fit her design. That led to her career in merchandising and design, and ultimately to her return home to Ruston. Kathleen earned the BA in Apparel and Textile Merchandising from Louisiana Tech, then went to the University of Nebraska to purse her interests in apparel design. In choosing Nebraska-Lincoln, Kathleen wanted to study under some of the best teachers in the field. Her major professor was Dr. Robert Hillestad who had studied under the fashion couture houses/designers in Paris and was recognized by the International Textile and Apparel Association for Distinguished Lifetime Achievements in Design and Aesthetics. While in graduate school at UNL, Kathleen received the grand champion honors for her apparel designs in the college design competition. She also began working in theatrical costuming as a costume designer and stitcher for the Nebraska Shakespeare Festival in Omaha. Kathleen met her husband, Troy, while attending the University of Nebraska for graduate school. Troy is from Nebraska and is a true Nebraska football fan. “He proposed to me at a Nebraska football game,” Kathleen said. “We delayed our honeymoon to be able to include watching Nebraska play in the National Championship in Miami, and to carry on the football tradition, we went to the Super Bowl two years ago when it was in New Orleans.” Heiden 1Upon graduation from UNL, Kathleen moved to Dallas and began a career in the apparel industry with her first “real” job at JCPenney Corporate. She worked in the Girl’s division ensuring that products met company standards for quality. Kathleen worked with designers, pattern makers, buyers, catalog department, and suppliers to evaluate performance and fit of merchandise, and provide solutions to ensure that merchandise met government laws/guidelines and company standards. JCPenney sponsored an employee design contest ‘On My Own Time’ where Kathleen’s designs were selected as the Grand Champion Apparel Design in 1995 and 1996. While working at JCPenney, Kathleen had her first child and decided that she wanted to be a “stay at home mom” while her children were young, so she changed career paths and began working from home as a costumer for a local costume shop. Her primary responsibility was to design and make costumes for renaissance fairs, and other opportunities including designing dresses for renaissance themed weddings, and costumes for St. Jude’s Hospital. During this time, Kathleen also had a custom design business where she did custom sewing for clients including wedding dresses and home interiors.
Heiden family at front door

Kathleen, Troy, Rebekah, Taylor & Kaitlyn Heiden

After her third child was born, Kathleen and Troy decided that they wanted to move from the “big city.” So Tony quit his job, they sold their house, and they headed to Ruston. Kathleen was considering changing career paths from the apparel industry to secondary education when she received a call that Tech was looking for a merchandising instructor. Kathleen accepted the position and has been teaching since 2003.  She earned the PhD in Family and Consumer Sciences Education from Iowa State University in 2007. Central to Kathleen’s teaching philosophy is encouraging critical thinking in an innovative classroom format. Kathleen noted, “Learning is a journey and I want students to become excited, developing their own individual path for professional development while participating in classroom learning, research, and service. As I reflect on my own educational journey, the classes I enjoyed the most were those that engaged me in the learning process through classroom discussions and activities. This carries through to my teaching style and teaching becomes much more exiting and inspiring when students are actively participating in class and using information I have presented taking responsibility and becoming passionate about learning as they forge their path throughout their journey.”
Heiden University Hall

Kathleen giving a presentation on repurposing garments

Today’s students have information available to them at the click of a button through technology. So Kathleen believes that it is important for them to learn how to apply knowledge to solve a problem because in the apparel field they are going to be given a project and they must figure out how to accomplish the task. The purpose is to add substantive value to the learning experience and engage the students in the learning process to ensure understanding and develop passion for their journey. “The in-class activities I use to promote critical thinking include discrimination simulations, practical reasoning process, class debates, and lab assignments. Some examples include to design clothes from newspaper, shower curtain, and duct tape; create wardrobes solely from garments from a resale shop; compare performance results of different brands of merchandise; and create visual displays for specific categories and themes.) I also use computer simulations such as designing a retail store, becoming a member of a buying team for a department, and becoming a member of a retail store management team to turn around an under achieving store, to develop critical thinking and problem solving skills that are required as professionals in the merchandising and retail industry.”
Heiden Walkway

Fashion Show

Kathleen also incorporates service learning into her classes. Some service learning projects that students have participated in include sewing items for the Early Childhood Educational Center for children to use during dramatic play, sewing bags for care packages for hospitalized children that were delivered by Child Life students, planning and implementing the state conference for the Louisiana Association of Family and Consumer Sciences, participating in community events at the Lincoln Parish Library Events Center, putting on fashion shows for community organizations, and planning and implementing an annual fashion show for a high school recruiting event. Over the past two years, the fashion show has become a community event as well as a recruiting event. Last year and this year, the merchandising students and the nutrition and dietetics students have collaborated to produce a fashion show and dinner. Kathleen has been honored for her work with the College of Applied and Natural Sciences Teaching Award and being a finalist for the F. Jay Taylor University Teaching Award.  She has also had designs accepted in the American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences Juried Design Showcase and has curated numerous exhibitions and fashion shows that incorporate pieces from the School of Human Ecology’s Museum of Fashion and Textiles. Kathleen’s current research focuses on body image. She noted,”In the fall, I will be collaborating with faculty from Department of Kinesiology and HEC Nutrition and Dietetics and Family and Child Studies programs and Ruston High on a grant that we received. We will be implementing a program to develop healthy self-image in adolescent females through proper body image, healthy nutrition, and exercise.” Kathleen and Troy built a house about 3 years ago on part of the land where Kathleen grew up. Building a house was a quite a learning experience as Troy and Kathleen did a lot of the work themselves. Kathleen said, “I learned how to waterproof a basement, wire the electrical, lay tile, and hang cabinets to name a few things.”
Heiden Family Outdoors

Heiden family in Devil’s Den State Park

Kathleen has three daughters Kaitlyn (18), Taylor (16), and Rebekah (12), and devotes her spare time to her family. She said, “When I have free time (which is not often with three girls and being a single faculty program), I enjoy being outside or designing and sewing textiles and apparel. My latest project was my oldest daughter’s prom dress.” The Heiden family enjoys outdoors and recently went camping and hiking in the mountains in Devil’s Den State Park in northern Arkansas. This summer, the family is headed to Hoover Dam and the Grand Canyon for a week where they will be camping in a tent, riding donkeys down the canyon, and enjoying a canyon white water rafting trip.
Heiden trio

Kathleen with mother Nancy and daughter Kaitlyn

This fall, Kathleen’s oldest daughter will continue the “Tech family” within our family being the third generation to be not only part of the Tech family but also the School of Human Ecology. Kathleen’s mother, Nancy Tolman, retired as associate dean emerita after almost 30 years of service to Human Ecology and Tech. She was a professor in nutrition and dietetics, and the associate dean for graduate studies. Kaitlyn will be the third generation at Tech as she pursues a degree in family and child studies. Kathleen said, “We now represent all the areas of the School of Human Ecology (nutrition, merchandising, and family and child studies) within our family.”
Heiden Students

Students at Fashion Show