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Elizabeth S. Marcuse Talks LIM College

The 49-year-old president has found herself at home in the world of academia.

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NEW YORK — Elizabeth S. Marcuse, the 49-year-old president of LIM College, has found herself at home in the world of academia.

This story first appeared in the October 5, 2012 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Over the past 10 years, Marcuse has built a team at the New York City-based college that has allowed her to focus on the big picture. That includes making its students more globally and technologically competitive and responding to what the fashion industry needs from its workforce in the 21st century.

“I learned very early on in my career that there was no ‘I’ in team. I’d say one of my proudest accomplishments is the team that we cultivated and developed here,” said Marcuse, who spent 20 years in the fashion industry before joining LIM. Prior to succeeding her father, Adrian G. Marcuse, as president in 2002, she was director of retail planning at Donna Karan International, and before that was director of retail planning at Mamiye Sales Inc., a children’s wear manufacturer. Earlier, she was a buyer at Lane Bryant and Montgomery Ward and began her career in the executive training program at Macy’s.

LIM College, which was originally known as the Laboratory Institute of Merchandising, was founded by Marcuse’s grandfather, Maxwell F. Marcuse, in 1939. He set up a mock store, and experiential learning became the backbone of the institution. The original mission was to establish a school for women to be trained in skills other than secretarial. Its first graduating class had 79 women. Today, there are 1,480 undergraduates and 73 graduate students. The institution’s tag line is “Where Business Meets Fashion,” and the curriculum focuses on fashion merchandising, visual merchandising, marketing and management.

In addition to dramatically increasing the enrollment, Marcuse has strengthened the administration. She recently reintroduced an executive vice president position. Christopher J. Cyphers, former president of the New York School of Interior Design, serves in that role. She also hired a new vice president of academic affairs, Milan Milasinovic, who oversees both the undergraduate and graduate programs, as well as named a new associate dean for experiential education and career management, Dudley Blossom.

Marcuse said that the school continues to evolve and change over time. “We relooked at where the holes were and what did we need to do to strengthen, and what do we need to do to remain nimble,” she said. LIM has added to its full-time faculty and its adjunct faculty, who are practitioners in the industry. “They get stronger and stronger every semester, and stay with us longer,” she said.

Among some of the notable new faculty are Virginia Blake West, former brand development director for Unilever, who is teaching the marketing capstone course; Maryanne Grisz, executive producer of “Dressed,” a documentary film about designer Nary Manivong, teaches the Fashion Fundamentals course; John Favreau, currently senior vice president of business development for the McCall Pattern Co., teaches product development, and Kathy Ahn, former director of production for Polo Ralph Lauren’s Women’s Blue Label, teaches product development.

According to Marcuse, the five-year plan is to strengthen the academic program and help the students become more globally competitive, and globally and technologically fluent. She has also expanded its study abroad offerings, adding Australia to its semester abroad program, which includes other regions such as Asia and South America. It also offers students a trip to China every summer with two faculty members. She said while LIM remains small and intimate and experiential education is at its core, it has been adding new courses and programs, as well as online learning. For example, it has added hybrid courses where, rather than spend two days in the classroom, students spend one day in the classroom and one day online. “It gives them greater flexibility in how they manage their out-of-classroom hours,” she said.

In recent years, LIM has morphed from a commuter campus to one where half the students are residential (LIM residence hall or New York City apartments) and half the students commute. The college opened a residential hall at 1760 Third Avenue in 2008, which brought almost 400 students under one umbrella. There are lectures given by fashion professionals, leadership seminars and evening activities throughout the semester at the school.

“As we become more diverse, so have the clubs on campus recognizing the differences among students, whether that’s promoting safety on campus, antibullying or gay and lesbian awareness. It’s typical of any college campus. The thing I’ve learned from these students is they have chosen to go someplace different. They know they don’t have the large quad, the large campus, the tailgating parties. They have New York City at their fingertips. They have the possibility of completing three internships and a very good chance of being employed when they graduate because they’ve been given the tools,” said Marcuse. She noted that every LIM student is given business cards.

Tuition for the 2012-13 academic year is $22,420 for the undergraduate program, and $41,565 for the entire M.B.A. program (five terms).

The campus is located in four buildings scattered throughout Midtown. In 1965, it bought its current flagship building at 12 East 53rd Street. In 2003 and 2004, LIM’s campus expanded to 226 East 54th Street (Center for Career Development) and 216 East 45th (Maxwell Hall), respectively, and, in 2006, it added a state-of-the-art facility at 545 Fifth Avenue at 45th Street. The entire campus is wireless. Marcuse said LIM plans to add 4,300 square feet of space at Maxwell Hall in the spring semester, which will include an enlarged student union area and a food vendor. For the eighth consecutive year, LIM was named among the “Best in the Northeast” colleges by the Princeton Review. In a move to help its students become more globally attuned, LIM offers classes in Spanish, Italian, French and Mandarin.

Last spring, LIM launched a digital business strategy concentration. “It came about from conversations among the faculty,” said Marcuse. She said the courses include digital marketing, social media, e-tailing, mobile marketing, with plans to eventually add courses in Web merchandising, basic app development and Web analytics. Several of the graduates have gone on to jobs at dot-coms such as macys.com, Gilt Groupe and Rue La La. Students are required to do internships throughout their undergraduate years, and often choose retailers, fashion and accessories firms, event planning and p.r. companies. Its graduates have taken jobs at firms such as Neiman Marcus, Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, Barneys New York, Avon, The Limited, Victoria’s Secret, Lord & Taylor, Gap, Sephora and Phillips-Van Heusen, in addition to KCD Worldwide and Sony BMG. Earlier this year, LIM became the first student association of the National Retail Federation, and a group of students did an online survey of 18- to 25-year-olds and their shopping habits.

In 2009, LIM added an M.B.A. program. “The M.B.A. program has been a home run for this institution. We have just received the approval to launch our second master’s degree program. It’s a Master of Professional Studies in fashion merchandising and retail management,” said Marcuse. The one-year program will officially launch next September. LIM will also add a new track in the fashion merchandising major called Home Fashions. LIM’s M.B.A. graduates have been placed at companies such as Polo Ralph Lauren, Chanel, Gucci, Tory Burch, Ann Inc., Bergdorf Goodman, Bloomingdale’s, Jones Apparel Group, Burberry, Juicy Couture, and Tommy Hilfiger.

Marcuse said she’s looking to elevate LIM’s profile to employers, prospective students and their families. Some 70 percent of the student body comes from the Tristate area, and Marcuse said one initiative is to recruit international students. Despite all the changes to the LIM experience, the student body still skews towards women. Some 93 percent of the undergraduates are female. At the M.B.A. level, 94 percent are female. One strategic initiative that they’re looking into is how to target men. “Because we have successful men who are here,” she said.

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