CALS graduate student thrived in time of uncertainty
Joyce Sun’s path to graduate student life in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences started when she dropped out.
Two years into her forest resources master’s program at the University of Idaho, she wasn’t satisfied, and soon after that realization, she withdrew. Sun was jobless, aimless and admittedly depressed.
And after her family cut ties with her because of that choice, she felt alone.
“I went through a period of soul searching for who I am, what I want and what do I want to do on this earth and what do I want to contribute to this world,” Sun said.
A New Beginning
Prompted by the remaining three dollars in her bank account after a year of unemployment, she found a custodial position on UI’s campus.
“On one side, it was a means to earn a living,” Sun said. “On the other side, it kept me close to an environment where I could explore the idea of different avenues.”
When she arrived to clean the Margaret Ritchie School of Family and Consumer Sciences (FCS) apparel product development studio something clicked.
Sun saw students sewing and spoke with instructor Erika Iiams, who — after fielding several of Sun’s questions about what she and the students were doing — encouraged Sun to take a basic sewing course that she taught over the summer.
Sun, who will graduate with a master’s degree in family and consumer sciences next August, is now Iiams’ graduate teaching assistant in her advanced apparel construction courses.
Iiams said Sun’s progress was rapid.
“She just started overachieving in the basic sewing classes, like every project you gave her to do, she made five of them,” Iiams said. “The interest and the passion and the drive was obviously there.”
Sun, who prior to college spent a nearly equal amount of time living in Taiwan and the U.S., said that summer course defined a new path and purpose in her life, which led to her finishing her graduate career in FCS.
“This is what I want to do. I want to be able to make things with my own hands and be able to see, directly, the result of my hard work,” Sun said.
Finding a New Identity
Her forest resources background rooted in classical science, however, is not gone. She connects her time studying forest resources and spending time in labs to her current passion for theatrical costuming and museum curation.
The intrinsic need to pursue beauty and ascribe value to nostalgia caused Sun to question why clothing trends return. She then applied an integrated, multi-faceted, research-driven approach to answering that question.
“That’s what intrigues me, is trying to somehow quantify that value of beauty,” Sun said.
Sun volunteers at the Leila Old Historic Costume Collection to gain experience to help with her pursuit of a career in museum curation. The collection houses over 10,000 historic garments dating back to the Civil War on UI’s campus.
Joy Irving, a 1964 CALS food and nutrition alumna, has volunteered with the collection since 2008 and has worked beside Sun for three years.
Irving said she noticed early on Sun’s dedication to finding meaningful answers in her work. A donated military uniform’s ribbons caused Sun to delve into online research and eventually walk into the UI Navy ROTC office to find answers as to what the ribbons meant in context to the uniform.
“When she starts something, she researches it. If she doesn’t understand it, she completely researches the subject until she does understand it,” Irving said.
A New Form of Family
Along with academic success, Sun also found a new form of family with instructors in the apparel, textiles and design program.
“They truly, truly care about our well-being. It’s like we have three extra moms — without all the nagging,” Sun said.
FCS lecturer Lori Wahl has been like an older sister guiding her through her education, providing feedback and a wealth of industry knowledge.
When she walked into the apparel product development studio that first evening to clean, Iiams told her to join the other students. The welcoming atmosphere helped her figure out how to go on and pursue her passions.
“There was no judgment behind my decisions,” Sun said. “Whatever I came up with, they would support it and say, ‘Go ahead, try it. If you fail, it doesn’t matter.’”
Article by Jake Smith, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences