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College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management

  • Kate Valaoras stands smiling in a colorful dress in front of the Nordstrom store in NYC.

Rising star: Retailing student gets her big break in NYC

Kate Valaoras knew she wanted a career in fashion even before she enrolled as a freshman retailing major at the University of South Carolina. Now a rising junior, her hard work and initiative has her making a name for herself in New York City.

It all started with getting involved on campus. As a sophomore, Valaoras joined the UofSC student chapter of the National Retail Federation to attend the NRF Annual Convention and Expo in New York City. As part of the extracurricular opportunity, she met executives from Nordstrom and visited the fashion giant’s flagship store. The experience fanned the flames of her dream to work in the Big Apple.

She landed a job at a Nordstrom store in her hometown of Charlotte during school breaks and set her sights on New York City for the summer of 2021. She got a job in the women’s shoe department in New York.

To paraphrase an old song about New York, if you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere. It quickly became clear that Valaoras could make it. After just a few weeks on the job, managers approached her with an offer. Nordstrom was creating a new internship program in New York and looking for candidates for the inaugural class. Seeing something special in Valaoras, they invited her to apply, and soon she was working as an intern while keeping her initial role as a summer employee.

“The internship program has given me a more in-depth understanding on the managerial side of the business,” Valaoras says. “I’ve gotten to sit down with and learn from Nordstrom NYC Vice President and General Manager Chris Wanlass, as well as the store managers. We have weekly meetings with lessons regarding how to become a leader within Nordstrom. I’ve also been given managerial assignments within my own department in women’s shoes.”

It has been a tremendous step up and a huge load to carry for a college junior, but Valaoras has thrived. Constantly on her feet in the seven-floor flagship store, she is often simultaneously working on digital sales through the company’s app, putting lessons learned in her fashion merchandising and digital innovations classes to work. She connects with customers all over the world through the app, creating style boards and showing them products that they might not find in stores.

Valaoras has spent three months in the heart of the retail capital of the world, learning from leaders of an iconic brand which has been incredibly successful in adapting to the times. “I am so grateful to have this opportunity and feel inspired by the countless measures Nordstrom has taken to stay relevant in an ever-changing retail industry. Their passion for both customer and employee experience is truly encouraging for the future,” she says. I’ve gained confidence in my ability to lead a team and attempt assignments that are new and unfamiliar to me. It has been a summer of long hours, busy work weeks, and fast-paced service, but I would not trade this experience for anything.”

Valaoras will be back in Columbia this fall, ready to combine the lessons from her internship with the advanced classes offered by South Carolina’s retailing degree program. Three years ago she was a high school student with big dreams. Now she’s a rising star with a growing reputation and an already outstanding resume. The future could not look brighter.

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