Rising Star

Freshman retailing major shares scholarship experience

Editor's note: Freshman retailing major Sydney Bernhardt visited New York City for the National Retail Federation Student Convention, thanks in part to winning a Rising Star Scholarship from the organization. She shares her experiences with us in her own words.

A few months ago, I was fortunate enough to receive the Rising Star Scholarship through the National Retail Federation. As a University of South Carolina student, I joined the student National Retail Federation where we learn information about the industry and more. The Rising Star Scholarship is given to one freshman or sophomore retail major each year, and the winner receives $1,500 to attend the National Retail Federation Student Convention in New York City.

I was ecstatic when I found out I won this scholarship. Since there were so many people who applied, I figured I wasn’t going to win. After I read more about the scholarship, I realized that this was an opportunity of a lifetime. Even though the convention is mostly meant for juniors and seniors to get jobs, I knew this would be a great way to get my foot in the door with many well-known companies, such as Nordstrom, Dillard’s, Nike, Neiman Marcus, Google and Urban Outfitters, to name just a few.

Day 1

My mom and I packed our bags and traveled in style. We arrived at LaGuardia Airport in New York. As soon as I looked out the airplane window, I fell in love with the city.

After we checked into our hotel, we didn’t want to waste any time. Off to Times Square we went. The city is truly beautiful. Immediately, we were thrown into the hustle and bustle. Luckily, it was about 50 degrees that day. We took a bus tour around the city and ended up in Soho. The shopping is unbelievable. Personally, I loved the character and architecture that filled Soho. My favorite shop was a local flea market of different art vendors. I am obsessed with handmade art, so this was a perfect fit for me.

Day 2

Friday was the first day of the National Retail Federation Student Convention. Everyone wore business attire in order to impress the different mentors from the more than 90 companies that were there.

As soon as I arrived, I was greeted with tons of great items from the different companies who sponsor National Retail Federation. My bag from Nordstrom was filled with cool gifts. I also received a specialty Under Armour Bag monogrammed with the hashtag they recommended us to use throughout the convention (#Retailsfuture). I felt strongly about this hashtag, because people my age are truly the future of retail. We are the new millennials, and our opinion is everything when it comes to the industry, not only as consumers but also as future producers.

Each speaker’s specific story on how they got where they are was incredible. I was honestly star struck when the CEO of Neiman Marcus took the stage. It was a surreal moment for me, and I knew this was the big start to my retail career.

After the convention, I went and walked the city more. Later that night I met one of my best friends, Alec, who is a fashion student at the Fashion Institute of Technology. He is truly my inspiration. We went to an amazing restaurant where I had the best steak. Catching up was great. I could totally see us working together down the line somewhere in the industry. 

Day 3

This was such a humbling experience, because I never thought in a million years some of these companies could potentially want me to work for them down the line. So, so, so amazing!

retailing freshman Sydney Bernhardt

Saturday was the last day of the convention, for me anyway. Sunday is only interviews for juniors and seniors.

In the morning, we listened to a few more speakers, and then we were off to the career fair to talk and network with all the companies. My personal favorite speaker was Lauren Berger, founder and CEO of InternQueen.com. She built her company from the ground up and had amazing advice to share on applying for and receiving internships, and on how to impress once you have one.

The most famous speaker at the convention was probably Daymond John from "Shark Tank." He is a successful entrepreneur himself, and he shared some great tips as well. He gave all the students a copy of his book, which includes success strategies for the business/retail industry.

During the middle of the day, we got to meet with eight different mentors and interact with them. They each told us their personal stories, their advice for us and some obstacles that they had to overcome over the years. My two favorite speakers were the representative from Dillard’s and Abby Lou Walker, CEO of Vivian Lou. I was extremely excited to receive their contact information to keep in touch.

During the mentor portion, I also got to interact with representatives from the San Francisco Museum of Art, Urban Outfitters, HBC Digital, Walmart and CallisonRTKL. They all helped drive home maybe the most important lesson of the trip: Networking is everything in the fashion industry.

I ended up making contacts at companies who are interested in me. This was such a humbling experience, because I never thought in a million years some of these companies could potentially want me to work for them down the line. So, so, so amazing! The last part of the day was the career fair. This was slightly overwhelming considering I am only a freshman in a huge sea of juniors and seniors. I knew I wasn’t going to land an internship, because large companies only allow older students to apply. However, this was unbelievably beneficial for me because I was able to network with numerous companies, introduce myself, give them my resume and keep their contact information.

Day 4

The last day of the trip we did not have much time, so we made sure to make the most of the time we had. We got up early and met Alec once again at the best bagel place I have ever been to in my entire life, Ess-a-Bagel.

After breakfast, we saw the 9/11 Memorial and museum. I must say, it was such a great experience, and I would recommend anyone who visits NYC to take time to go through the museum. 

This trip was amazing. I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything.

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