Dressed and Determined
How a single father’s story impacted thousands
by Esra Hashem
Three years ago, Aaron Howes was not your typical college student. The 46-year-old military veteran was studying computer information systems and pursuing several internships while balancing his duties as a single father.
Howes admitted life was tough at the time, but he knew the reward would be worth the struggle. His goal, after serving in the U.S. Air Force during Operation Desert Shield/Storm and pursuing a 12-year career as a musician, was to “reinvent” himself and support a better life for his family.
“We were living on Pell Grants, student loans and food stamps,” Howes says. “Ultimately, I told my boys, ‘I can’t be your mom, but I’m going to be the best dad I can be.’”
After earning his associate degree from Bakersfield College, the father of four moved his family across the street from Fresno State, on Cedar and Bullard avenues, so both he and his children would be close to their schools.
“The idea was that I wasn’t going to let anything affect my kids negatively,” Howes says. “I remember we would have ‘geek weekends.’ I would buy pizza and Mountain Dew, and I would do programming for school while the kids would do homework. I’d say, ‘We’re going to geek out on the weekend.’”
One job after another
When Howes wasn’t in class or with his children, he was pursuing his next internship. Howes held an internship every semester he was at Fresno State, because he knew gaining hands-on experience would be essential for his professional growth.
“I was at the Career Development Center all the time, constantly trying to get work,” Howes says. “I was hungry for experience, because I had not only my mouth to feed, but my family’s mouths to feed.”
During his time at Fresno State, Howes became acquainted with Debbie Young, director of the Career Development Center. He recalled confiding in her about not having professional clothing for job interviews.
“I just remember talking to Debbie and I was like, ‘I’m ready for these interviews, but I don’t even own a tie. I don’t even own a suit — nothing,’” he says.
Dressed for success
Howes’ situation sparked action from Young. She acquired professional attire for Howes’ interviews. She was also inspired to help more students in similar situations.
After evaluating student need, Young created the Clothing Closet in 2016.
The Clothing Closet, an initiative coordinated through the Career Development Center in the Division of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management, helps students obtain professional clothing for interviews, career fairs and first jobs from donations that come in from the campus and community.
It is open to all Fresno State students, of whom there are nearly 25,000. Students may obtain up to three pieces of free professional clothing per year.
Since its inception, the Clothing Closet has served over 3,000 students, with an average of 500 to 600 students receiving professional clothing each semester.
Paying it forward
Just two weeks after Howes graduated from Fresno State, he was hired by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, where he is now a senior program analyst. He manages a team of 10 employees, working to remediate 27,000 computers across 13 hospitals.
In 2018, Howes became employee of the year.
“I am proof that you can reinvent yourself at any time in your life,” Howes says. “It’s going to be a lot of hard work, but you can completely reinvent yourself no matter what your background is.”
Howes now gives back to the Clothing Closet.
“Fresno State provided me with these little job opportunities and made it to where I have modern, right-now experience,” Howes says. “Debbie always gave me the tools I needed to succeed — always.”
— Esra Hashem is a marketing strategist in University Brand Strategy and Marketing
The Clothing Closet continues to accept donations of gently used or new professional, workplace-appropriate attire that is ready to wear. All donations are tax deductible. Call the Career Development Center at 559.278.2381 to arrange a clothing drop off.