• Thomas Russell

Moh Scholars Energize Industry

Miranda ParnellMiranda Parnell, a past Celia Moh Scholar and 2005 graduate of High Point University, works as an interior designer for Top 100 retailer Furnitureland South.
HIGH POINT - When Universal Furniture founder Laurence Moh announced plans in the fall of 2001 for a scholarship program in his wife's name, his goal was to support, encourage and reward young people entering the home furnishings industry.
     Moh, who died in 2002, never got to see the Celia Moh Scholarship Fund blossom over the years. But as the program enters its 10th year, it's safe to say he would have been happy with the results.
     Since its inception, the program has provided nearly $3 million in funding to some 65 students, including those awarded scholarships for the 2011-12 year.
     The program covers the cost of tuition, books, fees and room and board for students enrolled full-time in home furnishings programs at U.S. colleges and universities.
     Students also get to visit the High Point Market, where can meet company executives and see how the market runs.
     For an industry that often has difficulty attracting young talent, many view the Moh Scholarship program as an important step in helping educate and recruit the next generation of leaders.
     "I would say that one of the challenges of this industry is to excite young talent to come into the business," said Geoff Beaston, a former president of Fine Furniture Design & Marketing, which Moh founded around the same time as the scholarship program. "Here we are 65 young people later and we have injected design talent, engineering talent, home décor and showroom and visual design talent into some of the leading companies in the industry."
     Beaston continues to serve on the committee that reviews applications for the scholarships, which are awarded to full-time home furnishings students in their junior and senior years of college. Awards are based on financial need, grades and recommendations from instructors. Students also must write an essay that is reviewed by the committee.
     "It creates an incentive for young people in those (home furnishings) programs," Beaston added. "It also encourages them to maintain their grades to keep the scholarship."
     In the past 10 years, the program has awarded funds to students at colleges including High Point University, Kendall College of Art and Design, Mississippi State University, North Carolina State University, Appalachian State University, East Carolina University and Catawba Valley Community College.
     Max Shangle, the dean at Kendall, said the Moh awards are by far the largest scholarship offered to his students.
     "It provides opportunities for students to participate in their studies without having the distraction of work and all the other complications that go along with that," he said.
     Shangle added that having a Celia Moh Scholar in a class also tends to inspire other students to do well.
     "The one thing that I didn't expect with this is that it really sets the bar in every class those students are in a little higher.... They see this other student doing exceptional work, bringing the goods to class each and every day, and they don't want to be the odd person out. Every person is more directed and more focused.... The effect is noticeable."
     Past Moh scholars interviewed for this story said the program helped them financially and professionally as they landed their first jobs out of college.
     Carrie Cox, who majored in home furnishings marketing and minored in interior design at High Point University, said the scholarship helped her complete the last two years of her education.
     "I was not sure I could have stayed at High Point University the next two years financially," she said. "The opportunities there were so amazing."
     She said the scholarship program also helped introduce her to industry leaders at the High Point Market. After graduating from HPU in 2007, she got a job at Furniture Brands International, where she primarily designs retail floor plans and galleries for Lane and Broyhill.
     "The job I do now I couldn't do with just an interior design degree or just a home furnishings marketing degree," she said. "Without Celia Moh, I could not have (earned) both degrees. It was a great jump start to my career. It was so much more to me than just a scholarship."

     Miranda Parnell also studied at HPU, graduating in 2005 with a bachelor's degree in interior design and a minor in art.
     "I was eternally grateful," she said of the scholarship, which she used during her senior year. "It was just a blessing to get it."
     She believes the program, along with an internship at Jamestown, N.C.-based Top 100 retailer Furnitureland South, also helped her career. Today she works as an interior designer at Furnitureland South, where she helps develop floor plans throughout the retail campus.
     Thor Tabor, a designer at Hickory Chair, graduated from Kendall in 2008. He said the scholarship freed him from having to balance a part-time job with his course load.
     "With the rising costs of tuition most young people have to make this unfortunate decision," he said. "I think the result of this choice hurts not only our students' potential but also the strength of our industry as well."
     Today the Moh family, including Celia Moh and the Mohs' son, Michael, and his wife, Peggy, say they're pleased to see how the program has done and will continue to support it.
     "I think it has delivered on my father's desire of providing opportunities to students interested in the home furnishings industry," said Michael Moh, chairman of Fine Furniture Shanghai, parent of U.S.-based Fine Furniture Design. "It is a great milestone, and each year we have been able to increase the number of students under this program."
     Celia Moh said she has been pleased to carry out her husband's vision and is pleased to see so many of the scholars graduate and play roles in the industry. However, she believes more needs to be done to support young people interested in the home furnishings industry.
     "I think the scholarship is a very small part of getting people involved," she said. "We need to get these individuals interested in the industry as a career and provide excitement and opportunities. Once we can do that, the scholarship is just a means of helping them focus on the important aspects - the process of learning."

Thomas RussellThomas Russell | Associate Editor, FurnitureToday

I'm Tom Russell and have worked at Furniture/Today since August 2003. Since then, I have covered the international side of the business from a logistics and sourcing standpoint. Since then, I also have visited several furniture trade shows and manufacturing plants in Asia, which has helped me gain perspective about the industry in that part of the world. As I continue covering the import side of the business, I look forward to building on that knowledge base through conversations with industry officials and future overseas plant tours. From time to time, I will file news and other industry perspectives online and, as always, welcome your response to these Web postings.


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