Telling HerStories: Designing a unique path

Published By: ChaNaè Bradley March 27, 2024

Dr. Vivian Fluellen, retired chair of Fort Valley State University’s Family and Consumer Sciences Department, shares her career experiences at the university.

A passion for fashion and the skill of sewing led Dr. Vivian Fluellen to a career in family and consumer sciences. 

The retired chair for Fort Valley State University’s (FVSU) Family and Consumer Sciences Department, endeavored on a unique path into the profession.

“I used to make clothes for dolls. That was my passion. I’m more into the clothing, apparel and textiles area of family and consumer sciences,” Fluellen said. These early influences stemmed from her childhood, where she spent time learning the skill from her mother and high school home economics teacher.

As a result, the Dublin, Georgia, native graduated high school and began attending Fort Valley State College (FVSC) in 1970, where she majored in vocational home economics education. 

“A lot of my friends attended at the same time. My sister was also here,” she said. While matriculating at FVSC, Fluellen was an honor roll student, a member of the FVSC Home Economics Club, and the state and national home economics associations. 

“That’s where my professionalism started to grow,” Fluellen said. It was then she began attending state meetings and traveling to other college campuses, participating in activities with students and expanding her outreach in community service.

During her senior year, Fluellen learned about a graduate program from an FVSC alumna, who was attending school at Iowa State University (ISU).

Intrigued, Fluellen followed her interest and applied to graduate school at ISU, where she was accepted. To her surprise, she received an assistantship. After graduating from FVSC with her bachelor’s degree in 1974, Fluellen attended ISU to pursue a master’s degree in textiles and clothing.

Fluellen said moving to Iowa from Middle Georgia was a big change. “The main thing was the weather,” she said laughing. She also expressed how she had to become close with her classmates, somewhat like family, because she did not get to go home often. 

“You couldn’t afford to go home much because you were so far away. You had to decide if you were going home for Thanksgiving or Christmas,” she said.  However, Fluellen expressed that she and her classmates would have gatherings to make up for not being able to travel home. 

In addition to the geographical change and distance from family, Fluellen described the lack of minorities attending ISU in the 1970s. 

 “At that time there were not many African Americans in my area (FCS). I faced many obstacles and challenges while at Iowa State, but because of my strong family and spiritual background, I was able to persevere” she said.  

Along with her personal experiences, Fluellen expressed how her educational experience at ISU expanded her research skills and knowledge in clothing and textiles, exposing her to many areas where she could work.

In 1976 Fluellen graduated from ISU and began her professional career as a visiting instructor in clothing and textiles for the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. After a year in Illinois, she made her way back to Georgia and then gained experience in the clothing and textiles industry.

“I worked with J.P. Stevens and Company in my hometown as a textile designer. I forecasted fabrics and how they could be used in the future. Designers would visit from New York twice a year, and I would work with them on developing experimental fabrics. I had the opportunity to see designs placed on paper and complete the whole design process to product,” Fluellen said. 

J.P. Stevens and Company designed items such as the fabric for billiard boards used on pool tables, and the green jacket fabric worn by golfers who participated in the Masters Tournament. 

After working in industry for a short period, Fluellen learned about a job at FVSC. 

“A former colleague informed me about a job opening for a textiles and clothing instructor, and I said, ‘Oh, that seems like something I would want to do,’” she said. 

To get more information, Fluellen called Dr. Dorothy Conteh, chair of the FVSC FCS Department at the time to ask her about the job. 

“She encouraged me to complete the application and the rest is history,” Fluellen said smiling. After applying and interviewing, Fluellen began her career at her alma mater in September of 1981. 

Many of the professors who taught her became her colleagues. Fluellen credits Ms. Gladys Sampson and Ms. Gladys Grace for providing insight and encouragement as a new instructor.

“Even though my parents instilled in me the work ethics and my spiritual background, my teachers instilled the knowledge in me to be successful -- not just book knowledge but working with families and working with the community,” she said. 

Along with her teaching duties, Fluellen also had a joint appointment with Cooperative Extension as an Extension specialist in clothing and textiles. This allowed her to train paraprofessionals and Extension agents to do informal teaching in a community setting. She often included students in her community work with families as well. 

“I would often use my community resources to recruit students for the department. I also developed many publications in personal development, family resource management, dress for success and many more,” she said.

While working at FVSU, Fluellen completed her Ph.D. from ISU in family and consumer sciences education. She also completed a certificate program in family financial planning.

In addition to her role as an associate professor, Fluellen served in several capacities during her tenure at the institution. Her roles included interim program leader for FVSU's Cooperative Extension Program, executive director for the Head Start and Early Head Start programs, and director of the Family Development Center and Quality Childcare Center Complex.

Fluellen said some of the highlights of her career include establishing the department’s reaccreditation with the American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences (AAFCS). She secured more than $4 million in external grant funds for the university. Fluellen also developed six online courses for the 1890 Family and Consumer Sciences-Distance Instructional Alliance (FCS-DIA) Family Financial Planning Certificate Program.

After 37 years of service, Fluellen retired in 2018. The mother of three and wife of Jared Fluellen, FVSU farm manager, said she hopes that her time at the university made a difference in the lives of others.  

“I hope that I brought more insight to working with industry, and that I helped students become successful in their particular area,” she said. 

When Fluellen is out in the community, she is often recognized by graduates, and they speak about their experiences. 

“It’s good that they can remember me from when I worked with them at Fort Valley, and they are all doing great things,” she said. 

Since retiring, Fluellen serves as president of the missionary society and secretary of the stewardess board at her church. She participates in outreach in the community by providing food for homeless shelters and helping local schools collect school supplies. She also continues to serve as an adjunct professor when needed. She expressed her desire to see the FCS program flourish. 

“I want the program to continue to grow and to be viable to students. I want it to be better than what it was in the past,” Fluellen said.

For more information about the FCS Program at FVSU, visit