GLASSBORO — In order for Ali Houshmand to attend his own graduation from the University of Essex in England, he needed to wear a suit.

But he had never owned one before. The 26-year-old was able to pull together enough money to purchase a suit and attend the commencement where he'd earn his masters degree.

Today, as president of Rowan University, Houshmand hopes to ensure no student struggles to afford and obtain professional attire as they attempt to start their career.

Houshmand is nearly halfway through a 100-day challenge that aims to fill the university's Career Closet with 300 dry-cleaned suits and dresses for Rowan students. And that goal has already been surpassed — Houshmand contributed 15 himself.

Houshmand said he wouldn't be surprised if the challenge brings in at least 600 suits and dresses by March 10, the 100th day. Houshmand has seen such a strong response, he said, he's pushing some organizations to steer their donations toward other universities.

Up to 5,000 students graduate from Rowan University each year. If just 10 percent need this support, Houshmand said, that's still hundreds of students.

"There may be many, many students here who are ready to go for interviews and head into the real world, and that $400 or $500 they need to buy the first suit or the second suit — maybe they don't have, or it's hard to come by," Houshmand told New Jersey 101.5.

When a student visits the Career Closet, staffers measure them and help them put together the right outfit for an interview or internship. The outfit is theirs to keep at that point; the closet also includes shoes, belts and ties.

Bob Bullard, director of Rowan's Office of Career Advancement, said Houshmand's challenge comes at the perfect time. Rowan's largest annual career fair is set for Feb. 21 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

"We want to make sure students have every opportunity to be dressed properly as they begin their job search," Bullard said.

Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.

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