As a student, it's impossible to pass through the 150 North Street doors and not leave changed in some way. But these four NBSS students and recent grads experienced a major life challenge during their time at school—or took a daring career leap to enroll in the first place. Here's how they found their footing.
Coming to NBSS confirmed that this is what I love and that I can make a living doing it.
From Cakes to Conservation
Ariana Rutledge BB '22
Ariana Rutledge worked in the U.C. Berkeley Library's Preservation Department as an undergraduate student, unexpectedly falling in love with book and paper conservation without knowing how to turn it into a career path.
After graduating, she moved back home to Eureka, California, and became a cake decorator, sculpting elaborate creations with piping, chocolate drizzle, and an airbrush. She explains, "I wanted to have a way to keep up my hand skills. Cake decorating, while not exactly like conservation, still requires being at a bench and using different tools to create."
She ultimately applied to the NBSS Bookbinding program. "When I started, I didn't know anything about bookbinding," she admits. One of the first projects last year involved sewing a book, and posed a new challenge. "I had to get used to sewing materials together—how to maintain the tension in the thread."
Next, Ariana learned to work with leather, constructing a clamshell box, a protective enclosure for a rare book. "After getting used to the leather and getting a handle on the process, it became much easier to work with the materials. I've definitely grown in my skills and I also know more about the field."
Over time, Ariana has gained confidence in the trade and smoothed out her own plans: "While I was cake decorating, I wasn't sure what I wanted to do, until I thought about conservation more. Coming to NBSS confirmed that this is what I love and that I can make a living doing it."
When I'm drawing up plans for a piece of furniture, all that matters is how the joint fits. Whatever you have in front of you, that's all that there is.
Nick Fernandes CF '20, CA '21
Nick Fernandes is settling in at his new high-end residential carpentry job at C2MG, a company owned by NBSS alumnus Kurt Fieldhouse CA '93. Carpentry was never something he imagined.
"My dad was in the trades, but it wasn't something I ever thought I would do."
Growing up with severe dyslexia made Nick believe he would never go far. He says bluntly, "I had to make a choice: Whether to follow the path that I was on and end up getting in a lot of trouble, or find another way. I chose to join the Marine Corps at age 18." After leaving the military, he received benefits from the Post 9/11 GI Bill® that would pay for further education.
The lightbulb moment came to him as he wandered the aisles of The Home Depot. "I thought to myself, I wonder if there's a school for woodworking of some kind. I sat down on the curb outside of the store and started Googling. I found NBSS, sent them an email, and applied almost immediately."
Nick completed both the Cabinet & Furniture Making and Carpentry programs, and knew he'd found his place. "When I'm drawing up plans for a piece of furniture, all that matters is how the joint fits. Whatever you have in front of you, that's all that there is. It's nice to have an escape that is also your career."
Regardless of how old you are, or what you have been through, if you'd like to learn a trade or craft, just be fearless.
Susan Sit PT '21, PA '22
Why the piano? "It's the sound, the melody, the ability to play something just captivating that I like. I just have a connection to it," explains Susan Sit. Originally from Hong Kong, but now residing in Lexington, Massachusetts, she first learned piano as an adult to help her twins with lessons but became so fascinated by the instrument itself, she decided to study it at NBSS. She hopes to use her degree to work with nonprofits.
However, just as she enrolled in the Basic Piano Technology program, her mother rapidly passed away from cancer. "It was very, very hard. But the School helped me while going through a very difficult time. Since I arrived, I've changed so much as a human being, as a mother, as a daughter." The learning curve was initially steep, but the instructors made time to answer all of Susan's questions—and they respected her parenting commitments.
Mastering piano regulation has been her most satisfying accomplishment at NBSS. "You don't just accumulate experiences as you're learning to be a good technician. It's not like you follow steps A to Z, and then you'll be able to produce a well-regulated piano. There are so many things in between that require very good problem solving skills."
She says, "I'd like to use my story to tell others that regardless of how old you are, or what you have been through, if you'd like to learn a trade or craft, just be fearless."
In my prior career, pushing paper wasn't working. A piece was missing for me, and that was working with my hands.
Xiomara Garcia CA '21
A first-generation college graduate, Xiomara Garcia first gained exposure to carpentry as a recruiter for YouthBuild Boston, an organization that brings young people into the trades. "I was working with a bunch of kids who were interested in learning with their hands. I was motivated by them and the elements of learning, failing, and struggling—all that goodness that comes with starting something new."
Xiomara met Rob O'Dwyer, NBSS Director of Admissions & Enrollment, at a recruiting event. She remembers, "We had a long conversation about my career and how pushing paper wasn't working. A piece was missing for me, and that was working with my hands." She applied to the Carpentry program and a scholarship made enrolling possible.
The toughest lesson was learning to be more patient with herself. "When we had to do window miters last year, I was so frustrated because my pieces weren't coming together. I was such a perfectionist that I legitimately broke down."
Carpentry Department Head Peter Smith PC '04 regularly repeated a phrase that gave Xiomara a winning strategy: "To move fast, you have to slow down." She followed his advice, and eventually all the pieces came together. Today, she's a Carpentry Teaching Assistant at NBSS and applying for project manager roles.