Michelle Her CA '18 worked as a United States Navy Seabee (Naval Construction Force) for three years, building gun ranges, warehouses, schools, and pavilions before enrolling in the NBSS Carpentry Program. Today, Michelle works as a carpenter for Columbia Contracting, performing the majority of her work in greater Boston.
Professionally, Michelle has done everything from managing an office to serving three years in the U.S. military. By the time she enrolled in the Carpentry program at North Bennet Street School, she had already cultivated a diverse set of skills, and the curriculum at NBSS encouraged her to focus on the finer details. "The program was totally different," says Michelle, "because in the military I mainly worked with masonry, doing a lot of block building. So understanding carpentry – everything from the math involved to the properties of the wood – was a totally new experience."
Left: Michelle (holding sign) with her team, who won the Bennet Town building contest during her NBSS Carpentry class year.
While Michelle has experience in diverse professional landscapes, she recognizes that she has had to be persistent when applying for jobs in the trades. Michelle remembers having to sometimes convince employers that she has both the necessary skills and the ability to thrive in a male dominated workplace. "When employers see that a woman is applying, sometimes you will feel like they are trying to discourage you during the interview process. For example, I've been asked if you are sure you will be okay working in this environment."
Michelle stands by the fact that women in the trades need to "explore what works for them, and to continue to put themselves out there." After graduating from NBSS, she combined her newfound skills as a carpenter with what she learned in the military, which built a foundation for success. "What I learned in the military set me up for general construction and taught me how to work efficiently and in large groups," she explains. "North Bennet taught me information and skills that were specialized and much more specific."
Like many graduates of NBSS who have made the transition from starkly different professional backgrounds such as academia or office work, Michelle emphasizes that working with her hands not only cultivates a more fulfilling profession, but also a more fulfilling lifestyle. "With carpentry, I can get lost in the work. I find myself looking at the clock and seeing how quickly the day has gone by without my realizing, which tells me that I am doing something that is fulfilling and truly worthwhile."
Today, Michelle is still honing her craft, working with Columbia Contracting, which has given her the opportunity to keep learning and strengthening the skills she learned at NBSS.
This story is part of a series on Women in the Building Trades. View the full series here.