Celebrating our Evolution and Growth
“NBSS would not be where it is today without you. Our best work is done together, a collaboration by all of us: our students and faculty, our staff, and our supporters.”
Thank you to those who could join us for a very special evening of celebration and connection this October! More importantly, thank you for being part of our community and for your ongoing support of North Bennet Street School. We’re at an energizing inflection point in our history—celebrating our past, showcasing our present, and embracing a future of expanded community reach and impact—and we couldn’t do any of this work without you.
You will hear more from us on all of this in the coming weeks and months. In the meantime, we invite you to read remarks from the evening’s speakers and revisit a video of the Summer Carpentry Program with students from Madison Park Technical Vocational High School, which exemplifies much of our current focus and future direction. It is one of the ways we’ll create more access points to an NBSS experience, collaborate across Career Training Programs and Community Education, and show people the possibility of our fields.
Thank you all for being here tonight, to share in this wonderful community of North Bennet Street School, at this moment in its evolution and growth. Before I say a few words to orient us to the evening, why we’re here, I’d like to thank some people.
First, thank you to the entire North Bennet Street School faculty: we have some with us tonight. So much of this evening is about stories—the many experiences that one gathers as we learn and grow. We think of this for students, of course, but I hope you take time to appreciate the astonishing breadth of personal and professional experience and knowledge that our faculty bring.
We have fresh perspectives from some new members: Ellen Kaspern CF ’03 and Nick Maraldo CF ’07, new to the Cabinet & Furniture Making department, with a new leader in Jamey Pope CF ’06. In our Piano Technology program, Will Roper PT ’19—a recent Teaching Assistant—has joined the faculty this fall. Tracey Jenkins Darji JM ’05 is our new Department Head for Jewelry Making & Repair. Sophie Linnell PC ’21 and Christian Locke LK ’22 are here representing the TA program, the newest cohort of mentors for students.
At the same time that we celebrate newness, we are so grateful for endurance. Some of our instructors here are already woven into the fabric of our community: Peter Smith PC ’04, Jeff Altepeter BB ’99, Roman Barnas, Eddy Dacius LK ’13, Steven O’Shaughnessy PC ’99. Glad to have you as co-hosts tonight.
I am so grateful for the work that our faculty do each and every day for our students. You are important partners to all of us. And your work is complemented by the talents of our multifaceted hard working staff members—all of us orienting to new horizons.
I’d also like to thank our Board of Directors and Advisors, close thinking-partners and guides every day—and our former President, Miguel Gomez Ibanez CF ’99. The continuity of leadership since I arrived in 2019 has been remarkable. We feel the impact of your work every day, it has been a gift to us, to the entire community, especially through the turmoil of recent years.
It has been four years since we’ve gathered the fullness of the NBSS community like this. In that time, we’ve all been through a lot, and the School has accomplished a lot:
- We launched a new public programs series: In the Making, hosting 44+ virtual public conversations with 100 like-minded creators, reaching over 1,200 audience members across all 50 states and 23 different countries.
- We re-launched Continuing Education as Community Education, rebuilding to over 230 classes and almost 1600 participants in the last two years, selling out of almost all of our classes
- In the core of what we do, our Career Training programs, we are rebuilding to a healthy full-time enrollment and over the last years 265 graduates have stepped into new chapters and careers for themselves.
- To support our core programs, we established a Teaching Assistant program, bringing new talent and new views, as a way to develop the next generation of mentors.
- We are able to grow and reach in these ways now because of work this community did to prepare us: this fall we celebrate 10 years in this building—a testament to our Under One Roof campaign, and a remarkable achievement of community advocacy, philanthropy, government relations, and vision.
- And, we fulfilled a promise set forth by the Lives & Livelihood campaign: this fall we reached our $1 million dollar annual scholarship goal, allowing more students access to an NBSS education. About 70% of students at NBSS receive some form of financial aid, and 90% of that need is met with NBSS Scholarship; reducing both the cost of education and the need to take out loans. This changes access. Last year alone we provided generous scholarships to 75 full-time students, more than double the impact from 10 years ago.
Impact of Scholarship
Since tonight is partly about stories, let me tell you about a few of the students, now graduates, who benefited from this scholarship effort:
- Svetlana Daneva CA ’21, CF ’23: A young mother, raised in a woodworking family in Bulgaria, who, after a hurricane left her homeless while pregnant with her first child, found NBSS, where she excelled in both our carpentry and our furniture making programs. She went on to receive a juried award for her work just before graduating last year, at 8 months pregnant with her second child. A total rockstar.
- Viet Phan LK ’22, CA ’23: A former Marine who found his calling at NBSS in locksmithing and carpentry. His dual diplomas have elevated his skills and confidence, enabling him to excel as both a carpenter and a locksmith, now at Smith & Awudo Construction.
- Mitch Gundrum BB ’23: A technical writer and IT support specialist turned to NBSS for his next career, in bookbinding. When we went remote in the early days of the pandemic, he adapted and continued his craft at home, driven by a passion for precision and learning. After some time working abroad, he’s now a conservation fellow at UCLA.
I could go on: there are so many individual stories to choose from.
As we look to the next waves of students who will join us, we have developed a people- and program-centered Strategic Plan, built on a vision that more people, from more backgrounds, will have the opportunity to join NBSS, to gain the skills and education they seek, whether through Career Training or Community Education.
It cannot be overstated: we would not be able to even imagine new growth for people and programs without what our donor community did for our facilities and our endowment.
Now: Both / And
Which brings us to this evening, to tonight, together. This School has been entrusted to us, on a long and remarkable arc of history. History can be hard, and NBSS is not separate from the world. All around us, across the world, are acute and painful examples of division and discord. I know we feel this tonight. So as we gather to appreciate our work tonight, we know we also know are not separate from very real, very painful human challenges. I have drawn courage from NBSS’s history. I drew from this in the pandemic and I draw from it now.
When facing the needs and challenges over 140 years, North Bennet Street School has never been inclined to choose either/or, rather it has been a place of complements, a place of intersection; a place that responds to community needs from a position of both/and:
- North Bennet is a place of tradition and innovation
- We are a place that serves the beginner and the professional
- We are craft and trade
- We are long-timers and new-comers
- We are endurance and reinvention
It is important to stand for intersection, for balance, for positive pairing, for what strengthens.
This is reflected in the collection of people (students) that refreshed and restarts our School every single year. Every semester, we welcome people who want to make positive change and growth—whether they do that over an evening, a weekend, two semesters or three years.
Who is NBSS
So: who does this? Who makes up this energy, ambition, and direction, that helps us see we newness balanced with the steadiness?
Today, our career training students come from all walks of life, from all across the country and world.
- This year, about a quarter of our students arrived having finished high school,
- While many of our students are here having already tried or finished college, some with advanced degrees.
- 20% of our students are veterans, transitioning from the military.
- 26% are students of color, and overall, our students range in age from 18 to 64.
- And while this makes this year’s group one of the most diverse NBSS has seen, each of our students bring much more than their demographics.
- They bring their life experience, in careers as a firefighter, filmmaker, landscaper, actor, farmer, bike mechanic, surgeon, pilot, bartender, plus teacher and parents—more lived experience than I can really name.
Now, we’ll share a video about a program we brought back last summer, in partnership with the Madison Park Vocational Technical High School in BPS.
To highlight this partnership tonight is intentional: it is a case-in-point of our Strategic Plan and priorities. On its surface, it’s a 5-week carpentry intensive, taught by North Bennet instructors, for a small group of high school students.
More broadly, it exemplifies our priorities, showing us where North Bennet is headed, and our chances for greater community impact:
- This program gives more entry points to an NBSS experience for more people of diverse backgrounds.
- It demonstrates how we can recruit for our Career Training programs, and show people what’s possible as a career in our fields.
- It is a case study in the impact of Community Education, and the ways that our non-accredited programs dovetail and support our full-time programs.
- And, it highlights the power of deep partnership with other organizations, where mutual benefit makes for greater impact.
I’m very pleased to share that two of those students, Omar Ocasio and Kenron Parchment, are now busy at work in our full-time programs.
Later this evening you will also hear from Fox Maasch, a current student, and from Nick Maraldo, who has just joined our faculty. Their stories will also reflect who we are and where we’re going, and I’d love for you to see yourselves in them: thinking of the challenges you took on to follow your passion and trust your abilities. The meaningful experiences that shaped your path and may have been furthered at NBSS.
What’s Ahead: Access, Reach, Partnership
Now, as we move toward dinner, let us look forward (it is a tall order to both ‘catch you up’ on the past three years, and orient you to what’s next without talking too long).
So, consider tonight the first step to appreciate and celebrate our community; how our past and present takes us to our future.
Over the last years, the Board has done deep work, within the context of our world, to confront questions about our mission and institutional identity:
What is our value, what do we bring to the challenges of our time, what are the opportunities in this moment, and the needs of our community?
Our response to those questions maps our growth. In the next five years:
- We will broaden our reach and cultivate new audiences
- We will expand access and opportunity in career training and community programs
- We will nurture and deepen key partnerships
To accomplish this, we will invest in the people of our School and our overall capabilities so that we can further realize our potential and our impact.
Consider this an invitation to share in our growth, an invitation to talk with us more and get specific, as we orient toward expanding our horizons.
Because we will need your continued help, we hope to connect with each of you in the months to come.
NBSS would not be where it is today without you. And, our best work is done together, a collaboration of all of us: our student and faculty, our staff, our supporters—you.
Closing: Combined Efforts
I am incredibly moved and inspired by the perspectives and reflections we’ve all shared this evening. The depth of experience and passion in this room is remarkable, and I never take it for granted.
As many of you know, I was trained as a jeweler and worked for a time in my own studio. It was at the bench, in my garage workshop in Portland, Oregon, that I realized as much as I loved the focused work, jewelers saw in hand, back straight at my bench pin delicately fabricating small precious pieces, I wanted to take my skills to be in dialog with others, to combine efforts to work on something bigger. That moved me to teaching, to leading, and to NBSS.
This is the marvel of this place: so many different stories, different paths, different talents and opportunities working in concert to shape this School.
What you’ve seen and heard tonight is a new beginning for North Bennet Street School, of a refreshed era, an evolving community, and expanding horizons.
Don’t let this be a passing moment of your engagement; we need everyone, from long-timers to new-comers, to be part of how we shape the coming years.
With incredible gratitude, we are advancing from the very sturdy foundation that you helped build. Thank you, we look forward to being with you as we do this moving ahead.
Next, we’ll hear from one of our Bookbinding students, Fox Maasch BB ’24. Fox is from Portland, Maine and attended Simmons College in Boston. Before enrolling at NBSS, among other things, Fox has been a camp counselor, a gallery curator, a food service worker, and an advocate and educator for trans youth rights.
Greetings fellow people,
My name is Fox Allen Maasch, and I am currently in my second year in the Bookbinding program down the hall. Again I would like to thank you all for being here tonight. I am here representing my classmates and colleagues, as we have all benefited from the generosity of this community. I would like to briefly tell you all about how I made my way here to NBSS. It was a long journey and I worked my buns off to make this dream my reality.
I bound my first book when I was 15 with my best friend at the pre-college program at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts; a crude structure made with printer paper and the covers I had hacked off of a 70’s-esq book I found in the garbage. The process intrigued me and it tapped into my love of the tactile, visual, yet utilitarian craft. I was very fortunate to have gone to a high school that was heavily invested in the arts and I was able to explore and expand my interest in books, particularly artists’ books, where my background truly stems. Since high school through college I had self taught mostly and even sold little batches of simple books to kitschy stores in my home state of Maine.
Although I knew a hands-on art related career was what I wanted to do with my life, it was difficult to make the decision to study just the arts, so I decided to enroll at Simmons University here in Boston, initially studying public health, though eventually transitioning to a very different route of double majoring in Chemistry as well as Studio Arts. (I just couldn’t leave my artistic side behind!)
As a transgender man at a women’s college, I faced difficulties at Simons from the get go. Adversity from students, faculty, staff, public safety: you name it. Because of this, in the beginning of my 3rd year I decided to look for alternatives for my education and future.
I decided to google around for things that interested me, first being bookbinding since that was my number one “hobby” for years. Fortunately my search didn’t take too long as the first result was a school – America’s first trade school, in fact! – that happened to be about 45 minutes on the Green Line from me. I scheduled a tour and immediately started my application to NBSS for the next year.
It was a dream come true when I got my acceptance letter in the mail. I had never thought that this was even a possible avenue to pursue only a brief few months prior, but there I was holding that thick acceptance package. Unfortunately, that quickly went from the euphoria of being one of very few to attend such a program, to the harshness of reality that it was simply not financially feasible. Honestly, I had such a hard time coming to grips with letting the opportunity slip through my fingers because of my finances that I really felt in my heart I had to give up on following that dream. So I moved on. I worked jobs all across the board, sometimes 2 or 3 gigs at a time (from line cook to early childcare to gallery work to hand weaving carbon fiber for use on space vessels and believe me many more), trying to start my life and save money for adult things like a house or a car: etc, etc, etc.
About 5 years pass and I get an email from Admissions Director Rob O’Dwyer saying that there now was significantly more financial aid funds since the time that I last applied, and perhaps I ought to consider applying again. Though I had no inkling of the scope of “new available aid,” I applied, not expecting it to be within my reach yet again. A very short time later, I was awarded my aid package and wow it was significant. I just could not pass such a generous offer, it was life changing, literally. Looking at my finances all of a sudden this wild idea started to look plausible. I left my job in Maine to move back to Boston.
I knew immediately on orientation day that NBSS was my place. Looking around at my new peers I could just tell how passionate and invested they were in the advancement of their chosen craft. I have learned so much through my time so far and I have met the most amazing and dedicated people; students, faculty, staff and those who are connected in the network that has grown from here. I will highlight just a couple connections:
This is where I met my mentors in the art of marbled paper, Dan and Regina St John of Chena River Marblers. During this past summer I lived near their home/studio so that I could apprentice with them, working day in and day out, 6-7 days a week for the most part, learning the history, practice, art and science of paper marbling. I never could have imagined that my background and love for Chemistry would come together so seamlessly, so perfectly, with my love for the book arts. Dan and I worked together on an experiment in which I was able to tweak the chemical equation to yield 100% accuracy for the so-called “tiger eye” pattern. It blew my mind! I truly believe that only at NBSS could I have ever made this connection, opening doors of opportunity I didn’t know were possible.
This school is also where I have met my lovely business partner, a student from the Jewelry Making department, Amor Amenkum JM ’24. Together we have fostered the most wonderful collaborative partnership with the creation of our up and coming business set to launch this winter, Heirloom & Heritage. H&H, as we call it, is a fine craft gift consulting and curation collective, our legacy preserved within the exceptional craftsmanship of our offerings; from high-end fabrications to a complimentary set of heirloom quality fine jewelry, hand bound books, fine furnishings, ceramics etc that celebrate or commemorate something special. Mainly contracting current and past NBSS students. My goal in my career as a whole is to work with and give back to the North Bennet community wherever I can both through my private bindery that I will set up in western Massachusetts next year or my business with Amor, who also shares my appreciation for all that this school has done for us.
NBSS has felt like a home to me since I arrived, and I will always call this place mine thanks to the support I have gotten from this community, from you all. I have felt welcome at all times in this space, I feel free and comfortable to be myself and engage in content without the judgment or censorship I have all too often faced. I would graciously like to thank my instructor, Jeff, for allowing us to bring ourselves and each of our distinct interests into the classroom and I commend his patience.
At orientation, Provost Claire Fruitman said something along the lines of that when we look at our work we ought not to say “good enough,” and that sentiment has stuck with me. Every day I look at my work and I think about what can be tweaked, redone, practiced. I don’t want to say “good enough” to my work, I strive to look at and believe in my work’s excellence as a trained proud graduate of an institution of such stature that is North Bennet Street School.
Our other speaker for the evening is a new member of the Cabinet & Furniture Making faculty, Nick Maraldo CF ’07. Nick graduated from the full-time program in 2007. He worked in cabinetry and architectural millwork but when the recession hit, he joined the U.S. Navy and traveled the world on active duty for eight years. He then transitioned to work at the Furniture Institute of Massachusetts with Phil Lowe, a graduate and beloved former NBSS Department Head. Most recently, Nick taught in our Community Education program, including the Three-Month Furniture Making Intensive.
Good evening, I am Nick Maraldo, Cabinet & Furniture Making instructor.
I’d like to personally thank all our donors here tonight. Your generosity allows us to continue to provide the high standard of excellence in education that the North Bennet St School is known for.
The theme for tonight has been the various entry points into the trades and the various doors it opens throughout one’s career. For me, I knew traditional college was not for me. In a time when we were all told “go to college, you don’t want to be in the trades’.’
Turns out, now we need more skilled trades people as the workers in the industry begin to age out. Not to mention it’s a very rewarding, and to some extent, lucrative career.
Now granted, it can be a bit of a hustle, particularly in the craft trades. It is not always a straight line from point A to B. One must forge your own path, and often, you never know where it will ultimately lead.
My path has meandered, twisted, and turned quite a lot, starting out as a trade carpenter after high school. Wanting to do more and more detailed work, I found my way to NBSS Cabinet & Furniture Making program. I had never considered getting into furniture making before, nor even really knew it was a career field.
But I quickly fell in love with it. For me it’s a great intersection of history and tradition, hand skills and machine skills, design and engineering. I also have a passion for all things electrical and mechanical, and so maintaining and calibrating machinery also became a huge part of it.
After NBSS, I went on to work in a high end cabinet and furniture shop servicing the greater metro Boston area. Those years really put my education to the test. I learned a ton, gained a lot of confidence in my skills.
The downturn of 2009 sent me off in a completely different direction. I ended up as an electrical and electronics tech as part of the intelligence field in the Navy: quite a departure from what I thought was my path. The technician side was an anxious fit, but having to work the cryptologic side as well as finding myself doing presentations in some very high level places. Definitely not something I learned here! Just a quiet, shy furniture maker from New Hampshire.
But I did find a passion for teaching and mentoring, as I had to traub and mentor my junior personnel. Not to mention the exposure therapy of having to confidently be the “expert” in the room in front of some high ranking individuals.
Being an educator is something I otherwise would not have considered. But, like many of us, our paths take sudden turns. After 8 years of that, I very much wanted to go back to furniture making. I ended up in Beverly, Massachusetts, working in Phil Lowe’s shop, where he allowed me to begin teaching workshops.
There is a saying in the Navy that “those who can’t, teach.” This is meant as a derogatory, as if to say if you can’t cut it doing the job, you end up taking the “easy” route training new sailors.
Teaching woodworking has shown me quite the opposite. If you want to truly learn something, you have to try and teach it. The first time a student asks you “why,” and you have the realization you don’t know why, it’s just how you do it, and now you have to go off and find those answers. Teaching has made me a far better woodworker and has been one of the most challenging things I have done in my career.
So why learn a trade? The act of making is, of course, good for the soul. A tangible object now exists as a testament to one’s effort and skill. In the age of “information jobs” where so much of the work exists in the digital realm, we see so many people looking for that outlet into the physical world, not just to create and be creative, but to have that indelible object, that legacy.
Even if some of our students end up in other career tracks, whether woodworking adjacent or something completely different. The mental skills you learn while developing a trade gives unique abilities in any job. But at the end of the day, it is about a life well-lived, doing something you can be passionate about.
One of the amazing things about NBSS is the community, the network. You don’t have to go it alone, and sharing in the creative pursuits is one of the most rewarding parts of it all.