Women in the Building Trades: Tracy Chim Rines PC ’09
After graduating from NBSS, Tracy Chim Rines PC ’09 went on to open her own business, TLC Woodworking, located in New Durham, New Hampshire. For the past ten years, her business has specialized in making and restoring custom storm windows and doors.
In high school, Tracy Chim was on the path to a career in architecture. It made sense as she had both a deep interest in the history of how things were built, and a background in working with her hands. She recalls that every time her parents got a piece of furniture that required assembly, it was handed off to her. Yet when she began researching programs, she realized that there were a lot more requirements than expected for a budding architect, which led her to the NBSS Preservation Carpentry program.
“I was looking for schools and found out that to enroll in architecture programs, you needed a portfolio, which I didn’t have at the time. Luckily, my guidance counselor told me that I could start by picking a major, and building up a portfolio during while doing my undergrad.” Tracy came across the Historic Preservation program offered at Roger Williams University in Bristol, Rhode Island, and it was there where she embarked on the first leg of her journey toward becoming a carpenter. “I ended up loving historic preservation, and learning about my favorite styles, specifically Queen Anne and Victorian architecture. It was really valuable to me,” says Tracy – who was simultaneously falling in love with preservation and realizing that becoming an architect wasn’t for her.
“I couldn’t imagine doing something else with my life right now. I am happy to go to work, and I look forward to spending time with my coworkers and being in my shop where I feel at ease. I remember when I was afraid to pick up the tools, and now it’s just second nature.”
In a serendipitous moment during her senior year at Roger Williams, a student from the NBSS Preservation Carpentry program came to visit her class. The timing couldn’t have been better, Tracy remembers. “I was graduating in 2007 and the recession was beginning, so nobody was hiring,” she recalls. “I wasn’t really ready to enter the workforce and even though I loved the topic, and I felt that the emphasis on office work in historic preservation wasn’t really for me. So in a lot of ways it was just fate that an NBSS student visited my program.” She enrolled in the NBSS Preservation Carpentry program shortly after.
Thinking back on the first time Tracy visited NBSS, she recalls that she knew it was the place for her: “The minute I walked into my interview I felt at home.” That feeling didn’t stop once she entered the classroom. “I was like a sponge. Once I had all the right tools and got over my fear of working with the machines, it all felt very natural.” From the step-by-step process of learning how to handle tools, to carving a dovetail joint, to eventually doing timber framing and working off-site, each aspect of the two-year program helped Tracy find the perfect balance between her love for preservation and her ability to practice craft in a contemporary setting. But she also notes that it took time to find her place in a male-dominated field.
While preservation carpentry tends to have a greater equality of women and men in the field compared to general construction, Tracy describes an internship that she took at a construction company while still a student at NBSS and initially feeling intimidated. “As a woman, you can face challenges when it comes to feeling comfortable in your work environment, especially in larger companies where there are likely fewer women employed,” says Tracy. “I realized that I had to show that I knew what I was doing, and I think what really impressed my coworkers was that I was able to read plans. That showed that I had both the skills and knowledge to give something important to the team.”
Tracy reiterates that it’s important not to get discouraged, especially in the beginning, and that there is a positive aspect in being one of the first women on a team. “Being the first allows you to make an impression and change people’s minds regarding what women can and cannot do,” explains Tracy. “My husband loves telling people what I do, because people are still surprised. I love seeing their faces—it can be gratifying.”
Tracy’s time at NBSS nurtured her numerous skills while simultaneously teaching her how to put them to use. She also gained confidence, which has allowed her to build up and maintain a lucrative business. “I couldn’t imagine doing something else with my life right now. I am happy to go to work, and I look forward to spending time with my coworkers and being in my shop where I feel at ease. I remember when I was afraid to pick up the tools, and now it’s just second nature.”
This story is part of a series on Women in the Building Trades. View the full series here.
It was also included in the Summer 2019 issue of Benchmarks magazine. See more Benchmarks stories here, or download a pdf of the entire issue.