My name is Abby Shenker, and I have a confession to make: I don’t really care about boats. Even in the Digital Modeling & Fabrication program at IYRS, it’s the sort of phrase I say in hushed tones on our campus, where boats and those who are passionate them are around literally every corner.
So how did I find myself at a boat school?
I came by way of another highly specialized and obscure career path: technical theatre and Scenic Design. I fell in love with theatre and working backstage when I was in high school. Our music director had a mantra, “Work is love made visible.” The line comes from Kahlil Gibran, and it summed up what working on theatre was like for me: labor in the scene shop for hours on end, sweating, sometimes bleeding, but at each performance there was a rush as our whole team of crew members created something together, because we loved it.
It was a natural decision for me to continue in technical theatre for college (9 out of 10 students at my high school went on to a four-year degree, and I didn’t consider any alternatives at the time). I attended Emerson College in Boston, where I focused my studies on Scenic Design. I made painstakingly detailed scale models of my designs. Some of my most treasured memories are the moments when I sat in a theatre, with my design surrounding me in real scale, and feeling like I was actually tiny, sitting in my model box.
After graduating from Emerson College, I spent a year working full-time as a freelancer in the Boston area. I worked every single day of that year, juggling productions and working myself to the bone to meet deadlines and make work that met my personal standards. As the year went on, I grew exhausted, and the moments of reveling in the magic of theatre became rarer.
Working on twenty or more productions in a nine-month period was damaging my health, and I made the decision to find a day job that would support me financially, and would not inhibit me from continuing theatre in the after-hours.
Another year passed, but I felt dissatisfied by my day job. I performed the same tasks every day in the same way, and there was limited opportunity to learn more or move ranks within the small company.
I wanted options. I wanted to learn more, I wanted to be able to solve problems in new ways, to create with different media. And, I wanted to land in an industry where I could make a better living than the less-than-minimum wage sometimes offered in Boston’s mid-tier theatre scene.
I turned to my old friend, Google. IYRS’s Digital Modeling and Fabrication was pinned to the top of the search results, and I clicked. I had never heard of the school before, but what I read resonated with me. As a compulsive researcher, I looked through countless certificate and degree programs throughout New England in the following weeks. I kept returning to the IYRS website, and it kept resonating with me in ways that other schools did not.
A visit to campus for an open house confirmed that the program was legitimate and the staff were skilled. I walked through the huge studio full of technology and nearly salivated. While eating lunch at Gary’s across the street from campus after the open house, I made the decision that I would start the enrollment process.
I have been amazed by the diversity in the student population at IYRS. Although I am certainly in the minority as a female student, I have not felt singled out for that reason. Age, industry, country, interests, strengths, and goals vary wildly within the students of this program.
Me and my Digital Modeling & Fabrication classmates on the first day of school.
I love asking people how they came to IYRS. One wandered through campus inadvertently and returned years later to enroll in a program. One lives on Aquidneck Island and has always known of the school, always been passionate about the boating industry. Many are hoping to steer into a more saturated job market, some came here on a whim, others quit jobs and moved to Newport for the opportunity. People come from furniture building, army service, graphic design, and sailing to mention just a few industries.
I love the fact that we all come from such diverse backgrounds, but we somehow came together as students, drawn to this same program each for our own reasons, but now sharing knowledge and expertise as each module lets different people shine, and challenges each of us in different ways.
The Digital Modeling & Fabrication Shop
Last week, I drafted and 3D printed a unique keychain design (truthfully, I drafted and printed 4 keychain designs, but the first 3 were flawed), and this week I’m prototyping a toy that will dispense my dog’s food. As the pace here picks up, I’m starting to feel overwhelmed by the possibilities that all this technology offers (in a good way). I feel like I have options.
And I’ll admit this: I have more admiration for boats more today than I did before starting at IYRS. Maybe it’s contagious.