Teacher Spotlight: Jennifer McNally, Carpentry
The earliest memory of building anything is when I was lucky enough to build a clubhouse with my dad in 3rd grade. It was the size of a garden shed and had a loft bed where I had my summer sleepovers. He let me imagine what I wanted and tried to make it happen. The mote and the drawbridge never were completed, but I loved that I was part of building it. I continued to build different things over the years with my dad: we tore out walls, replaced bathrooms, remodeled the kitchen, and built stairs.
In high school, I loved art and math, and my parents spoke with me a few times, saying the teachers told them I was not working to my potential (I know a few kids like that now). At my college prep high school, it was the expectation that students excelled in all subjects, worked to their full potential, and went on to college. So I went on to Syracuse University and majored in Chemistry because I was told I could get a good job and not have much job competition. I was shy so I liked the sound of that. A couple years into Chemistry, I realized that it wasn’t for me, but I thought it was too late to change course.
Then, I spent the week after college graduation in New York City with a bunch of talented industrial designers. I loved it! Wow! Amazing creations were everywhere, but I was off to New Mexico for a Master’s/PhD program in the fall to make sure I really didn’t like Chemistry. Mid-year I knew I had to change, but was still unsure of what to do instead.
Then I found this great spot in Maine that would teach me to build a kayak in a week. Aha! It was amazing. I loved it. “I am going to build boats.” I spent the next year working as a Chemist for Sherwin Williams and trying to save and pay for boat-building school, all the while with people telling me I was crazy. My dad thought boat-building school was great and he did everything he could to help me get there. I went to the Landing School of Boatbuilding and Design and earned a certificate in boat-building. It was an amazing year. I still feel so lucky to have had that opportunity.
After graduation, I worked in Hawaii for a short time, completed a few custom projects on classic yachts in Bristol, RI, worked on some projects in Ohio for my dad, and then headed to Florida for a few years to work on high-end yacht interiors. I moved to this area 14 years ago and started work right away at a yacht restoration school in Newport, RI. I had no idea that I would stay in the wooden boat building/restoration field for so long; I taught different levels of boat building for 13 years.
My career path has been non-traditional. The only thing I might consider changing if I had the chance would be to get into a building trade sooner. If I had paid more attention to what I wanted as opposed to what other people thought would be good for me, I could have skipped a few years of Chem classes.
In the end, I am happy that I have a bachelor’s degree, but even happier working with my hands and working with others who like to work with their hands. It has been an incredible journey which I have been fortunate enough to continue at Southeastern Regional High School.
By: Jennifer McNally