Johnson State College has welcomed Burlington College students hoping to finish degrees in woodworking. It’s worked out so well, the College has been accredited for it’s own degrees in woodworking and furniture design.
NICOLE HIGGINS DeSMET/Free Press
Financially beleaguered Burlington College folded a year ago, but its woodworking major lives on at Johnson State College.
“It’s a great fit,” Johnson State College Chairman of Visual Arts Kenneth Leslie said Wednesday, explaining that Johnson has faculty and an arts center offering both a bachelor’s degree and Master of Fine Arts.
Leslie pointed out that Johnson is 20 minutes away from the Vermont Woodworking School at which students majoring in woodworking and furniture design take classes while still getting to participate in campus life.
“It was a match waiting to happen,” Carina Driscoll, co-founder and director of the woodworking school, said.
After Burlington College closed its doors, Driscoll reached out to Johnson State.
Driscoll helped found the woodworking school in 2007 out of a community shop in an industrial space in Colchester. The school has its own immersion program, and woodworking faculty incorporate college students and program students in their classes.
“It was clear that there needed to be a plan for some time before Burlington College closed, but it was not my place to orchestrate that plan,” Driscoll said.
The Burlington College degree program began around 2009 when one student used an individual learning program to take woodworking classes.
Driscoll had no comment on the federal investigation involving a land deal at Burlington College that was first reported by VTDigger last month. The investigation reportedly began after the school announced it was closing under the debt from a land deal made in 2010 when Jane O’Meara Sanders led the school as president. Driscoll is O’Meara Sanders daughter.
“It was the worst year of my life,” Kevin Deraps, a 53 year old Army veteran BFA student said describing his year at Burlington College.
Deraps is one of 12 woodworking students who transferred to Johnson State. He describes his woodworking style as influenced by the clean lines of Shaker design. Deraps uses GI Bill benefits to pay for his degree and said Burlington College’s process of signing up and paying for classes using his military benefit was stressful.
Deraps said the registrar would wait until six weeks after students could withdraw from classes to send his stipend check to pay for housing and books. At Johnson he gets his $2,000 stipend check directly from the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs as soon as he signs up for classes.
After 30 years away from formal education he is finding his groove at Johnson.
“I’m still getting used to the new technology,” Deraps said. “But no matter which direction you want to take your education — they will get you there.”
Another student, Gonzo Macabeo, 21, said he was worried when Burlington College shut down after his first year but that he had no trouble transferring his credits to complete his associates degree at Johnson.
“Johnson helped us out,” Macabeo said.
Macabeo could have graduated last week, but he’s decided to continue for two more years to get a BFA.
“That piece of paper is necessary for getting out there,” Macabeo said about being invited into respected gallery shows. “Especially in our society at the moment, if you have a degree people tend to take you more seriously.”
Macabeo, who is also the captain of the Rugby team, is enjoying campus life which he said he didn’t get exposed to at Burlington College.
This fall, Johnson State College is offering its own BFA and associates degrees in woodworking and fine furniture design. The woodworking classes at Vermont Woodworking School in Fairfax will be combined with general education and art classes on the Johnson campus to create a solid liberal-arts background, according to Leslie.
Driscoll added that the program is hands-on from the first week.
“We don’t wait until second or third year to introduce the students to the actual woodworking and craftsmanship process,” Driscoll said.
And master furniture designers like Mario Mesina, a member of the Guild of Vermont Furniture Makers, are on staff at the school.
Macabeo, an admirer of Mesina’s flowing designs, said his biggest influences are the ocean and his Austronesian — Polynesian background. He said he’s excited to take part in the thriving art scene at Johnson where he hopes to collaborate with other artists and explore diverse media.
Johnson State and Lyndon State colleges are due to merge in 2018 to form Northern Vermont University, which will maintain campuses in Johnson and Lyndonville.
But the woodworking program will be maintained at Johnson.
“They seem to have a bright future so we are happy to be aligned with them,” Driscoll said.
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