U.Va. Apprentice Program Graduates First Female Carpenter

Jennifer Maiorano is following her dream.

"Carpentry has been a hidden passion of mine," she said. "I love making something out of nothing, looking at an empty space and seeing what I can create with my hands and my mind."

Maiorano is the first woman to graduate as a carpenter from the University of Virginia's four-year apprenticeship program. She and seven other graduates – carpenter Joshua Ferguson; electrician Carrie Seningen; electronics technician Alexander Harlow; heating, ventilation and air conditioning technicians Antochen Koolipurackal and Bradford Tyler; plasterer Dorjee Damdoo and plumber Scott Marsh – were honored last week at a ceremony marking the 30th year of the program at Alumni Hall.

Maiorano credits her mother, Diane, with sparking her interest in carpentry.

"Mom was the Bob Vila of our house," she said. "When she had new windows put in, she did all the trim work. When she had a pool installed, she did all the coping work. She showed me that a woman can do whatever she wants."

Donald Sundgren, director of the Facilities Management, told the graduates that in 20 years, the University has grown from 11 million to 16 million gross square feet, with another 500,000 to be added soon.

"The rate of change is increasing, not just in higher education in general, but at Facilities Management as well," he said. "The systems are more sophisticated. We contract some of our work, but handle much of it ourselves."

He reminded the graduates that they are in a service business, supporting the University's core missions of education, research and patient care. Among these services is maintaining historic buildings, where Damdoo has found a new career as a plasterer.

In Tibet, Damdoo ran a small business supplying yak cheese and butter to other nomads. He fled to escape Chinese control of his country.

"I went to India and then came to this country seeking political asylum," he said.

Damdoo was working at U.Va. as a landscaper when he joined the apprentice program. Initially, he applied for carpentry, plumbing or plastering, and was accepted into the plastering program because he had drywall experience.

He said he enjoys following in the footsteps of master craftsmen of the past. "I like the history of the buildings. I have worked on the Lawn and the Range, and in my second year, I did some plastering work in the Rotunda."

Advancing people within the University is one of the hallmarks of the program.

"We were the first apprentice program at a public university," Colette Sheehy, vice president of management and budget, said. "We have been the model of growing our own employees from within."

Sheehy said about 100 of the 134 apprentice graduates of the apprenticeship program still work at the University, including 13 from the first class of apprentices. "Those are strong retention numbers," she said. "The apprentice program is a pathway to long-term employment."

The program also offers opportunities to workers from outside the University. Maiorano was raised on Long Island, N.Y., where she found few carpentry opportunities. She came to Virginia when her partner was accepted at U.Va. as a graduate student and she found the apprentice program on the University website.

"I didn't believe it at first because it seemed too good to be true," she said. "I saw this as an amazing opportunity to learn carpentry and be at such a historic University."

Several facilities workers were also honored for educational achievements. Berhan Aljiji received an associate's degree in business administration from Piedmont Virginia Community College; Kenneth Bower received a bachelor's degree in human resource management from the University of Richmond; Brian Pinkston received a Ph.D. from U.Va.'s Graduate School of Arts & Sciences in philosophy, and Rona Rose received a bachelor of science in information technology from the University of Phoenix. Barry Crawford was noted for receiving his General Educational Development degree from the Charlottesville City Schools Adult Learning Center, and Nafisa Azizi, Dedrick Johnson, Lois Jones, Islam Makhmudov, Dorothy Payne and Ayse Yetim were honored for being award winners in the English as a Second Language/GED Voices of Adult Learners program.

Seven new apprentices were inducted into the program.

– by Matt Kelly