Griciela Bailey of Manhattan Beach works on a table saw to create a cutting board in woodworking class at El Camino College on Saturday, March 26 with Professor Jack Selph. Selph instructs her in precisely measuring and cutting her piece. (Kim McGill | The Union)
Saws and wood sanders begin to hum, the sounds of wood being cut, smoothed and detailed echo throughout the room.
Dust begins to pick up into the air as students use leighs to mold their projects. For the students in construction technology, it’s just another day in class.
The Construction Technology building is an area on campus that allows students to express their creativity through woodworking, creating and finishing limitless types of projects.
Construction Technology professor Jack Selph has been teaching class full time at El Camino for 22 years, coaching and mentoring students on their projects. Currently, Selph teaches five woodworking classes.
“I’m really fortunate because I don’t have to get them moving. My biggest thing is not to get them here, not to get them to work, but to get them to go home at the end of class, they don’t want to leave, they want to stay late,” Selph said.
When creating projects for class, students can purchase wood and other supplies to create their ideas. While working on those projects, however, Selph wants students to focus specifically on their own.
“I don’t want them to be competing to see who can build the biggest or the most because that creates [a] safety issue trying to hurry and it affects quality,” Selph said. “I just want to see them have growth, move forward, do everything as safely as possible, that’s critical in this industry.”
Aside from project creation, Selph holds lectures one hour before lab time and shows students how to make certain cabinets based on the specific course they are in.
“In about one or two weeks, we will start building a base residential kitchen cabinet and I will go through every step of that for the rest of the semester,” Selph said. “In the afternoon class, we’ll be doing the upper cabinet.”
While students learn the fundamentals of machinery use as well as safety precautions as part of the curriculum, classes like construction technology do more than just teach, they allow students to creatively explore who they are.
Ernesto Sanchez, a 31-year-old construction technology major and former Editor-in-Chief of El Camino College’s student-run publication, The Union, has been learning woodworking since the spring 2021 semester and thanks the pandemic for giving him more free time to take part in these classes.
“I love doing all this stuff, and this was a class that I always wanted to take, but I never could because I was always busy,” Sanchez said.
In fall 2018, Sanchez worked at The Union in many different editor positions than just Editor-in-Chief. Sanchez said that while he returned in spring 2019 as managing and features editor, events in his life such as planning a wedding and being in charge of a martial arts school, lead him to not return in fall 2019.
“It’s a moment of my life I will never forget,” Sanchez said.
From learning different building processes to learning about the safety precautions that need to occur in class, these lessons stuck with Sanchez, eventually leading him to find a paid apprenticeship.
“He [Selph] forwarded me an email saying ‘I don’t know if you’re going to like it,’ and from there I tried it out and that same day, I got the job.”
The architectural millwork company Sanchez works for, Aleksandar, inc., allows him to work on projects for companies like Netflix and Disney, while also giving him experience in other fields rather than just woodworking.
“I’m doing things from sweeping the floors, cleaning, organizing, to loading and offloading trucks, delivering the trucks. In my title as an apprentice, I am a carpenter, a carpenter assistant, painter, painting assistant, a metal worker, all these crazy cool things,” Sanchez said.
While some students can find these opportunities, others such as Sabrina Mar, an El Camino student working towards a furniture-making certification, focus on further honing their craft.
“I started woodworking because I work in television, and I was working on a home makeover show,” Mar said. “I would spend whole days watching the carpenters and the woodworkers build furniture for these homes that we’re building on this television show and I just fell in love with the process.”
For ten years, Mar has been taking woodworking classes at El Camino College, taking long breaks in-between each session, but continued to take her classes due to her passion for woodworking.
“It really absolutely did open my world basically and not just my eyes, but I just never expected to have the satisfaction from a hobby, and it has really fulfilled a lot of artistic needs that I had at the time,” Mar said.
Woodworking also gave Mar the ability to open an Etsy store where she sells her projects and pieces. Although tv production is her career, Mar said she plans to work on woodworking for the rest of her life.
“I get a lot of satisfaction from actually building stuff with my hands and seeing my vision come to fruition…the process of it is really therapeutic,” Mar said.
As students now freely move about the classroom to complete projects and interact with one another, this freedom wasn’t all there during the pandemic.
Selph said that at the beginning of the pandemic, construction technology shut down for about half a semester, but reopened as an essential class to learn on campus, but in a slightly altered manner.
“They reduced the enrollment a little bit to make for social distancing,” Selph said. “We’re back to full enrollment now, and on that note, I mean the students you can see are very cooperative, everyone wears a mask, they check in, they do everything.”
With everything that goes on in his classes, Selph said he enjoys what he does and helping others in the woodworking process.
“The [students] that are really rewarding [in teaching] are the ones who are brand new and have never seen the inside of a woodshop and they really want to learn,” Selph said.
Within the workshop full of wooden planks to wooden shavings, students appreciate what Selph has done for the class and the opportunity to grow as creatives in the woodworking field.
“He is such a lovely nurturer. He really takes time and holds these kids’ hands, including my own,” Mar said. “I’m not a kid anymore, but he holds your hand when you’re building these projects and he makes it so much less intimidating.”
Editors Note: Photo captions were edited for clarity on March 31 at 10:24 a.m.
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