Ms. Jen Groseth follows love of mechanics and teaching to YPAS

Zoe Schaver

There are two worlds Ms. Jen Groseth (Design & Production) has always been driven to be a part of: hands-on work, in carpentry and mechanics, and higher-level education—or simply anything to do with school.

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It’s not often that those entrenched in the world of mechanical handiwork and innovation, repairing appliances, vehicles, and other machines, spend as much time as Ms. Groseth has in school and the world of academia.

However, Ms. Groseth’s career path has taken her from Eauclaire College in Wisconsin, to the University of Illinois, to Stage One Children’s Theatre in Louisville, to Concordia College in Minneapolis, to Oberlin College in Ohio, to Tarleton College in Texas, to Ball State in Kentucky, and finally, at long last, to teaching lighting, sound, and drafting in the Design and Production program at YPAS.

“I love going to school. I’d go to school all the time if I could. I’d be one of those weird, like, inventor people who only went to school for their whole life, if I could afford it,” she said. “There’s just so many things to learn. I know that’s really cheesy, but I could learn anything.”

Ms. Groseth wasn’t always into studying and teaching theatre and design and production, however. By the time she was out of high school, she knew exactly what she wanted to be, and that was a mechanic.

“When I was graduating from high school, my parents were dairy farmers—they said they’d pay my way through school if I would stay at home and milk the cows at 4:30 in the morning and then come back and milk them at ten,” she said. “Which sounded like a strange form of purgatory to me. So instead of doing that, I joined the military to get money for college.”

She worked as a generator mechanic for the military for two full years, and as part of a government program would then be given money to go to school. Mechanic school, however, didn’t work out. So, with nothing to do, and after promising her mother she would take at least one semester of college once out of the military, she signed up for classes at Eauclaire College in Wisconsin, the school nearest her.

“I was one day late to be full-time [at school]. This is where things get interesting. And they said, well, you can’t sign up full-time, but you can sign up to be a part-time student,” she said. “At that period of time, you had to go into this gym with these punch cards, and everybody’s classes were set up at tables… I was the last person on the last hour of the last day to register, because I was a part-time student who’d registered way late. And I’d never been to college before. I was completely lost. So I thought that I could just wander in and take photography and journalism, which I thought would be great for me. Needless to say, both of those classes had been filled since probably the second hour of the first day. So I wandered around and I was like, I guess I’ll take my English requirement, and everything was full. Every class was full. And finally I was like, “Screw this, I don’t need this.” So I was walking out the door, and this little man asked me, said did I need classes for “general education” credit. I didn’t even know what general education credits were. And it was the first person who was nice to me, and I said yes. And he taught Stagecraft and Introduction to American Musical Comedy. And I became a techie.”

From there, Ms. Groseth was hooked. Nearly every job she had from there on out was teaching lighting and sound in theatre programs, apart from a brief stint of independent contracting when she accidentally stuck a chisel in her wrist. She never went back to straight mechanics.

“[Lighting and sound design] was working with your hands, but you got to be creative,” she said. “Replacing an alternator is replacing an alternator is replacing an alternator; it doesn’t get very exciting. Occasionally bolts stick, but that’s about it. This was like, you get to make the alternator.”

In her free time, Ms. Groseth still dabbles in mechanics. “I can fix my own lawn mower,” she said. She builds guitars, and is very interested in “green” building, specifically a type of straw bale insulation that is energy- and cost-efficient. Essentially everything she does contains some element of working with her hands. Right now she’s building ukuleles, and an outdoor cat enclosure for her pets. “It keeps me busy,” she said.

As for her new job, Ms. Groseth deeply admires the Design and Production program at YPAS. “I just hope I can keep up with it,” she said. “What my goal is is that the students should be able to walk into most places and be able to work most systems. And they should be able to—with drafting—communicate their designs or their thoughts on paper to other people, without having to necessarily be there. I’m just trying to get them running, so they’re going to have quite a jump start when they go to college.”

Accompanying the new school year were 11 new teachers in a range of magnets and academic departments. This story is part of a series about each of them.