After struggling to fit within the standard curriculum of his high school, Nick Boelk decided to pursue a degree at The Evergreen State College. Once enrolled, Boelk immersed himself in the study of applied mathematics and physics, and went on to earn a dual Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science in 2016. This would set him on the path to a career in advanced machinery, and eventually help him land his current job as a machine operator for a leading aerospace company.
Boelk was drawn to Evergreen by its nontraditional teaching style. After experiencing the rigid curriculum of his high school, he was eager for a change; Evergreen provided him with exactly that.
“Evergreen gave me the freedom to choose my path through my education,” Boelk emphasized.
Though that freedom to choose his own path appealed greatly to Boelk, his expectations of what that would entail were not entirely realistic.
“I had the impression of frolicking barefoot in the rainforest every day,” admitted Boelk.
After arriving on campus, however, it didn’t take long for Boelk to abandon his plans of barefoot frolicking, opting instead to devote himself to his studies, become involved with student clubs, and eventually earn a job tutoring his fellow students in calculus and science.
“At Evergreen, you get out what you put in,” Boelk said. “The quality of your education is only limited by your work ethic and your imagination.”
Though the work Boelk completed at Evergreen was more rigorous than he had first imagined, he credits his experience at the school with making him a vastly better problem solver, and with helping him become a much more effective and independent learner.
“The beauty of my Evergreen education wasn’t the mass of knowledge I accumulated. It was acquiring the skills to learn independently,” said Boelk. “What continues to help me time and time again is the ability to learn something new, [and] being able to approach a problem that seems too daunting to solve.”
One particular project that challenged Boelk in this regard was the Independent Learning Contract he completed during his final year at Evergreen, which pertained to the study of optics and practical lab microscopy. Under the supervision of faculty member Neil Switz, Boelk worked in collaboration with two other students to build their very own microscope.
“It took the accumulation of all the skills and tools I gained from Evergreen to complete it,” remembered Boelk.
After graduating from Evergreen, Boelk took a job in New York with Bre & Co., a company ran by another Evergreen graduate, Bre Pettis ’95. While working at Bre & Co.—a producer of various products, such as watches, pens, and pocket knives—Boelk operated a variety of manufacturing machines, and had the opportunity to work in the City University of New York’s Nanofabrication Lab.
One project that Boelk found particularly interesting from his time at Bre & Co. involved developing silicon watch components. Using CUNY’s Nanofabrication Lab, and a variety of techniques, he conducted a variety of experiments in watch manufacturing. The goal of this work, according to Boelk, was “to apply new manufacturing techniques to something that’s been around since the 16th century.”
After his time at Bre & Co., Boelk worked briefly as a research assistant and ski technician before landing his current job in the aerospace industry.
Boelk credits both his Evergreen education and his time at Bre & Co. with propelling him to his current position; the latter, he says, provided him with the technical skills needed for the job, while Evergreen provided him with the fundamental ability to learn and adapt in a highly dynamic work environment.
“If it wouldn’t have been for the Evergreen community,” said Boelk, “I never would have made it in New York City or into a company that is an industry leader in human space flight.”