IYRS empowering students to build almost anything

There are gems in Rhode Island – important workings of economic development that breed talent and marketable skills.

The IYRS School of Technology & Trades, founded in 1993 with campuses in Newport and Bristol is one of those gems. IYRS is a post-secondary school that prepares its students to enter a global manufacturing workforce by teaching the art and science of making, building, restoring and maintaining boats, buildings, and three-dimensional objects. In the process, IYRS helps its graduates build both careers and more meaningful lives, inspired in the knowledge that, in their hands and through technology, they have the power to build almost anything. Its accredited programs include: the School of Composites Technology; the School of Boatbuilding & Restoration; and the School of Marine Systems. In addition, IYRS regularly collaborates with schools of architecture, preservation, industrial design, and engineering through short-terms classes, including with the Rhode Island School of Design, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University, and Roger Williams University, just to name a few.

Rebeka Mazzone, is the IYRS’ Chief Financial Officer. More accurately, she serves as Chief Operating Officer for the school, as well as its commercial office building and marina. A CPA, Mazzone’s role at IYRS allows her to tap into the many facets of a diverse background and “learn something new every day.” 

“My favorite part of my job may be that it is ever-evolving,” said Mazzone. “When we all agree that something needs to be done, we step up to help or support each other without worrying about whose job it is. This helps us move at a fast pace. It also allows me to be involved with a wide variety of activities that go well beyond finance, administration and student services.”
IYRS enroll over 100 students each year, whose average age is 25 or 26. Some students arrive with undergraduate degrees in other fields, such as architecture. They have come to IYRS to learn to build with their hands, to complement their classroom experience. 

Approximately 30 percent of its students are Rhode Island residents, another 30 percent are from the greater New England region. The balance of the school’s enrollment, Mazzone explains, comes from across the country (35 percent) and from other countries (5 percent), including Japan, South Korea, England, Germany, France, Bermuda, Cayman Islands and New Zealand.

Mazzone points out that IYRS is making great strides in advanced manufacturing. It is important work – work that has the potential to spur limitless opportunities for economic development. It is work worthy of the attention of state leaders.

The activities extend beyond the classroom.  

“I am involved in board and donor stewardship, new product development initiatives and even admissions strategy,” said Mazzone. “In fact, I am working with Rhode Island College’s STEM Center and Polaris on a state innovation grant proposal to implement an exciting new project to benefit manufacturing in the state. We are very excited about the project as it will allow Rhode Island’s high school students and teachers more opportunities to learn about engineering design and manufacturing.”

It is that kind of “can-do” approach that positions the IYRS as a model for the potential for so much to be discovered in nonprofit or academic sectors. It is a school founded upon an experiential education model – a model that prepares highly technical and deeply craft-orientated people to work with a range of materials, and to maintain a range of systems, to help industry and the individual. IYRS describes its educational philosophy this way: “students immersed in  both body and spirit, with a team equally dedicated to transforming materials into useful, lasting things, and in doing so transforming their lives and careers.” 

“Our goal is to double that enrollment over the next three years and to roll-out what we call ‘just in time’ training geared to industry partnerships,” said Mazzone.

Mazzone explains that the IYRS education focuses on a high-end maker orientation that is materials agnostic.

“In other words, we teach students how to make and build with anything, but different materials require different tool boxes,” she said. “Some more hand-tool based and others with advanced technologies. Still, all making and building is about understanding shape and how to create or fix it. We are preparing students to enter a global manufacturing and making workforce and to do that work at the highest standards.  Boats are an incredible platform to build anything because they are very complex shapes – and they live in very hostile environments. That’s why they are always falling apart. A few other industries experience similar challenges, including planes, rockets and race cars. Can you imagine the hostility of a space launch on a rocket?”

The IYRS mantra of fostering the “power to build anything,” is no empty slogan.

“Our roots started in the marine trades, and we are very proud to have a premiere boatbuilding and restoration school,” said Mazzone. “However, our School of Composites Technology is graduating students into jobs in many other industries, including manufacturing, aerospace, yacht racing, and building construction.  In fact, we are very excited that our current composites students are designing and fabricating small wind turbines and working with our Marine Systems students to generate power.”

“Rhode Island can be a great manufacturing state again,” said Mazzone.