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Looking to the classroom to open doors, enrich the soul

By Debra Alban
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(CNN) -- Rebecca Kutys took a class in letterpress printing and her life fell into place.

The 33-year-old New Yorker had been working in television sales for networks like CBS and NBC for a few years when her love for crafts led her to the Center for Book Arts for a course in the old style of printmaking.

"Since I was little I've always been doing craftwork and making things on the side, and I'd always had a plan long term to have a business ... [but] I wasn't sure what," she said during a telephone interview.

The letterpress printing class lasted only a week but that's all it took for Kutys to realize she had found her calling. "As soon as I took that class, I was like, 'Oh, this is definitely it,'" she recalled.

She said she loved the physicality of using the large, antique letterpress machine to create prints; and with her artistic sense and attention to detail, she realized she had a talent for it.

Four classes and about a year-and-a-half later, Kutys left her job in television to pursue letterpress as a fulltime career.

"No one really questioned it. It was no surprise to anyone that I wanted to do it fulltime," she said. "I'm a little entrepreneurial, but I also get enthusiastic about my hobbies. It just made so much sense."

She currently owns a business in Brooklyn -- MoonTree Letterpress -- where she says a steady stream of orders for wedding invitations, business cards and customized stationary keep her up to her ears in work.

'Nourishment of the spirit'

Kutys' experience is not unique, according to Stephanie Friedman, program manager for the Graham School of General Studies at the University of Chicago.

Friedman says she sees many students who are attending classes simply for "the nourishment of the spirit and growth of mind" -- and without an interest in developing a new career.

"People are trying to use their free time in ways that are significant to them and are meaningful to them in some sort of deeper way," she said.

People take the classes in order to learn more about a long-time interest, find a community of like-minded and curious people, or pursue a recently acquired interest, Friedman said.

"Just because somebody is a working adult ... doesn't mean that they don't have a desire to learn Latin or they don't have a desire to study film or other topics," Friedman said.

"It's something that is refreshing but also inspiring or illuminating or exciting in ways that everyday life might not otherwise allow you to be."

She cited an example of a student in his 50s at the Graham School who took a class in classical music and was consequently inspired to take up the violin.

"He's not the first violinist in the New York Philharmonic. ... [but] music has become and important part of his life, not just listening to it but playing it," Friedman said.

It is also common for people to enroll when they are looking for a life or career change but are unsure of which direction they should take, said Terry Shtob, the director of Arts and Humanities at the New York University School of Continuing and Professional Studies. After testing out the waters on a given subject, people often have an "a-ha experience," Shtob said. "And then they find out, I really do have a passion for this."

As the baby-boom generation retires in ever-increasing numbers, more people will have leisure-time on their hands. Consequently, self-enrichment education is expected to grow, according to a recent report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

"They're realizing that there is this part of their life that they would like to resuscitate, revive," said Shtob.

For Kutys, the experience was life-changing. "I think taking those classes when I did and finding that place when I did was really pivotal," she said.

"It was really scary to leave a job, but it's been a really, really great learning experience. It's worked out pretty well."


For Rebecca Kutys, a class in letterpress was the first step toward achieving career success and personal fulfillment.



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