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Kindergarten - Grade 9 in Southborough, MA
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Sculpting the Future: Jay Coogan '64

by Daintry Duffy Zaterka '88
From the restoration of the Mayflower to the America’s Cup, Jay Coogan can claim a role in 400 years’ worth of boat design.
From the restoration of the oak hulled Mayflower II to the construction of the state-of-the-art carbon fiber hydrofoil competing to win back the America’s Cup in 2021, Jay Coogan can claim a role in over 400 years’ worth of boat design and building history.

Jay is President of the IYRS School of Technology & Trades in Newport, Rhode Island. IYRS has its roots in yacht restoration—its original name was the International Yacht Restoration School—but since its founding in 1993, it has expanded to include programs in marine systems, composites technology, and digital modeling and fabrication. The breadth of the IYRS program shows in the range of projects its graduates are pursuing.

“We have eleven graduates from our composite technology program working on the America’s Cup 
boat,” notes Jay. The boat was recently completed and launched in Bristol, Rhode Island, the site of America’s Cup boatbuilding efforts for over 120 years. “On the other end of the spectrum,” he says, “we have a group of graduates working on the restoration of the Mayflower II (a recreation of the Mayflower as originally built in the 1600s) in Mystic Seaport.”

Jay’s background is not in the marine industry. Still, like his graduates, he understands the satisfaction of designing, creating, and building with his hands. Jay started his career as a professor of sculpture at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). Over 25 years, he worked his way from professor to Dean of Fine Arts and finally Provost.

In 2009, Jay was appointed President of the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, where he served for nine years before being lured back home to Rhode Island to take the helm at IYRS. The move back east was particularly welcome, as it allowed Jay and his wife Kathleen Pletcher, who is based in Providence as Artistic Director of performing arts company First Works, to consolidate their busy careers into a single location. All the while, 
Jay has continued to pursue his passion for sculpture, creating large-scale pieces that have been displayed in exhibits and galleries across the country and internationally.

Arriving at Fay in the fall of 1962, Jay was following a family tradition of boarding school but also blazing a new trail. “I was learning to be independent and think for myself,” he recalls of his time at Fay. “I was meeting kids from California and Western Pennsylvania, and we were figuring out how to coexist with each other.” 

A high school art teacher at St. George’s got Jay interested in painting and drawing. After briefly considering the law, Jay made art his full-time focus. “I found that I got the most satisfaction out of working creatively, and sculpture, in particular, drew me in. I was using tools and my hands to realize things in 3D with everything from welding and metal casting to woodworking.” Jay went on to get his bachelor’s degree in visual arts from Brown University. After completing graduate school at Hunter College in New York, Jay was hired to teach sculpture at RISD.

As Jay worked his way through the administrative ranks, he saw that the skills students were learning at RISD had applications far beyond a career in art or design. “I hear back from people who have left the design field to do something else, and they all say how helpful everything they learned in school has been to their career,” notes Jay. “Being a creative individual and a problem solver are adaptable skills for any field you may choose to go into.”

Jay gets particular satisfaction from developing corporate partnerships where his students can apply the skills they’re learning. After graduation, those externship opportunities frequently become full-time jobs and help launch fruitful careers. Quite 
often, those careers have nothing to do with the marine industry. Students from the Digital Modeling and Fabrication program are learning design thinking and how to turn ideas into real-world objects. IYRS students learn how to use CAD software, 3D printers, laser cutters, CNC routers, mills, and lathes. Those skills prepare them for careers in design or advanced manufacturing at organizations like Hasbro Toys and NASA.

Jay believes in the skills of design thinking, digital modeling, and fabrication so much that IYRS has partnered with a handful of other organizations in Rhode Island to create the Mobile Maker Lab, a STEAM laboratory that brings the digital fabrication experience to local middle and high schools. “Students can take an idea, put it into a piece of software and come out with a 3D object at the end of the experience,” says Jay. “There’s a lot of interest right now in having students learn how to work with their hands and experiment.” Jay knows the satisfaction of building and creating with his own hands, and he is sharing that experience with the next generation of designers and makers.
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