Dawn ’25, a northern Virginia native, liked to paint as a kid, but her junior year in high school, she took a class to be certified as a medical assistant. And there, she met registered nurses, and Dawn wanted to be one, too.
Her parents had saved money to send her to college and planned to send her to a state school nearby. But Dawn, in her research, discovered an interesting place called Berea College. It was a small school, and unlike the state university, Dawn saw a chance to get individualized attention. Also, Berea’s nursing department had a 100 percent pass-rate for the big, important nursing exam. And last was the kicker: Berea didn’t charge tuition, which meant Dawn’s mother could save her hard-earned money for herself.
But first, Dawn had to convince her mother that Berea was a real place in the world, and eventually she did. Dawn applied, was accepted and was off on a new adventure to Kentucky.
Before she left home, Dawn got her labor assignment. She expected to work in the Visitor Center & Shoppe or dining because of her background in customer service. Instead, Dawn was assigned to broomcraft, something she had never done before.
“I wasn’t mad about it,” Dawn said. “I looked it up and saw all their products, and it looked really cool. I was pretty excited, actually.”
When she got there, she wasn’t so sure anymore because it appeared to be a kind of boys’ club. But that wasn’t the case, and she actually made good friends and settled into the work with them. It was production work, but Dawn found broommaking pretty interesting.
“I’d never made a broom before,” she said, “so it was really cool to see it come together and actually be functional.”
Making the first broom didn’t go so well because the broomcorn bundle was twice the size it should be, but it was still special to Dawn because she had made it; it worked regardless, so she decided to keep it. Over time, Dawn got better at the craft and was liking it.
“I really enjoy my work here,” Dawn said. “It’s really chill. I like the vibe. I can go and not feel super stressed. It’s more of a stress-reliever, despite being a labor assignment. It gives me a nice creative outlet.”
It’s now her fourth semester making brooms, and Dawn’s personal focus is on painted handles. On the first handle, she painted strawberries, her favorite fruit, and was encouraged to continue. Dawn worked her natural surroundings into the next one: black walnut, goldenrod and marigold. Her next handle uses paw-paws, a native Kentucky fruit.
That’s still experimental and personal, so if people want to purchase a broom handmade by Dawn, they’ll need to pick up the Berea Rocket Broom instead, which Dawn says is a sort of Harry Potter item.
“If you were to draw a broom for a witch, that would be what it is,” she said. The Log House Craft Gallery website, which sells the broom, notes the magic is not included, but Dawn’s personal magic certainly is.
Dawn has a couple of years left before she finishes her nursing degree. In the meantime, she traveled with the Craft Education Outreach Program for a broommaking demonstration at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.