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Face of the Week: Nick Calvert of Western School of Technology and Environmental Science

Team BCPS is made up of thousands of accomplished and interesting students, employees, and community supporters. "Face of the Week" introduces you to some of the people who make BCPS such an amazing mosaic of talent, caring, and commitment.

image of the Face of the Week: Nick Calvert of Western School of Technology and Environmental Science

Sometimes, says Western School of Technology senior Nick Calvert, it’s amazing where he finds himself.

Just this month, for instance, while his classmates spent the day moving from classroom to classroom, Calvert found himself beneath the floorboards of a hollowed-out row of centuries-old buildings lining Ellicott City’s main street, surveying damage from a catastrophic flood in July. “Some just had a log or two holding them up,” Calvert marvels.

The 17-year-old Baltimore Highlands resident was there as part of a school-to-work program he enjoys with Metcalf Plumbing Services, where he is an apprentice plumber. During the school year, Calvert spends part of every week working for the Arbutus-based firm, honing his skills and mastering his craft.

His skills are already pretty well honed. It was amazing last June, Calvert says, when he found himself in Louisville, Ky., competing against the nation’s other top student plumbers in the prestigious 52nd annual National Leadership and Skills Conference, a showcase of career and technical education students. As Maryland’s SkillsUSA Gold Medal winner for two years straight, Calvert sought to improve on his 14th place national finish in 2015.

He finished seventh best student plumber in the nation.

“They’re judging you based on the quality of your work, what it takes to get it right,” says Calvert of his experience in the nationals. “But that’s what it’s all about. For me, I believe that if you are going to do something, you always strive to be the best you can be and do the best job you can do.”

John Kurtz knows that drive well. He taught Nick for the first three years of his career at Western and quickly spotted potential in the quiet, curly-haired youngster. “Nick is the complete package of intelligence and mechanical aptitude,” says Kurtz. “I don't remember the exact project we were doing at the time, but Nick and I were talking about how to do this project and at the end of our conversation, Nick says, ‘I'll figure it out.’ It was at that moment I knew he had a special talent, because he viewed the problem as a ‘challenge.’

“He wanted to try and solve the problem by himself, which is quite unusual for a teenager.”

Nick says his curiosity and perseverance come naturally; he always enjoyed working with his hands and reveled “building things” with his father, Joe – decks, ramps, whatever. His father, who now works for a computer company, was a Western Tech grad himself and once a welder. Recently, he and Nick finished rehabbing an entire house. His mother, Raquel, is a cosmetologist and also a Western Tech grad.

“I just like working with my hands and seeing something through to completion,” says Nick. “It really brings me a great feeling, a sense of accomplishment. I find it really enjoyable. You can always make more money doing something else, maybe, but that’s not what it’s about for me.”

In addition to the experiences with his father, Nick also learned from a summer camp during his middle school years that stressed crafts and construction. A graduate of Baltimore Highlands Elementary and Sudbrook Magnet Middle School, Nick once had immersed himself in learning French in Sudbrook’s magnet program until he fell for industrial arts. In addition to plumbing, Nick is proficient in everything from carpentry to electronics to welding.

At Western, he has maintained a low profile – though not always on purpose. Other students rarely pay attention to students learning trades, he says, though Nick maintains a high GPA, plays midfield or attack on the school’s lacrosse team, and is accomplished on guitar and piano, which he taught himself to play.

“I’m not interested in college; I want to get to work doing something I enjoy,” he says. “Even if it’s digging a ditch all day to run a pipe, I’ll be having a good time with my guys and having fun, and I’ll go home feeling like I wasn’t working all day at all.”
Calvert hopes to work his way up to earning his master plumber’s license. First, he must complete four years and 7,500 hours as an apprentice to qualify for becoming a journeyman plumber. Then it’s another two years of training and plenty of math and building codes to learn before a journeyman can test to become a master plumber. Because he started so early, Nick could theoretically become a master plumber by the time he’s 22.

“That’s where the real money is,” he says. “College is fine for some of my friends, but I’d rather be making money while they’re spending a lot of it.” The starting industry rate for a plumber “just to be in your house,” Calvert says, “is $168 an hour.”

For now, he’ll finish up his senior year, ponder whether to compete in the nationals for an unheard-of third time – most students only get one shot, in their senior year – and work towards his journeyman’s license. In his spare time, he’ll putter on old cars with friends or work with his dad, maybe hunt a bit on the Eastern Shore or in Carroll County. And, always, he says he’s confident that his chosen field will keep him engaged, proud, and happy.

“It’s just a special feeling I get,” he says, “to be able to take a step back, when I’m all finished, and admire the work that I’ve done.”

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