In 2019, Nicholas Ebeling was drifting. After graduating from Napa High School in 2017, he knew he wanted to continue his education, but had no specific major or goals in mind.
“Rather than enroll at a four-year school without knowing what I wanted to do, I decided to work for a while,” he says now. He spent two years working at a local loudspeaker company, saving money for school. In fall of 2019, he enrolled at Napa Valley College, he says, to start his general education requirements and explore.
“My brother went through the Digital Design Graphic Technology [DDGT] program and he recommended it to me,” Ebeling says now. “I took the Intro course and liked it so much I decided to go more into the program.”
Two years and a dozen classes later, he graduated from NVC in May 2021 with an associate degree and several certificates, as well as a full-time job.
NVC’s department of Digital Design and Graphics Technology (DDGT) offers courses in computer-aided drawing [CAD], architecture, computer-aided graphics and graphic design, solid modeling, animation, 3D printing and 3D scanning, using programs such as AutoCAD, Inventor, Revit Architecture, 3ds max, Photoshop, Dreamweaver, Premiere and After Effects.
Once trained, digital designers combine creativity with technical know-how to bring graphics, animations and other visual effects to life on a screen, in both two-dimensional and three-dimensional views.
“Our graduates leave us with cutting-edge technical skills, and we are proud of our record in vocational placement,” says Gary Strommen, instructor and program coordinator of NVC’s DDGT program. “We have graduates employed in the fields of architecture, engineering, multimedia and many other digital graphic technology professions. Many of our students also go on to four-year programs in related fields.”
It isn’t unusual, Strommen says, for employers to come to him looking for people with specific skills. One such inquiry, by Napa’s Kirk Brown, led to a part-time job for Ebeling while he finished the program, and a full-time position after graduation with Brown’s local wood products company.
As Ebeling tells it, he had taken heavy class loads his first few semesters of college, with an eye on completing the program quickly. “So when Kirk came looking for an entry-level draftsman last fall, I had a lighter class load so I had the time to work part-time, plus Kirk said he liked what he saw on my resume,” he says.
He started working with Brown in October 2020, doing CAD drawings and designing 3D concept renderings and animations to help clients fully envision the finished project. “It gives them confidence and comfort to see a more realistic representation of what they are ordering,” Ebeling says.
Brown’s company designs and builds custom doors, windows and cabinetry, and is, Ebeling says, the primary woodworking company for Thomas Keller. Since he started working full time at the company after graduation, Ebeling now spends time in the shop building his own designs, drawing on the woodworking skills he learned as an Eagle Scout.
“Hiring Nick is one of the smartest decisions I have ever made,” Brown says. “Nick has easily grasped the construction and building techniques with thoughtfulness and a defined attention to detail. He is able to generate accurate drawings and details which are reviewed and approved by architects and contractors who often times have many years of experience in the trades. I am grateful to Gary Strommen and Napa Valley College for the wonderful program they have and the skills they teach.”
Ebeling has nothing but praise for the program and instructors he says put him on a path he had never considered before.
“Many people don’t know about this program, and that’s too bad,” he says. “Right now, the classes are small and you can get a lot of time with the instructor, if you want it. There is a major demand for graduates. Having the degree gives you a lot of versatility and you can leverage yourself in a lot of different ways.
“I am a CAD designer who can make blueprints and manufacturing drawings, as well as architectural drawings. Right now, I’m working full time for Kirk Brown, but I also have other side jobs that I do for others. I have an ongoing bathroom remodel I am designing, and I have also used my 3D printer to prototype models for other local companies as well.”
With the associate degree, Ebeling has a solid foundation in his field, which he continues to build at his job with Kirk Brown. Some of the more technical aspects of design, he says, such as architectural drawings, call for additional training and experience.
Will he go back to school and continue his education, learning more skills? “I’m pretty satisfied right now,” Ebeling says. “I’ve been praised for the work ethic and knowledge base I bring to the company. I’m engaged to be married in May of next year, and I enjoy what I currently do. I’m a bit burnt out on school right now, but I will continue to learn and grow within this field.”
For more information on the DDGT program, visit Welcome to the Digital Design Graphics Technology Department! (napavalley.edu)