KCAD Alum Sparkles in Teaching Position at the Gemological Institute of America
When alum Elizabeth Gaines Zoutendyk ('07, Metals and Jewelry Design) first delved into her studies at KCAD, she had little idea of how to start her career after graduation. Today, she’s teaching students from across the globe at the world's foremost authority on gem identification, the Gemological Institute of America (GIA).
By the time she made the move to sunny California to teach in the Jewelry Manufacturing Arts Department at the GIA, Gaines Zoutendyk had linked together an impressive series of learning experiences. Her journey took her from bench work at Preusser's Jewelers to teaching Metals and Jewelry courses in KCAD's Continuing Studies program and at Grand Rapids Community College (GRCC). Committed to staying busy, she also opened her own studio where she pursued commissioned projects and worked as a consultant.
"When I made this transition I was really lucky to have the support of a whole network of people at KCAD, GRCC and Preusser," she says. "That was just as important as walking out with a degree in your hand."
Now in the position to guide others in their careers, Gaines Zoutendyk advises her students at GIA to specialize in an area of the jewelry industry and remain driven.
"It is not enough to just have the degree. If you want to be a bench jeweler or a teacher, then you have to be a good bench jeweler or teacher," she says. "As a student, take advantage of those years you’re in school to take every opportunity that comes along. Go and meet visiting artists, take an internship, or volunteer. It is all about your years of experience. If you can, stack up an additional year while you're in school teaching or in the industry."
Gaines Zoutendyk considers herself lucky to have found this type of support from her KCAD professors, who encouraged her to exhibit her work and take opportunities to network with local artists. These experiences allowed her to build a strong résumé that went beyond a degree, with contacts in the field and an impressive exhibition record. Even while fully immersed in developing curriculums, setting budgets and maintaining studios for both KCAD's and GRCC's Metals and Jewelry Programs, Gaines Zoutendyk continued to take advantage of opportunities when they came.
"What I took away from KCAD was learning how to turn a passion into a career," she says. "I knew I wanted to make jewelry, but I had no idea what that meant for a career. Having instructors that showed me how to focus my drive and show me what it looked like to be a working professional helped me out a lot. It would have been easy to say, 'I'm too busy,' but being willing to say yes and do it well – all paid off."
When she first saw the posting for the GIA, Gaines Zoutendyk was a little skeptical. She now credits her combined experience at the bench and in the classroom for landing her new position.
"At first I thought, 'Oh, that's cool.' Next I was like, 'Wow, that's the GIA!'" she laughs. "I've always had a fondness of that company and I went back and read the posting again and realized that I qualified for everything they were looking for."
After a long journey, Gaines Zoutendyk now teaches a range of students from around the globe, including people with prior industry knowledge and others who have never touched a tool.
"Day to day, you can forget that you're not just working for anybody. Then you'll have visitors from around the world gather for a luncheon and quickly be reminded that, 'Oh yeah, I work at the GIA. It's incredibly exciting.’"