Alum Shines as Jewelry Entrepreneur

Stephanie sitting wearing hatMeet Stephanie Howell, a Middlesex Community College graduate from the class of 2009 (now known as CT State Middlesex). Stephanie has recently been honored with the prestigious Halstead Grant, an annual award aimed at supporting emerging jewelry entrepreneurs. She credits the development of her jewelry-making abilities to her time as a Middlesex student.

What town did you grow up in and what high school did you graduate from?
I grew up in Portland, CT, which is also where I attended high school. I graduated in 2006.

Did you know where you wanted to go to college at that time? Why did you choose to attend over other schools?
I wasn’t sure where I wanted to go to school or what I wanted to study. Middlesex was an affordable option close to home. Plus, they offered many art classes I was interested in.

Were you a full-time student or working full-time and attending part-time?
I was a full-time student and working part-time hours as a restaurant server and bartender.

What major is your associate degree in and why did you choose it?
At the time, I was very interested in the arts and sciences but had no idea what I wanted to pursue. My general studies degree allowed me to dabble in a little bit of everything.

Did you have a favorite professor(s) and/or classes while at Middlesex?
Wendy Black-Nasta was a jewelry teacher at Middlesex at the time. She and her classes impacted the trajectory of my adult life. After taking one of her classes during my very first semester, I was enthralled. Metal’s ability to have fluidity, malleability and permanence fascinated me. Not only was Wendy an amazing, inspiring teacher, she became a mentor and friend.

What memories stand out from your time at Middlesex?
I spent many hours after classes honing my jewelry skills and working in the dark room developing photos. I was grateful for access to these creative spaces.

Did you earn a bachelor’s degree and in what field? How was the transfer process?
I easily transferred my credits over to Southern Connecticut State University. There, I earned a B.S. in Studio Arts with a concentration in Jewelry and Metalsmithing.

Where did you work after graduation?
Throughout my time at Middlesex and Southern, I worked at the Inn at Middletown as a server and bartender. After leaving Southern, I started working seasonal positions in restaurants until 2017 when I decided to learn how to start a jewelry business. It took some time to acquire business skills and build my first collection and I finally launched S. Howell Studios in June of 2019.

teal droop earring hanging from branchWhat prompted you to start your own business? How did Middlesex help you?
I spent much of my 20s traveling, experiencing different cultures and living in new places. As I got older, the urge to settle into one of my passions and use my skills started to outweigh the short-term benefits of working in restaurants to fuel adventures. After strategically weighing my options, starting a jewelry business by far checked the most boxes. Not only would it allow me to tell a story via one of my favorite mediums, it would give me the opportunity to satiate my analytical brain.

Wendy Black-Nasta was a huge inspiration for taking the leap. She was a model of what it looked like to be a full-time jewelry designer, and I was compelled to design my life and career in a similar way.

Where are you living now and how did you end up there?
I live just outside of Grand Teton National Park [in Wyoming]. In 2010, my grandparents took me on my first trip out west, and I loved it so much I nearly took up a seasonal job at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Months later, they told me about the Tetons and were certain I’d visit someday. That night, I went home and googled the Tetons. I was blown away by the images and began applying for summer jobs with my brother the next day. He and I spent the summer of 2012 working in GTNP. I fell in love with the place, met my now husband, and the rest is history!

Tell us a little about the award you received.
The Halstead Grant is for jewelry designers in their first five years of business who work primarily with silver. The award consists of $7,500 in startup capital, a $1,000 gift card to Halstead, a personalized feedback report, press and recognition in the industry and a trip to Prescott, AZ, this winter to meet the Halstead team and teach a jewelry class.

What kind of jewelry do you create?
I handcraft small batch, nature-inspired collections using sterling silver, 14 karat gold and semi-precious, rose cut stones. Each piece I create is a heartfelt invitation for the wearer to embrace the extraordinary in the ordinary. In the hustle and bustle of our fast-paced lives, it’s all too easy to overlook the little details that surround us. I believe in the power of slowing down, connecting with the earth and soaking up the precious moments. My jewelry serves as a gentle reminder to pause, appreciate and find wonder in nature’s boundless beauty.

Explain about your commitment to sustainability.
My deep commitment to our planet drives me to continually seek ways to minimize my impact. As a proud member of 1% for the Planet, at least one percent of all sales are donated to approved environmental partners, amplifying our collective efforts to protect the Earth. Additionally, every order is thoughtfully packaged using sustainable materials and includes free carbon offsetting. You can check out my sustainability page for more insights into the many ways I’m dedicated to caring for the planet.

September 2023