“I’ve learned that running a business is a lot harder than it seems. But stuff I knew about woodworking helped me understand my classes better,” Joseph Peden said. After high school, he had no intention of going to college and decided to take time to develop his skills in woodworking. He later came to Union to learn to be a gateway between the older generation of woodworkers and technology.
A computer science major turned business major, Peden has been woodworking since his teens. He started out making high quality cutting boards, furniture, and wooden bowls. But he discovered that he didn’t have storage space for much inventory. Now Peden runs a small business, Jojorokenbok, creating unique pens handcrafted right here at Union. “It’s good to get away from the classroom and do something with my hands,” he said.
Peden has used his small business as a live example of his coursework in a few of his classes. In Business Management, he and his team excelled and won the in-class business simulation competition by charging a low price for high quality. Peden and other Union students like him have taken the initiative to engage in online entrepreneurship while earning a college degree.
RacingDownMainStreet is a Disney-themed Etsy store run by another student, Hannah Drewieck. She sells unique Mickey Mouse ears made by hand, snatched up by people planning trips to any of Disney’s parks. Drewieck is a double major in business and communication, and she has been able to use her store as a learning tool. “My accounting skills have grown. And last semester, I did a project on changing consumer behavior,” she said. “I applied real strategies to my Etsy store that I learned in class.”
Drewieck also learned to personalize her Mickey ear enthusiasts’ experiences with her products. “I love writing a short, sweet note to include in each package,” she said. She takes pride in her products, ensuring high quality for every pair of mouse ears she sells. Currently, Drewieck is happy with the store as a side hustle, but she thinks it could turn into something more long-term. “I definitely have the business mindset and could see myself operating my own business full time. I really enjoy it.”
Rachel Torres, a graphic design major, and 2018 business graduate Senga Rutebuka partnered up to create Unknown, a store selling streetwear, from t-shirts to bandanas. “We eventually want to get our shirts into small stores, just to get it out there,” Torres said. She works hard to be original and create good clothing designs. “I like to be challenged. I enjoy negative feedback because I want to know what’s going to help me grow as a graphic designer.”
When Torres came to Union, she had a deep interest in photography. Since Union didn’t offer a photography major, Bruce Forbes recommended she try out graphic design. “I wasn’t really sure about it, but I caught an interest in it,” she said. Her professors, especially Alan Orrison, push her to excel in the program. “It makes a huge impact on my designs. You really have to think about how other people are going to look at what you’ve made.” In addition to working clothing design, Torres also manages the site’s web design and currently has the site under construction.
Summer Nguyen, a 2021 Union College PA graduate, started her online business, EvenTent, at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic when cotton masks were hard to find. “I posted my masks on eBay, and within a matter of minutes the first 25 masks were gone,” she said. The business grew until she graduated in May—with her graduating class wearing her customized masks.
The PA program recommends that students avoid holding jobs to focus on their schoolwork, and Nguyen discovered why. Her business selling her own handmade masks was so successful, she struggled to balance the orders to be filled with the weekly rigors of her program. When the demand for masks became too much for Nguyen, her fiancé, and her little brother to fill, she sent her design to her family in Vietnam and worked with them to get the orders filled.
Now Nguyen sources EvenTent’s items from small businesses in rural Vietnam. Her merchandise includes handmade craft items such as coconut bowls, cross-back Japanese-style aprons, and EvenTent’s signature customizable masks. And after being in operation for a little over a year, the store already has over 7,800 sales and five stars on Etsy. “I’m glad that I did what I did, because it’s a step forward to something bigger and to trust in myself,” Nguyen said. “I couldn’t believe that I could do that much until I did it.”
by Maria Kercher, senior communication major