Alumni Profiles

Lawyer Turned DIY Guitar Maker Finds New Calling at Rutgers

Photo of Daniel Hayden
At Rutgers Makerspace Daniel Hayden found a way to deepen his love of music by actually building his own guitar. (Photo by Mike Raynes)

Story originally appeared in Rutgers Today

At Rutgers Makerspace, people are encouraged to follow their passion and build things from scratch, whether it is a birthday gift for Mom or a prototype for a new product.

Daniel Hayden followed his passion, and built a new career.

Initially graduating Rutgers in 2011 with a Doctorate of Law degree, Hayden began clerking for a family law judge. Later, he did mortgage litigation for JP Morgan Chase. Eventually he joined a private firm.

And finally had a realization.

“Being a lawyer was not the job I thought it was going to be,” confesses Hayden, 37. “Some things about it were just not fulfilling, in any sense of the word. Meanwhile in my spare time I was having a lot of fun designing things, making my own 3D printers. So I started looking around for a way to do something like that full time.”

The problem, he soon found out, was “with a BA in history, and a law degree, people don’t think you can do much besides research and writing,” he says. “I realized if I was really going to do this and switch careers, I would need credentials people took seriously. So I went back to Rutgers part-time, to pursue a physics degree.”

It was there he discovered Makerspace – and a second home. He left the law firm for a job as a staff supervisor while working toward his degree.

On the Livingston campus, and free of charge to all Rutgers staff, faculty and students, Makerspace, housed within the Division of Continuing Studies, is a do-it-yourselfer’s dream, with everything you need for a multitude of projects. Want to use a laser cutter? Interested in working with an embroidery machine? They are there – and there is an expert standing by to help you.

“You can come in to work on a class project, or make a Christmas gift, or just pursue self-learning,” says Stephen Carter, the director of Rutgers Makerspace and the Center for Innovation Education. “It doesn’t matter. You bring in the materials; we’ll show you how to use the machines.”

For Hayden, it was a way to connect with a part of himself that he had put aside.

“As a kid, I was always building stuff,” he says. “And as I got older I was very into music, so I spent a lot of time taking my guitars apart, re-doing the electronics — and then re-doing re-doing the electronics. But when you’re a lawyer, you really don’t have time for other things. I lost touch with that part of myself.”

Going back to school was an adjustment, at first. “But discovering a place where people were doing exactly the sort of things I enjoyed doing helped a lot,” he says. “It had been a while since I’d been somewhere where so many people were interested in the same thing. It was very welcoming, and really kind of enlightening.”

Liberating, too.

“Up until that point, everything I’d been doing had been in our Jersey City apartment,” he says. “I’m cutting metal, doing extrusions and – well, my wife was not a fan. And my dogs definitely didn’t like the jigsaw.”

The Rutgers Makerspace gave him all the room he needed – 10,000 square feet of it. And something more – a way to deepen his love of music by actually building his own guitar.

“I tried making one in high school with hand tools and it didn’t go well,” he confesses. “But as I got more familiar with the woodshop here I decided to give it another try. My first one was pretty simple, and then I made another, and then some students came in who were interested and we made some more together.”

Growing along with his artistry is a strong interest in the environment. Rather than rely on woods from the rainforest, Hayden now searches for reclaimed materials.

“I just saw a gorgeous piece of Indian Rosewood, which is rather rare, that came out of Doris Duke’s mansion,” he says. “The other day I saw a couple of table legs someone had thrown in the trash. Turned out they were beech. I’ll use them for something.”

Although the Rutgers Makerspace is hugely popular – a second location, with 30,000 square feet, is set to open on Cook Campus in the spring – it is not the only one. There are other Makerspaces throughout the world, some in libraries, some in K-12 schools. Clearly, the interest, and need, is there.

“Back in the ’90s every school district shut down their vocational arts programs, “says Carter. “They said they were not ‘college prep.’ But now they’re bringing them back, as Makerspaces, and they offer students far more opportunity. It’s not ‘Here’s how to make a napkin holder.’ It’s about exploring your passion.”

Often that leads to entrepreneurship – Carter says he sees many students coming in with innovative ideas for the food and fashion industries. And sometimes it leads to something as simple, and fulfilling, as being able to say, “I made this.”

“You don’t need to be an engineer,” Hayden says. “You just need to have the desire. I had one student, a marketing major, come in and ‘Can I make a skateboard”’ I said, ‘Yeah, I don’t know how to, offhand, but sure, we will get it done.’ We are there to help you. We’re not going to do it for you. But if you come in, and put in the time, you’re going to end up with something great.”