New staff joins Engine

We welcome JUSTIN DESPER (they/them) to our team as our new COMPASS PROJECT in-person instructor for the Winter/Spring semester. Desper is a Textile and Fashion Design graduate from Maine College of Art. He grew up in Kennebunk, Maine, and spent most of their summers working on the water at a kayak rental shop. After spending a few years studying the ocean and marine life in University of Southern Maine’s biology program, Desper realized they were pursuing an interest, not their passion. A life filled with costumes, masks, and making informed their decision to transfer to Maine College of Art to study fashion. Although initially interested in costume design, Justin’s focused has narrowed in on creating garments that stimulate a desire to explore form, function, and problem solving.

Justin says, “I find endless inspiration in the world around me. Living things, technology, and science all compel me to create. If I stop creating my thoughts become clouded and I feel lost, in that way I am not so different from the creatures I take my inspiration from. We all share an instinctual need to press on.”

Patterns are patterns, and Justin bring their experience in fashion, appreciation for the water, woodworking familiarity, and passion for making to our students. Justin already works with high schools students as an Admissions Counselor at Maine College of Art.

Welcome Justin!


We are grateful to have found BRIE NICOLAOU (she/her) to lead our virtual COMPASS PROJECT program in this year of turmoil and pivoting. Brie comes to us most recently from Cultivating Community in Portland. She has a Bachelor of Arts in Environmental Studies & Anthropology from Wellesley College and has spent time in Rwanda at The Women’s Bakery. Brie grew up in Cumberland, recently graduated from Wellesley College, and now live in Portland.

Brie loves working with young people in hands-on ways. During her time at Hannah Farm and Cultivating Community, she frequently worked with middle- and high-schoolers, working with them on gardening and conducting sessions about farming and local food. In a different setting at Wellesley Admissions, Brie worked with high schoolers every day, interviewing them and having quality conversations with them regarding their interest in the school. As a result, she gained skills in communicating with a variety of personalities, creating meaningful connections, and asking valuable questions. 

Brie says, “Doing hands-on work is something I am very passionate about in my future,” and, while boat-building is a skill new to her, she is very eager to learn and is confident in her ability and excitement to thrive in this role. Brie believes wholeheartedly in experiential education, and is excited to expand upon her work in non-profit organizations that emphasize such practice as well. Brie’s lively spirit and dedication to youth has quickly and absolutely made her an asset to Engine and our Compass Project program. 

We are so lucky to have Brie with us this school year.