Shortly after graduating from Lansdowne High School, Jason Fischer came to a crossroads.
No longer was he content working at Wal-Mart. He couldn't afford to go to art school.
He asked himself one question: "What do I want to do for the rest of my life?"
As he searched for the answer, he thought about his childhood. When he was younger, whenever he was stressed or bored, he would rearrange furniture and clean. That got him thinking about interior design.
He enrolled in Community College of Baltimore County's interior design program in Catonsville to pursue an Associate of Applied Science degree. After 3 1/2 years, the 24-year-old is set to graduate in June. He hopes to be able to join a design company.
"This program is way better than the alternatives," he said.
Fischer was one of eight students this year who took part in a CCBC class taught by Laura Kimball that gave them the opportunity to transform the living room of the historic Carroll Mansion in Baltimore City.
The transformation was part of a project called "All American House," organized by Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit MADE: In America. The project's goal is to provide students with a chance to learn about the complexity of the design process and profession in a challenging environment.
Fischer decided to stay at CCBC an extra year to take the course. He was considering transferring to pursue a bachelor's degree.
"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," said Kimball, the interior design program coordinator at CCBC. "It's great for our program, great publicity, but it gives them real-to-life hands-on opportunities beyond the classroom, which is so valuable."
Kimball got the invitation to take part in the project in April 2015. It would give her students the chance to get a better understanding on how the industry works.
CCBC was one of four schools that had students take part in the project, joining George Washington University, Morgan State University and Stevenson University. The other students on the CCBC team hail from Baltimore City, Owings Mills and Parkville.
"For all of us that participated, all we saw was the positives in the opportunity there was there," said Laura Fitzpatrick, of Catonsville, one of the students on the team.
At 52, Fitzpatrick said she found her calling after raising her two sons as a homemaker. Her passion for putting color, texture and design together to create something functional and beautiful led her to pursue the degree so she could start her own business.
"I think I've been doing this for many, many years and I decided all of a sudden to study it and do it seriously as a career," she said.
She's set to graduate in December.
"I think you wind up where you're meant to be," she said. "I think it took me a long time to get here, and I'm here. And I can't wait to finish."
Fitzpatrick said she couldn't pass up on the idea of making her mark on a historic Baltimore City building with her classmates.
"This mansion is breathtaking," she said. "I think there was tremendous opportunity and excitement to collaborate and work on this project that would be open to the public in our city."
In the fall semester, the students researched what encompassed American design and developed a strategy as to how to put the room together. Once the spring semester began, they put their plan in action.
They had to collaborate to come up with what the room ultimately looked like. First they removed the wallpaper, which the students found out was put up in 1969. They scrubbed mantelpieces and shined a chandelier. They got help from Sheldon & Sons Inc., which donated time and labor to paint the room.
The students' finished product presents a modern twist with an ode to tradition. It highlights the room's architectural details such as the existing millwork, marble fireplace, French Empire chandelier and Federal mirrors. A toile — window treatment fabric — that Fischer designed features historic paintings and images of Jonestown and the mansion, along with the signature of Carroll, a signer of the Declaration of Independence.
The completion of the room made all of the effort worth it — the research, shopping, putting up with frustrations and nights working until 1 a.m. when security kicked the students out of the building, Fitzpatrick said.
She has enjoyed being able to watch the public check out the work — which has been open to the public since May 1 — and is excited to see their reactions and fascination with how it all came together.
"You've looked at these things, you've picked them out, you imagined what it's going to look like and how it's going to fit — it's a puzzle," Fitzpatrick said. "But when you're actually putting it together, there's this excitement and magic when it really comes together. You're shocked that it's more beautiful than you thought."
The team won awards in the overall "Best in Design" and "Best in Use of Materials" categories, and also received a commendation from Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.
"It was a great experience and a great feeling," Fischer said. "It was nice to know that all the hard work we put into it was recognized."
The students didn't know about the yearlong competition until Kimball told them at the start of the second semester.
"I didn't want them to do it for the sake of winning. I wanted them to do it for the sake of the opportunity," she said. "Winning the competition just sweetened it all."
The All American House exhibit at Carroll Mansion is open to the public Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Thursdays from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. and Sundays from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. through July 10.
Admission: $15 in advance, $20 at the door; $10 student/senior citizen, at the door only.