My View from South Hill
Thursday, February 5, 2009
Stand in the lobby of the Dillingham Center for Performing Arts on the Ithaca College campus and you will see a display of more than ninety posters for Broadway shows. These are not just decorative reminders of the theatrical richness of that great city downstate; they are also an inspiration to the Ithaca College students who work on campus productions. The inspiration comes from the fact that there are or were IC alumni in every one of the plays and musicals depicted in the posters. Those alumni work on costumes, set design, lighting, marketing, and every other facet of mounting a Broadway production -- in addition, of course, to treading the boards as professional thespians. Ithaca's Broadway tradition is alive and well, continued most recently when Matt Cavenaugh '01 was cast as Tony in the revival of West Side Story, set to open on Broadway in March.
The communications and entertainment industries thrive on networks between professionals. Success in these fields ultimately depends on what you can do, but getting started is also a matter of who you know. That is why the Park Partnerships program matches a graduating senior and a successful Park School alum for a series of conversations focused on the student's career goals, resumé, interviewing skills, and network development. The School of Music requires all students to take a course on "Career Orientation," in which featured alumni in every field of music performance, management, and teaching offer their advice and support to current students. Each of Ithaca College's schools supplement the substantial programs of our Office of Career Services with their own initiatives focused on how to get that all-important first job in one's professional field.
Not that the second and third and subsequent jobs are any less important! Recognizing the lifelong value of networks, the Offices of Alumni Relations and Career Services collaborate to organize Network Nights each year in a half dozen cities. Some of our alumni turn these one-night initiatives into a year-round program: Alexi Harding '02 is a partner at New York Life who has hired a number of IC students as interns, and IC graduates as full-time employees. When our graduates get jobs in the city, Alexi helps get them settled by introducing them to other IC alumni, and sometimes even assisting them in finding housing.
Alumni often check back in to identify seniors and recent graduates with talent who are just breaking into the field. Bill Carraro '82, executive producer of The Wolf Man and The Golden Compass (among other films) called Dean Dianne Lynch of the Park School just a few weeks ago to ask for names of recent alumni who might be interested in working on his next film in New York. Alumni working at DuPont, NASA, and the Sandia National Laboratory have called to find IC students for summer internships. The artistic director of Sony Recording Studios, and the vice presidents of Telarc, Warner, Elektra and Atlantic Records are all IC Music alumni who regularly offer internships to our students. The chair of our computer science department fields a dozen calls each year from alumni asking to be referred to our seniors and recent graduates for job interviews. Principals and teachers around the region, themselves IC alumni, come to us looking for newly certified teachers to hire into their schools.
It may all sound a little … clannish … but these networks are based on cool calculation rather than blind loyalty. When I visit alumni at their workplaces anywhere in the country, more often than not they introduce me to another Ithaca College alum who works in the same company. If the person I am visiting is a senior leader of the company who has hired a lot of people over his or her career, they will typically tell me with great pride why Ithaca College grads are such valuable employees. "It is because they come in ready to be successful," goes the usual refrain. "They get a hands on start in their freshman year, they have completed internships, and they been mentored by faculty who really get it. IC alumni make a fast start in our company and never look back."
This is, of course, music to my ears. We have an old catch phrase here that nicely sums up the educational experience at Ithaca: "Educating professionals in the liberal arts tradition." One part of that philosophy is that we put first-year students in the lab, in the TV and radio studios, in the physical therapy room, in the equities trading room, and everywhere else on the front lines of experience. Students get to learn by doing, not just by having things described to them. When our alumni form networks with current students and recent graduates to help them get started with internships and jobs, what they are really saying is that our educational approach works.
Of course, sometimes you can learn not by doing but by watching. A group of our honors students will be going to see young Matt Cavenaugh perform in West Side Story later this spring. They will be meeting with him backstage after the performance. And so the networking continues …
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