To be completely honest, I feel like I’ve mostly just stumbled into a majority of the things I have going for me right now. I’m super grateful and not complaining by any means, but thinking back to what brought me here…it all feels very…all over the place. Not entirely, I suppose. I grew up a band kid, became really dedicated in high school, and even applied to college as a music major. Getting a master’s in the arts doesn’t seem too far off from that, but a lot happened in the 5 years in between that makes this path something I never pictured.
I changed my major about 6 weeks before going to school at CU Boulder (looking back…pretty indicative of my first quarter-life-crisis). I was really confused about what I wanted to do, what I was expected to do, what to expect from college, etc. As a first-generation college student, I didn’t have a whole lot of guidance in the process. I didn’t really have any experiences to rely on from the people around me. I didn’t even really know anyone who moved far away from home to go to college. So as it got closer, I got increasingly nervous. And, a surprise to no one but myself, moving away didn’t help me solve anything. I loved Colorado (sko buffs) but after changing my major, I lost all of my music scholarships and began paying full out-of-state tuition for an undeclared major and ended up feeling more lost than I did before, so I decided to move back to Illinois. From there, I changed paths another dozen times before I finally found the Bolz Center.
I followed a friend to Madison soon after moving back home, originally with the thought that I’d probably never go back to school. I started a job right away (shoutout State Street Brats) and quickly met some great people and some great mentors. I started to see more for myself again and eventually found my way to Edgewood College, where I majored in business management. In this program, I found myself naturally drawn to nonprofits. Whenever we had assignments to work with an organization, I chose one that I thought was doing good work in the community. I gained some great experience working with nonprofits focused on equitable education before I realized my passion was actually always in community development. Not necessarily business, or education, or even music – although those are all passions of mine – but using any means to center people around a cause or a shared interest. All of my favorite experiences regarding music were live events, my favorite experiences regarding business involved collaborating with others, and my favorite experiences in my work as an event manager followed suit. All of this, in combination with the dismal idea of starting my career during a pandemic, led me to start looking for graduate school programs that would allow me to hone in on this.
Enter stage: Bolz Center! It immediately felt like a great fit when I read about the program and it has not disappointed even in the slightest. The amount of opportunities and experiences I have gained in only one academic year (that’s not even over yet) has been the most exciting and fulfilling professional experience I have had so far. It’s such a diverse program that really allows each student to make it what they want for themselves and shape it to fit into as many molds as you want. The most impactful thing for me has been rediscovering my love for the arts. I joined the program thinking of myself as a “nonprofit student” vs. an “arts student.” I spent most of my time after changing my major from music avoiding the thing that brought me so much joy my whole life, probably due to a lot of reasons we don’t have time to unpack, but being in this program has reignited that passion and has opened my eyes to how many ways my passion of community development can intersect with the arts – something that I am very focused on now and excited to continue work in after graduation.
This year, as part of my applied learning placement, I have been fortunate enough to work with UW’s Odyssey Project – an organization that offers free UW courses to students to lift barriers and provide access to higher education. It would be remiss of me to not mention how my work with them has contributed to this excitement. The staff there have allowed me to explore every part of the nonprofit sector that I’m interested in, whether that be helping out with programming, development, strategic planning, alumni relations, resource development – you name it. I’ve gained so much exposure to new ideas and intersections of my interests I didn’t even know existed. As I’m writing this, I’m actually planning an event with both Brats and Odyssey (a dream duo) where Brats is sponsoring a fundraising event that Odyssey is hosting by bringing out our food truck to serve community members and provide the weekly meal to Odyssey students. Combining my roles with both organizations has been so fun and has solidified my love for community engagement and cross-sector collaboration. Simply bringing people together over a common cause or interest is something I have discovered I absolutely love and I’m not sure I would have without this degree and my experience with Odyssey.
I truly never imagined myself with a master’s degree, and I honestly feel a bit of imposter syndrome whenever I think about it. However, another skill I’ve gained from this program is confidence. I feel so much more well-spoken about things that excite me in this work and I can’t thank all of the faculty and staff at the Bolz Center enough for helping me develop that. Part of that is also being able to actually feel proud of myself. From leaving college entirely, to now graduating with a master’s in just about 5 weeks… I really did that! Thank you Bolz Center.