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Duke's Career Center is looking to change the perception that it isn't the place to go for students pursuing careers in the arts.
Duke's Career Center is looking to change the perception that it isn't the place to go for students pursuing careers in the arts.

Duke may not be known as a campus for the arts, but with several programs dedicated to dance, music, theater and writing, a niche section of undergraduates hope to enter creative industries following graduation. Those looking for assistance in doing so, however, have not typically found the Career Center to be a helpful resource.

“They really don’t have too many resources available for people who want to pursue the arts,” said Drew Klingner, who graduated as a theater studies major this year and is now working at the Roundabout Theater Company on Broadway.

Cameron Thompkins, a Trinity '13 graduate who majored in music, echoed a similar sentiment. He noted that the problem arises due to a lack of creative arts-focused personnel in the Career Center. Additionally, advisors are not familiar with music-specialized knowledge. "In terms of job placement, there wasn’t a whole lot they could advise on entering this part of the creative industry and looking for such a niche job,” he said.

Bill Wright-Swadel, the Fannie Mitchell Executive Director of the Career Center, said the Career Center has had two, full-time counselor for the arts in the past, but declined to disclose their names and why they left Duke.

Ross Wade was hired as the new career counselor for the arts over the summer and speculates that a lack of marketing may have prevented students from using the previous counselor as a resource.

Wright-Swadel said that the Center works with alumni in order to assist students interested in creative fields. He countered the idea that the Career Center is only designed to help students interested in financial fields, noting that career fairs typically sponsor investment banks and consulting fields because they seek out students, whereas arts-related industries do not typically recruit on-the-ground.

“Lots of activities in a certain area make you think that everything that happens somewhere centers around that. So everybody else thinks that Duke is a basketball school because we get so much recognition," he said. "The same thing happens in the Career Center around things like investment banking and consulting because they are very aggressive recruiters.”

He added that the Career Center facilitates this type of financial recruitment because there is a boom of interest by the student body in these fields.

“All we are doing is allowing that to happen because there are a lot of students here who are interested in those fields,” he said. “People in the arts don’t recruit that way. That’s not how you get jobs.”

Molly Superfine, a Trinity '13 graduate with a double major in art history and Spanish, noted that the Career Center was previously only equipped to help students interested in arts education.

“I was told there weren’t any relevant resources they had for me,” she said. “I was asked if I was sure I wanted to pursue museum work, and more specifically curatorial and academic arts work, as opposed to other non-profit or arts education work, as they could have provided more assistance with that.”

She ended up researching museums she was interested in on her own and applied without guidance from the Career Center.

Ross Wade was hired prior to the 2014 academic year as the Career Center's new arts and entertainment guru.

Wade said he wants more students interested in arts-related professions to feel comfortable using the Career Center as a resource. Prior to joining Duke, Wade worked in documentary, digital media and strategic communications.

“I am here for the population,” he said. “We want them to know that we are here for them, that we kick butt, and that the Career Center is not just all about management and consulting.”

Wade noted that when he graduated from East Carolina University in 1998, he didn’t know what he was going to do with his life and worked at different record stores and coffee shops in Chicago and New York. Eventually he entered career services because he wanted to work with young people and share his passion in arts and media.

Since he started his job this year, however, only one student interested in arts-related careers came to him for advice. “People probably just don’t know I am here yet,” he said.

In collaboration with Amy Unell, the Alumna in Residence at the Career Center who serves as the liaison to create arts entrepreneurship across the University, Wade fills the role of helping students build a team of support and navigate their paths in pursuit of their artistic passions. Unell, Trinity '03, worked as a producer for NBC’s Today Show for six years and was hired last year to promote initiatives in all facets of arts education. She currently works across several different areas including the Office of the Vice Provost for the Arts, the Office of Students Affairs, the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Initiative and the Duke in Silicon Valley program.

“I help connect the dots, to figure out how students can be engaged around the arts, to help further their dreams and ambitions," Unell said.

"What we are really trying to do is to create an environment where students see their imagination as possible."—Bill Wright-Swadel

She and Wade meet with students pursuing artistic careers one-on-one, assisting them in the process of figuring out their biggest interests and navigating their career paths.

Unell said she is aware of the asymmetry of information when it comes to opportunities available to students versus the awareness of these resources. As part of their marketing efforts, they have made flyers where scheduled events in arts and media are listed to inform students of all networking opportunities.

“This is exactly the answer to students who say that they go to the career fair and don’t find anything for them since a lot of companies at the fair are business-based and technology-based,” Unell said. “We are handing these flyers out at the career fair to say, 'Guess what, these are all the dates that you can check out.' It is an example of us saying, 'Hey, we are here.'”

Wade is also working on building a webpage that lists the schedule of upcoming events related to arts, entertainment and media, as well as a resources page with links to blog posts by arts alumni and current students. He and Unell are also planning a spring reunion event, called the Night with Industry, which will be equivalent to the DEMAN weekend in the Fall where alumni are invited back to campus and talk about their industry.

“We want juniors coming back from studying abroad who have missed DEMAN in the Fall to also have the chance to connect with these amazing alumni and learn more about their fields,” Unell added.

Wright-Swadel said the Center sends teams of people to places like Los Angeles and New York City where they spend days visiting individual alumni and organizations. The team brings people back to campus regularly, which is a part of the expert-in-residence program, where notable figures in the creative industry—such as the producer of The Hunger Games—are invited to campus to chat about their careers.

“One of the key things is getting students to recognize that arts are indeed vibrant, active, intelligent, exciting and places where students can build careers,” Wright-Swadel said, adding that the Center is building relationships constantly. “Imagine the number of people we have talked to so that we could get those people to come back and share their experiences.”

Courtney Liu, who graduated in 2013 with a major in psychology but remains interested in dance, has been invited to blog about her experience as a freelance dancer, teacher and choreographer in New York City. She noted that the Career Center has played an important role in helping her make transitions and pursue a career in dance.

Wright-Swadel added that the role of the Career Center is to help the institution build a community and help individuals build a sub-community that consists of faculty, career counselors, alums and peers.

“We are now connective tissues,” he said. “What we are really trying to do is to create an environment where students see their imagination as possible, and then there are people who can teach them how to go from where they are to where they want to be.”