Post-graduate fellowships can be a career-changer

Violinist Nicole Wendl took part in many memorable performances during her days as a graduate student at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. Now, as a 2018 Fifth-Year Fellow, she’s working behind a camera offstage to capture the story of the School of Music through compelling videos designed to maximize the string area’s digital footprint and reach.

The fellowship, supported by the Thomas S. Kenan Institute for the Arts at UNCSA, benefits the music school by attracting prospective students to its renowned string programs in new and engaging ways. And it provides Wendl with a more robust resume that will stand out in today’s competitive job market, showcasing not only her musical accomplishments but also her digital media skills.

“As somebody who serves on music search committees all the time, we are constantly looking among the resumes for people who have additional skills and expertise in a particular area, including faculty who are media-savvy,” says Brooks Whitehouse, Associate Professor of Cello at UNCSA.

“We thought, why not send out at least one of our graduates with this special training? It’s what a graduate student might need to know in order to become a double and triple threat, as they say in the business.”

Wendl, who graduated from the arts conservatory in 2016 with a master’s degree in violin performance, considers the part-time fellowship a rare opportunity: It allows her to hone new skills while maintaining a studio of about a dozen students, whom she teaches weekly. She also plays professionally with several symphony orchestras in North Carolina.

I have a lot of different interests and talents, as many artists do. This allows me to explore those things without having to give up my craft. That is really special.

Nicole Wendl

“I count myself as very lucky. I am not just one artist, you know? I have a lot of different interests and talents, as many artists do,” says Wendl, who also has spent this year creating the string area’s studio web pages, news site and monthly e-newsletters.

“This allows me to explore those things without having to give up my craft. That is really special. It allows me to be all the people that I am.”

The Kenan Institute created the Fifth-Year Fellowship last year to broaden opportunities for sustainable careers in the arts, one of its primary missions. The opportunity allows distinguished students to pursue a broadened educational experience while continuing to enhance the UNCSA community. Fellows are embedded in University office(s) or organizational departments working on projects that will expand and develop their skills, while impacting the capacity of the UNCSA community. Experiences such as these can play a critical role in enhancing and increasing the chance of student success.

Kendra Harding, who graduated from the arts school in May 2017 with a master’s degree in music composition, is exploring an entirely different career path during her Kenan Fifth-Year Fellowship with UNCSA’s Office of Career Development & Community Engagement. Harding developed a passion for community engagement while serving in ArtistCorps at UNCSA, which places accomplished artists in public schools and community-based institutions to work with high-needs students through the use of music, movement, acting and creating works of art.

In her current role, Harding has worked with Director Rebecca Nussbaum to create Synergy Project, a new organization designed to facilitate artistic collaboration among students across the five schools of UNCSA and give them a platform to showcase their works of art in the larger community. Local businesses, galleries, parks and studios interested in supporting students’ talents and aspirations provide the venues.

“When I was a graduate assistant at UNCSA, I heard a lot that students wanted to collaborate with each other across disciplines,” she recalls. “They had all these amazing ideas but had no platform for them. I wanted to help them make those dreams become a reality.”

Harding is doing just that. After organizing “idea incubators” on campus in November and January, the work of three Synergy Project undergraduates came to life at Delurk, an artist-run gallery in the heart of Winston-Salem’s Arts District. The project opening on February 2 showcased the work of trombonist Forrest Dunn, dancer Catheryn Clifford and painter Laura Scheving.

“Synergy was a big undertaking, and we are still kind of figuring things out as we go along. It is exciting to see things coming to fruition, especially being able to help students partner with local organizations to give them the space to bring their ideas to life.”

To further establish new relationships within the campus community, Harding also has created Food for Thought, a monthly, TED Talk-style lunchtime series at which faculty, staff and students share presentations with each other on current projects, research and areas of interest.

Lastly, Harding is researching what would be required for UNCSA to apply for the Carnegie Foundation's Classification for Community Engagement. The elective classification involves data collection and documentation of the school’s mission, identity and commitments, and requires substantial effort invested by participating institutions.

The Kenan Fellowship offers her the perfect opportunity to gain experience in project management and engagement while in a supportive environment. When she’s not working at UNCSA, the multi-talented Harding teaches composition, voice, piano and guitar lessons, as well as performs in a folk band.

This has allowed me to continue to get my footing and build the skills I need to work in engagement in some capacity, but to do that in a safe space before I am launched into the real world and need to convince people to hire me.

Kendra Harding

“After serving with ArtistCorps and being involved with community engagement for two years, I could see myself staying in it for the long term,” she explains. “This has allowed me to continue to get my footing and build the skills I need to work in engagement in some capacity, but to do that in a safe space before I am launched into the real world and need to convince people to hire me.”

That’s exactly what the Kenan Fellowship is designed to do for emerging artists, notes Nussbaum, who praises Harding’s tremendous work ethic.

“It could be five years out when these kinds of opportunities could arise in someone’s career path,” Nussbaum says. “Getting these opportunities now allows them to get that much further ahead and understand how to be proactive in a career.”

April 05, 2018

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