In January, 10 theater hopefuls went on a whirlwind tour of auditions, avant-garde performances, and master classes and workshops hosted by Oberlin alumni in New York City.
During the same period—the winter term session—a dozen aspiring business students took to Wall Street, San Francisco, and Cleveland to meet with alumni and friends of Oberlin College who work in a spectrum of business-related fields, including private equity, consulting, investment banking, advertising, and socially responsible investing firms.
Everywhere you look, Oberlin alumni have forged successful careers in these two different spheres, and they’re eager and willing to help the next generation of Oberlin students find their place in the world. Both programs are supported by financial contributions from alumni.
“The fact that Oberlin is so entrenched in the theater scene of New York, and internationally for that matter, is so uplifting,” says Associate Theater Professor Matthew Wright, who led the cohort of students along with Assistant Professor Heather Anderson Boll in the first-ever Oberlin Professional Theater Intensive. Boll and Wright selected 10 students from the 50 who auditioned for the opportunity. Within the group, half are theater majors.
More than 20 Oberlin alumni participated and hosted events, including actor/theatrical clown Bill Irwin ’73, lighting designer Natasha Katz ’81, singer Judy Kuhn ’81, and actor Andy Taylor ’82. With their schedules filled to the brim, the students spent nine days engaged in master classes, workshops, and watching performances, culminating in a meet-and-greet reception with alumni.
“I always like to say, ‘You can’t stand in Manhattan and throw a rock without hitting an Obie who is involved in the performing arts,’” says Wright. “The alumni we approached were unanimously excited about it.” While the theater intensive was funded by an anonymous donor, Wright says he intends to make the program sustainable in the future. “It’s a small cost with a huge impact.”
Across town, a dozen students participated in Oberlin Business Scholars, an experiential opportunity that provides selected scholars with a foundation of skills, knowledge, and contacts to compete for jobs and internships in the fields of finance and consulting. Students participate in intensive workshops and site visits with alumni volunteers in the private sector.
This year’s class of scholars includes eight women (a program high) and several international students from majors across the college and conservatory. The itinerary placed students in on-site visits with alumni at Morgan Stanley, Deutsche Bank, Google, The Riverside Company, Wells Fargo, Credit Suisse, and AT&T, to name a few.
In addition to the core teachings in business and finance, scholars gained experience in networking, learned how to polish their self-presentation and public speaking skills, and even practiced their dining etiquette skills.
Most students who participate in Oberlin’s intensive winter term programs will tell you that the experience is… well, intense, and nothing short of transformative and inspirational. Wright says his theater students walked away feeling empowered. “In a business where you’re told every day that it’s incredibly difficult to succeed, they came home feeling like it is possible—they can be themselves.”
Third-year student Annie Winneg agrees. “One of the prevailing lessons was the importance of authenticity. In the theater business, the people who are the most successful— not just financially but in terms of having a lasting, personally fulfilling career— are those who truly know themselves. You can see it on a person’s face when they walk into an audition room, and it is both astonishing and appealing.”
Winneg, a psychology major who scored the leading role of Anne Frank in the Oberlin Summer Theater Festival’s 2013 production of The Diary of Anne Frank, says she overcame her reservations about networking. “The word ‘networking’ was a scary word to me before this program, but now I'm realizing that the Oberlin alumni community involved in the arts sees networking as both integral and mutually beneficial. Trying to be an artist can often be lonely and very scary, so knowing there are lots of people out there just like you is reassuring and gives you sources of welcome collaboration.”
Fourth-year student Nicole Le says her experience with Business Scholars “connected the dots for me in a fast-paced, high-intensity way.”
“For the first time, pursuing certain career destinations and paths didn't feel as if I was turning my back on the ‘non-professional’ things I love otherwise,” says Le, who is majoring in neuroscience, biology, and English. “There was a confluence and a dialogue happening between disciplines and ways of living and thinking that was such a gift to be a part of.”
Le also made an important discovery: that she loves business. “This world is emotionally and intellectually stimulating in a way that I never would have guessed lived in me. It's not necessarily a new way of thinking, but the details and the words are entirely novel to me. I love that feeling, and it's sparked something exhilarating in whatever my drive is.”
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