Wednesday, May 2, 2018

     Three years ago, I was offered the Levine Scholarship to UNC Charlotte.  I was thrilled, grateful, and humbled, but also… worried.  My whole life, I’d been working towards the goal of a college scholarship.  It was the end objective that drove every difficult decision, weighing each choice against whether it would help or hinder my college prospects.  When I finally crossed that finish line, graduating high school with a scholarship in hand, I looked around and realized that I had spent very little time thinking about what would come next.  I had two strong interests that I had chosen as majors, Theatre and Political Science, but no clue how to squish them all into one career—in short, I didn’t have a plan.  For anyone who knows me, being without a plan is not my forte.

    This was, in fact, my primary reason for choosing the Levine Scholarship Program at UNC Charlotte over any other.  When I attended my own Finalist Weekend back in the Spring of 2015, what stood out to me most about the Levine Scholars was the consistent breadth of interest and overlapping of fields.  I saw so many people like me, trying to bring together two worlds of study and searching for that precious career that fit in the center of their venn diagram.  My spheres of interest, theatre and politics, were formed by my high school career in Speech and Debate.  The production element of performance and the immersion in an interpersonal and dramatic community made my heart happy, while speaking extemporaneously on political issues and analyzing systematic impacts got my mind racing.  I knew I wanted to hold on to both of those feelings, so I chose Theatre and Political Science as my undergraduate majors, with trust that the Levine Scholars Program would guide me and my often disjointed majors towards a life plan.

    Lo and behold, that’s exactly what happened.  The patience required was a challenge, but my mentors in the program held me steady while I waited for the Levine process to work its magic.  Per program requirements, all Levines intern with a nonprofit in Charlotte the summer after their freshman year.  Dr. Zablotsky and I worked together to design an internship for me at Time Out Youth Center, Charlotte’s premiere nonprofit for LGBTQ youth.  That summer was my first hands-on exposure to the world of nonprofits and the wealth of careers in the sector.  At Time Out Youth, I had the opportunity to use both of my majors in one role, including working with youth to write and produce an original play in response to the recently passed House Bill 2 (the “Bathroom Bill”), teaching a seminar that used stage makeup to explore gender’s role in physical self-expression, and organizing artistic space for youth to process the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando.  That nonprofit summer was the first and most important step the Levine program helped me take towards my new plan.

    In the time since, I found myself engaging more and more with nonprofits.  UNC Charlotte’s Dance Marathon, an annual Levine legacy event, gave me the opportunity to work on event production, personal fundraising, and peer recruitment.  I took a job in the UNC Charlotte Foundation Student Call Center to gain more tangible fundraising experience, and spent my sophomore year as a supervisor learning the skills needed to handle major donations and prospect management.

     All the while, Dr. Mike’s cultural immersion events for Levine Scholars gave me the chance to see beautiful shows put up by Charlotte’s incredible theatre nonprofits, including Ragtime, Rent, and The Phantom of the Opera (pictured) at the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center.  A patron of the Blumenthal since I was six, I’ve had the privilege of being on the receiving end of countless Blumenthal educational outreach programs throughout my Charlotte-Mecklenburg public school education.  As a college student returning to the Blumenthal theatres that had given me so much, Levine experience now in tow, it clicked.  My career had been waiting for me all along at the corner of East 5th Street and North Tryon, the meeting point of theatre, political science, and civic engagement: it was the world of arts-based nonprofits.

      In August of 2015, Dr. Zablotsky asked us to write out our long term goals in a homework assignment for Freshmen Seminar.  I wrote to her, “My long term goal has always been ‘to get a full ride to college.’ Right now, I’m trying to find a new one, and I will take all the help I can get.”  I have a new goal now, and I sincerely have the Levine program to thank for helping me find it so quickly and giving me the resources to pursue it full-out.  My new end objective, a career in arts nonprofits, now drives my decisions.  I’ve decided to begin the Gerald G. Fox Master of Public Administration program with a concentration in Arts Administration as an early entry student this fall while completing senior year of my undergraduate degree.  My Political Science honors thesis will be a nonprofit program evaluation of the civic engagement project that sophomore Levine Scholar Ben Fasel and I are working on with Time Out Youth.  I’ll be completing an independent study in costume design and mentorship this fall in partnership with a local Blumey-award nominated high school theatre program.  At each crossroads, the difficult decisions are made simple again: does this help or hinder my pursuit of a career in arts-based nonprofits?

      For those who don’t have a plan, I feel your stress.  Trusting the process is a tall order, and it wasn’t without fear or doubt.  Now, though, with a new goal, a new finish line, I feel the strongest sense of relief.  It makes me so sure I chose the right program, as I’ve watched the Levine Scholars Program connect worlds for myself and countless others.  My venn diagram is coming along, slowly but surely, and I wish the same for you and yours.