The nonprofit next door

Students in the College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management often land cool jobs and internships with professional sports teams and major entertainment outlets across the country.

But 20 students in the college are getting a closer look this semester at somewhat less glamorous career opportunities close to home: nonprofit performing arts and entertainment organizations in Columbia.

“It’s nice to see that we train our students and they get jobs in L.A. or New York,” said Armen Shaomian, an assistant professor in the college. “But we need to introduce them to what’s here locally in the nonprofit sector. I want them to explore and know the Columbia arts culture.

“These are the kinds of jobs where you’ll be handed a lot more responsibility fresh out of college.”

The special topics course Shaomian is teaching, courtesy of grants from the Center for Teaching Excellence and Carolina Leadership Initiative, focuses on three organizations: Nickelodean, a movie theater that typically screens art-house films; the S.C. Philharmonic Orchestra, which presents mostly classical music performances; and Trustus Theatre, which stages avant-garde productions.

Students met leaders from the three organizations last week and will soon be working on group projects to assist them. The projects will count for half of their grade.    

“Group projects can be tricky,” Shaomin said. “You don’t want all of the extroverted students congregating in one group. So I had them take the Myers-Briggs personality test, studied the results and assigned them to groups myself. Hopefully, I’ve evened out the personalities so each group will have fun working together this semester.”

The first classroom meeting with the three organizations was lively, with the guest speakers asking as many questions as the students.

“Why wouldn’t you go to an art house to see one of our films?” asked Janell Rohan, program director at Nickelodean when she was surprised to learn how few of the students knew about the Main Street theater.

“How can we reach you? Social media?” asked Rhonda Hunsinger, executive director of the Philharmonic, which often struggles to attract a college-age audience.

Larry Hembree, managing director of Trustus, explained the basic financial dynamics of operating a nonprofit entertainment venue.

“Seventy-eight percent of our budget is earned income — ticket sales, concessions and memberships. The rest comes from grant-writing and fundraising,” he said.

Hunsinger added: “We lose money on every concert we do. Tickets only cover one-fourth to one-third of our costs, so we have to cover the difference with fundraising.”

Some students in the course are taking an immediate shine to the in-depth approach of the course.

“Despite the fact I have only been in class four weeks, I truly believe that I have learned more in SPTE590 that is beneficial to my career than I have learned in any other class,” said Emily Haelen, a junior sport and entertainment management major. “Dr. Shaomian’s passion and enthusiasm towards this industry keeps his students engaged in every lecture.”

Caroline Baity, another sport and entertainment management student, sees networking possibilities in the experiential learning aspects of the course.

“It's always a huge opportunity to be able to meet and network with anyone at all in our industry because everyone knows someone who can help you,” she said. “The great about this course is that we will have the chance to really get our hands dirty and actually work in a real life setting. It doesn't matter what your interests are — sports or country music or whatever — that in itself is reason enough for this class to exist and be appreciated.”

Learn more

Visit the Center for Teaching Excellence website to learn more about this program that supports faculty in the development of innovative teaching techniques, especially at the undergraduate level. Visit the Carolina Leadership Initiative website for more information on how this program fosters student leadership potential through experiential learning and other beyond-the-classroom experiences.

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