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September 2013: Colby Mullen, voice

Colby_MullenFor some, internships were a dreaded experience. Part of this anxiety probably stemmed from media representations of interns doing nothing but fetching lunch orders or filing decades-old dusty papers. Interns are often afraid that after weeks or months, they will have nothing to list on their resumes except “coffee order expert” or “copy machine troubleshooter.” But for some, internships are life-changing experiences. Internships can open up a wealth of information into the fields that have only been studied in the context of a classroom. Internships can provide an avenue of skills and provide a way for students to imagine their future.

This summer, Hampton, VA native Colby Mullen had just that experience. “It was like the summer out of a dream,” he said. Currently a senior, Mullen is working toward his B.M. in vocal performance and is involved with VCU’s Opera and Commonwealth Singers.

Like many, Mullen’s first experiences in music started with piano lessons as a child. From there, Mullen began tuba lessons and played in the school band from middle school to high school. He began taking voice lessons in 10th grade, but didn’t join any choirs or vocal groups until his senior year of high school. The Department’s award-winning Opera program attracted Mullen to VCU.

Although Mullen loves performing, he is “more interested in the business” and has now decided that he would love to perform on the side. He learned this most notably during a summer Opera program at Crittenden Opera Studio. There, he met a stage manager who had a varied background, stretching from performance to administration. For Mullen, it opened up that jobs “behind the scenes” could be pursued seriously as well. After that experience, he figured, “I’ll do a music thing this summer and next year, will do an arts management internship.”

Mullen hit the jackpot, though. His first major arts management experience was with one of the nation’s top arts organizations. Each year, the Arts and Business Council of New York (a division of Americans for the Arts) hosts the Multicultural Arts Management Internship program. For ten weeks from June to August, Mullen joined the ranks of interns from around the country in New York City and gained hands-on experience in arts administration.

Mullen’s main project “housed” him at the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Queens. A cultural program administered by Queens College, the Armstrong House was the former home of jazz trumpet icon Louis Armstrong, who lived there from 1943-1971. In addition to his main project at the Armstrong House, Mullen and the other interns completed site visits at partner organizations, attended arts events, and worked directly with industry mentors.

When asked what the most interesting thing that happened all summer was, Mullen noted that the whole summer was a phenomenal learning experience – though “the possibility of doing something outside of the box with [my] degree” was a definite highlight for Mullen. Mullen’s duties varied from hospitality (he gave tours of the historic museum), membership and technology (he developed a campaign for the organization’s membership goals with up-to-date software), marketing (he  organized two major mailings), and human resources (he conducted an administrative assistant search screening all 80 applicants). Although Mullen was only in his position for a short time, the organization saw a growth in their membership renewal and in other areas.

Of course, Mullen won’t let his dreams stop with one summer. He wants to move to New York eventually and find a position in arts management. Although he is continuing enthusiastically with his degree program, he knows that the possibilities are endless. “I’m going to get a vocal performance degree,” he said. “But who is to say that can’t transfer into something else?”

For those interested in pursuing an internship – no matter the discipline –Mullen provides three tips for students:

Colby Mullen’s Top Three Tips for Securing an Internship

  1. Use your resources: Mullen used both the Career Center and the Writing Center’s resources to craft his application. “You have to take some initiative yourself,” he said. He credits doing these two campus resources to his application’s success.
  2. Don’t let fear stop you: Mullen said, “Don’t be scared to put yourself out there.” Sometimes, it’s easier to count yourself out before even attempting to try. “Figure out what you want to do and what kind of life you want to live.”
  3. Work hard: “People are watching you and may offer you a job,” Mullen said. Be aware of your behavior and cultivate that strong work ethic that employers hold dear.

–Raina Fields