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100 Doors to Success: Transylvania University mentoring program fuels students’ career aspirations

By Bill Bowden
KyForward correspondent

Transylvania University junior Rebecca Rumentzas loves listening to stories about the music industry from Charlie Taylor, a 1965 Transylvania graduate who combined nonprofit fundraising with a recording career that has produced three CDs of original songwriting.

“I want to build a career in the music business by helping people with talent go somewhere,” says Rumentzas, who is majoring in business administration with a marketing concentration. “Charlie has brought up things I haven’t thought about, such as family life in relation to the travel involved in managing bands and promoting events. I have to figure all these things out.”

That’s where Taylor enters the picture. His former career in the development office at Vanderbilt University means he has lived in Nashville, a major center in the music business, where he has cultivated numerous industry contacts. His resume includes working with rock ‘n’ roll legends like Scotty Moore, Elvis Presley’s original guitarist, who plays on one of Taylor’s CDs.

Charlie Taylor has served as mentor to Transy junior Rebecca Rumentzas about the music business. It's part of the school's new 100 Doors to Success program (Photo Provided)

Charlie Taylor has served as mentor to Transy junior Rebecca Rumentzas about the music business. It’s part of the school’s new 100 Doors to Success program (Transy Photo by Adam Brown)

Rumentzas was getting plenty of sound academic and student life advice from Transylvania, and the university’s Career Development Center plays an important role in preparing students for their future. But she wanted something more, a chance to get personal advice from someone who’s “been there.”

Fortunately for her, Transylvania’s new mentoring program, “100 Doors to Success,” offers precisely that advantage. Successful people like Taylor from many career areas, many of them Transylvania alumni, volunteer to listen to the hopes and dreams of students like Rumentzas and advise them about the real world of work and achievement.

And even though she and Taylor are separated by age and decades of popular musical evolution, there are constants in the business that Taylor has seen from the inside.

“The fundamentals of managing entertainment entities like bands and singers have not changed that much,” Taylor says. “You want to put those people in the best light and try to hook them up with people at a higher level that might help to elevate their own careers.”

An untapped resource

Transylvania President Seamus Carey initiated the mentoring program when he came to Lexington in 2014 as the university’s 26th president. He was motivated by the opportunity to make use of what he calls an untapped resource, the large and talented pool of Transylvania alumni.

“One of the great statements of the value of a Transylvania education is the success of the alumni,” Carey says. “The interest in the mentoring program by these people, many of them living and working in Lexington, has been very impressive.”

Transylvania launched the program in 2014 with a goal of enlisting 100 mentors, but it has grown to include more than 200 volunteers. Tracy Dunn, director of the program, says mentors and students typically meet once a month, sometimes more often.

“The mentor is an adult figure a student can reach out to who is not a parent or faculty member,” Dunn says. “As a student begins to focus more closely on a particular career, they can be reassigned to a mentor in that field.”

Rumentzas will take a big step toward her career goals when she participates in the seven-month Disney College Program beginning this June 13. The residential internship opportunity will allow her to take college credit courses while working at Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando, getting an inside look at one of the world’s largest entertainment businesses.

While Rumentzas traveled 300 miles from her home in Chicago to enroll at Transylvania, one of her classmates in the mentoring program truly circled the globe to come to Lexington. Pound Chen, a sophomore, was born and raised in Chengdu, the capital of China’s Sichuan province. He made his first trip to the United States when he arrived to enroll at Transylvania in the fall of 2014. He became interested in the school when a Transylvania admissions team visited his high school.

Chen is majoring in accounting and is also creating a self-designed major in art business. His goal is to become an international art broker. He says that Nancy Wolsk, Transylvania art professor, encouraged him to investigate the marketing side of high-end art.

“To be an art broker is my dream career,” Chen says. “I would also like to be a financial adviser, to understand how to make art worth something to the company I work for.”

Jo Ellen Hayden, a 1969 Transylvania graduate, is Chen’s mentor. Now retired, her career included engineering management for the U.S. Navy and becoming the Commonwealth of Virginia’s first licensed acupuncturist in 1994.

Pound Chen is majoring in accounting and is also creating a self-designed major in art business. His goal is to become an international art broker. He says that Nancy Wolsk, Transylvania art professor, encouraged him to investigate the marketing side of high-end art. She connected him with mentor Jo Ellen Hayden (above) (Photo Provided)

Pound Chen is majoring in accounting and is also creating a self-designed major in art business. He is pictured in Transylvania’s Morlan Gallery with his mentor, Jo Ellen Hayden, a 1969 Transy graduate (TU Photo by Adam Brown)

“Pound and I have spent a lot of time discussing specific attributes employers are looking for,”
Hayden says. “Being able to work as part of a team and the ability to express yourself clearly and efficiently in writing and speech are two things we have worked on.”

Chen, whose upbringing amid the long cultural history of China gives him a special interest in Transylvania’s heritage, says Hayden is giving him a lot more than he anticipated when he signed on for the mentoring program. Part of that has to do with Hayden’s extensive career.

“At first I was expecting I would have an alum just a few years older than myself, to tell me how to face the period just after graduating from college. But I have a mentor who has been through a lot, and she is sharing that experience with me.”

A broader goal

Besides offering students very real and helpful support toward earning a living, the mentoring program plays a role in a broader goal of helping assure the future of liberal arts education. The point is to relieve some of the anxiety students may feel about their careers, enabling them to relax and truly enjoy an immersion into liberal arts studies.

“I want to preserve the liberal arts for what they are,” Carey says. “A liberal arts curriculum offers students the opportunity to learn about themselves and the world, about the great ideas and texts, and to become a person who can pursue some sort of passion with their lives. So many times the career and professional concern is seen as antithetical to all of that. I believe they can work together to enhance both areas.”

Hayden has her own thoughts on that concern.

“I think the liberal arts are under siege,” she says. “They are perceived as not having a path into the business world, and nothing could be further from the truth. No, we’re not graduating certified engineers, but we are graduating people who know how to think, how to scope a problem, come to a solution. Yes, they will need practice in doing that in the business context, and that’s where the mentoring program comes in. It’s designed to lay out the landmarks on a path between a liberal arts degree and a career.

“When people talk about the liberal arts, there’s so much out there about ‘follow your dream.’ Well, that’s great if you have a dream that will pay the bills. Pound is trying to find something he loves to do, then find someone who will pay him to do it.”

An intangible bonus of the mentoring program is that it allows alums like Taylor and Hayden to connect with a younger generation and, along the way, gives students a chance to really get to know their mentors.

For instance, Chen and Hayden had a bonding experience when Hayden stepped in and helped him with some complications arising from his flight reservations back to China for Christmas break. She and her husband also took Chen to church and dined out with him during spring break when most other students had gone home for the holiday.

As Chen puts it:

“Jo Ellen is no longer for me just a mentor, she is also one of my best friends.”

Bill Bowden is a freelance writer living in Lexington. He was most recently publications editor at Transylvania University.

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