Acting on Instinct

by Victoria Nelson '93

I never planned to be an advancement officer. Until two years ago, I had never heard of advancement.

No, I was a theatre major when I was in college. I had been a performing arts student since I was in the thrd grade. Being a theatre major seemed a natural progression. But then I decided, after my junior year abroad, that I didn’t want to be an actor, and I started stage-managing. Meanwhile, I asked myself what could I do with a degree in theatre besides act?

That’s when I discovered the field of arts management. It was a relatively new profession at the time. There were only a handful of programs in the country, which fell into one of two categories: MFA programs and MBA programs. I chose an MBA program because I was more interested in the business side of the arcs and entertainment business than a continuation of my arts education. So I chose Carnegie Mellon University’s Master of Arts Management Program at the Heinz School of Public Policy and Management in Pittsburgh.

A complete departure from my college experience, the coursework included statistics, management information systems, economics, finance and marketing. Bear in mind that I was a theatre major and there was no math requirement at Scripps at the time. Surprisingly, the classes I enjoyed the most and subsequentlye excelled in were my finance classes. Who knew?

After graduation, I decided to return to my hometown of Los Angeles and pursued a career in the entertainment industry. Prior to coming back to Scripps, I worked with the Walt Disney Studios-in finance, of course. My career seemed to be progressing according to plan: raises and promotions every year with increased responsibility. Then things started to change. The company was downsizing, the stock was falling, morale was low. I became increasingly dissatisfied with my job, with my boss, with the company. So I left, with no idea of what I was going to do next, in an uncertain economy.

Now, don’t try this at home, girls and boys. Have a plan.

I knew I could probably get by for six months without a job. It also helps to have a positive outlook on life. It takes courage to make that kind of decision and not let fear control your actions. I did some serious soul-searching during this period. What did I want to do? I sought the advice of friends and family who knew me well, professionals whom I respected and admired, and even took personality tests. One book that was very instrumental was Richard Bolles’ What Color is Your Parachute? I highly recommend it for job hunters and career changers.

I discovered that physical environment was important to me. At Disney, I had an office with no windows. For some, this would not be a big deal, but for me it was important. I do best in a more project-oriented environment rather than a routine environment. And working with people was more satisfying than working with things or ideas. Now that I had a sense of what I wanted to do, I needed to figure out whom I wanted to do it for. It turned out that I had an affinity for the not-for-profit sector, particularly higher education.

Armed with this information. I started interviewing. I cannot over-emphasize the importance of informational interviewing. It’s wonderful. You’re not asking for a job, you’re asking for information, which takes the pressure off of you and the person you’re interviewing with. In my case, the question was “Did a job exist in higher education that combined my background with everything I had learned about myself?”

The answer was yes, and the field was called advancement. I had never heard of it before. Now I could actually begin my job search. As luck would have it, I didn’t have to look long. A position became available at my alma mater in the Office of Alumnae Relations. It was exactly what I was looking for. It required my technical skills, my project management skills, and my people skills, all in a beautiful working environment. It’s a career I never could have planned for, and yet I couldn’t be happier.