EXCEL Kicks Off the School Year With New Classes, Events & Resources

Jonathan (right) chats with SMTD student and 2019 UMS 21st Century Artist Intern Zion Jackson at EXCEL’s “Taco Tuesday” event

As Director of the EXCEL Lab, Jonathan Kuuskoski helps students self-start their careers. He oversees EXCEL’s wide range of professional development resources, including career advising, workshops with diverse arts leaders, and the annual distribution of $100,000 in student project, venture, and internship funding. He also teaches a variety of courses focused on performing arts career development.


Here’s what Jonathan wants SMTD students to know about EXCEL:

What can EXCEL do for students?

The mission of EXCEL is to provide resources so that every SMTD student feels prepared to build a life in the arts. These resources are inclusive of but go beyond typical career services–preparation for interviews, reviewing job materials, searching for internships. We also help students explore and advance big professional goals, and provide assistance in turning those artistic dreams into reality. 

That’s because a life in the arts means something very different for each student, driven always by their personal background, interests, and aspirations. Just like a private studio, or any other area of SMTD, provides mentor-driven pedagogy, we strive to be as adaptive as possible and provide individualized mentorship to meet the various needs that our students bring to the table.

What EXCEL resources can students utilize?

2019 EXCEL Report (Issu)
Click here to view the official 2019 EXCEL Report

Studying the performing arts necessitates experiential learning. As musicians, dancers, theater artists, and scholars, we know practice is core to honing our craft and developing expertise. The same goes for entrepreneurial skills. EXCEL provides coursework, workshops, immersion trips, and funding to provide students with broad opportunities for experiential learning. That might look like attending an EXCEL Talk, where students can meet and talk to artists who can share specific professional insights, or utilizing EXCEL funding to take on an artistic project or internship that would not otherwise be possible.

What is EXCEL most pumped about for this school year?

It is hard to believe this will be EXCEL’s fifth year! Having constantly listened to feedback from students and faculty, at this point we are looking to better understand how we can expand on our core programming to better serve diverse constituencies. A great example of this is the Open Lab, which launched in fall 2018 as a series of 6 sessions with new formats including interactive “gamified” workshops, relaxed drop-in sessions, and fun social events. This year, we are doubling those offerings to include several mini-series on event production, financial planning, work/life balance issues, academic careers/success and even a book club!

We are also launching two new courses this year, which are sure to be transformative. In the Fall, we are bringing back our Teaching Artistry course in collaboration with UMS, taught by master teacher Hilary Easton. After the course, students will actually have the opportunity to implement the skills they learn through an independent study, delivering engaged learning exercises in our local community under the supervision of UMS Teaching Artists! In the Winter, we are thrilled to launch an all-new course focused on the role of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion within arts leadership training. Lead by Afa Dworkin, this course will explore the past and present landscape of DEI practices and take students behind the scenes of the Sphinx Organization, where students will work on real projects alongside Sphinx staff.

Finally, for the first time, we are collaborating with our Theatre & Drama colleagues on an immersion to The Windy City! The Chicago Immersion Trip will take 20 SMTD BTA students to the city for a weekend of activities in September 2019. The visit will include meetings at Victory Gardens Theater and About Face Theatre, a panel discussion with Chicago Dramatists, and networking events with SMTD alums. This trip expands on EXCEL’s robust immersion program, which has included trips to New York City and Detroit.

How can students stay in-the-know about news and events through EXCEL?

There are many ways!

Look for our email newsletter every Monday. Check the SMTD Instagram every Thursday for our EXCEL Takeover. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter @SMTDEXCEL. Check out our events on Handshake. View our website for information about funding and deadlines.

Last but not least, subscribe to our blog! We are giving away a FREE item of EXCEL Swag to any student who subscribes.

Any advice for starting a school year on the right note?

HA! I should give advice that I should listen to myself, right? 

Here at the University of Michigan, there are so many amazing opportunities. So many that it can be overwhelming! Going through a school year is like riding a train; once it gets going, it doesn’t slow down. That ride is demanding and crescendos steadily until May. It’s what we love about U-M, but there are times when life gets tough and we wish it would slow down.

So my advice is to give yourself time to reflect. Acknowledge the mountain you are about to climb, and have gratitude for the incredible things you are about to do. Prepare by catching up on sleep, exercising, and enjoying the beautiful weather we will only have left for a short amount of time. Maybe kick off the term with a free taco at our Open House (Tuesday, September 3). Then buckle in and try to enjoy the ride. 


Subscribe to the EXCEL Log and get free swag! Stop by the Lab to claim.

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