The Route from Here

A recent graduate reflects on the road taken.

Oberlin’s Admissions Office has a saying: “All Roads Lead to Oberlin.” Four years into my academic career and closing in on degrees in the Conservatory and the College, I was just beginning to think about the roads leading away from Oberlin when I was invited by Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Nicholas Jones to join a committee that he and Dean of Studies Kathryn Stuart were co-chairing. An offshoot of an established committee that oversees Oberlin’s educational plans and processes, it was nicknamed the “Roadmap” committee. Our charge: to create guidelines for students in the College of Arts and Sciences (and their advisors) that would increase the intentionality with which they plan their courses, majors, and overall education.


Soprano Lillie Chilen ’08 singing the title role in the Oberlin Opera Theater’s Spring 2008 production of The Coronation of Poppea.

The Roadmap we crafted (available for download here) places a major emphasis on reflection and identifies major themes for four years of academic life at Oberlin. Year One: Explore. Year Two: Connect. Year Three: Deepen. Year Four: Develop independence. The reflective aspect of the Roadmap, in my view, was going to be particularly important to students. My own reflecting typically only occurred when sorting through my accumulation of class papers at the end of the school year, deciding what to keep and what to recycle.

Now, as part of the job application process, I am preparing cover letters that attempt to convey the rich life that I led during my five double-degree years at Oberlin. I am doing considerable reflecting, defining the skills that I gained and describing all that I have learned.

I am not planning on pursuing either a performance career or a scholarly one; instead, I am seeking a career in arts administration. My degrees prepared me artistically and intellectually for this path, but perhaps the most surprising aspect of my education was the practical introduction to the field that Oberlin gave me, through real responsibility and amazing role models on the Conservatory’s administrative staff.

Learning by Doing

During my second year at Oberlin and continuing through graduation, I worked for the Conservatory Dean’s Office as an Artist Recital Series (ARS) intern, a position that provided me with most of my arts administration training at Oberlin and opened the doors for other projects overseen by the Dean’s Office.

“I am seeking a career in arts administration. My degrees prepared me artistically and intellectually for this path, but perhaps the most surprising aspect of my education was the practical introduction to the field that Oberlin gave me, through real responsibility and amazing role models on the Conservatory’s administrative staff.”

Lillie Chilen ’08

The sink-or-swim training of any internship is an effective, if sometimes stressful, teacher. The ARS internship came with a lot of responsibility, but guidance was always available when I needed it. My first major task was to organize the post-concert reception celebrating the appearance on the series of the International Contemporary Ensemble. The group gave an incredibly moving performance of Peter Maxwell Davies’ Eight Songs for a Mad King, and, despite the internal monologue of party details running through my head, my memory of that performance is still vivid. The musicians were starving afterwards, so we served them hearty lasagna while our happy guests noshed on hors d’oeuvres and cakes baked by a future ARS intern. That night I realized for the first time just how many minute details are involved in hosting a seemingly simple, laid-back party, and I learned-through trial and error-the importance of good planning.

Beyond throwing great parties, interns are responsible for working with artists’ management to ensure that their needs are met and that concerts are executed as planned. I booked hotel rooms and ground transportation for the artists, scheduled master classes, assisted the Conservatory Public Relations Office in proofing and hanging posters, and created a master itinerary for the artists (to be delivered in a welcome packet with maps and menus, as well as some treats from the Oberlin Market). I was the official problem solver and was on call for the duration of the artists’ stays. I organized occasional Q&A sessions with the artists and, sometimes, CD sales at the concerts. Despite the seemingly endless number of tasks, the saving grace of the internship was that I was never alone. Although I took the lead on three to six concerts per season, I always worked with other interns. Being able to work independently, but with the knowledge that backup was available if I needed it, was comforting.

Role Models

What makes these internships truly remarkable is the trust that the administration invests in the interns. Although we are undergraduates balancing school, practicing, and work, we also are given the chance to interact regularly with professionals inside and outside Oberlin. The level of confidence that I gained from these experiences led to my being asked to assist on other, sometimes overlapping projects. I twice assisted Associate Dean Andrea Kalyn in sending groups of students to the Kennedy Center, and helped Associate Dean Marci Alegant organize the retirement concert for celebrated voice pedagogue Richard Miller. Both of these women have been tremendous role models, supporting me when I was overwhelmed, forgiving each small faux pas and the occasional major mistake, and helping me figure out how to fix those bigger mistakes. The newest addition to the Dean’s Office, Assistant Dean for Artistic Programming and Operations Gloria Kim ’02, supervised my final ARS season and became another great role model. Each of these women contributed extraordinarily to my administrative education at the Conservatory and helped me become a more tactful, savvy, and far more professional person, especially in times of conflict; they taught me how to gracefully disagree with others.

Explore. Connect. Deepen.... Become

Even though the Oberlin Roadmap did not exist until late in my experience here, I can see that it reflects the milestones of my ARS experience quite closely. During my first year with the Series, I explored the many facets of arts production. In my second year, I connected with the staff that would so positively influence my experience at Oberlin. My third year saw a deepening understanding of arts administration as I took on more diverse projects. In my final year, I developed the independence necessary to take the leap into the professional, post-Oberlin world. I still have much to learn, but I cannot imagine a better preparation for a life supporting classical music.

Lillie Chilen ’08 became a Communications Fellow in Oberlin’s Office of Communications for 2008–09, after earning a Bachelor of Music degree in vocal performance and a Bachelor of Arts degree in art history. The route from Oberlin has led back to it ... at least for a while.