Although jazz performance major Erik von Geldern ’07 now works in an entirely different field — information security — the experience he gained at Johnson State College has helped him with an important part of his job: connecting with an audience.
“A jazz performance degree is thorough training in the psychology of a room full of people and how to interact with them. To transition from standing in front of a room of people who are drinking beers and taking in some music, to standing in front of a room full of suits with pads writing notes — they’re just people, and you’re there to present information,” he says. “It was an easy step to take, from presenting to people in a bar to presenting to the board of directors. They’re just different audiences.”
His wife, Rebecca Sheldon von Geldern ’05, similarly took a detour from her degree in hospitality and tourism management. She’s a business systems analyst for PC Connection, an information-technology company based in New Hampshire.
Her roles include giving presentations to executives, and she cites her experience as a tour guide in JSC’s Admissions Office and a dancer in the JSC Dance Club as good preparation for that task. “That type of experience I gained at JSC is what made me more comfortable speaking to a group of people,” she says.
Rebecca also draws on her JSC hospitality and tourism courses in her work. “Everything I learned in those classes I apply directly to the things I do on a regular basis,” Rebecca says. “The people interactions are the most important part of what I do, and that’s where my hospitality degree comes in.”
Erik and Rebecca both credit the liberal arts education they received at JSC with helping them stand out to hiring managers. The versatile skills they bring acquired as a result of that education distinguish them from many others who work in IT, they say.
“Having a well-rounded education allows you to explore many topics with different viewpoints,” Erik explains. “In my career, I’ve found that the best way to learn, to demonstrate my capabilities and to ultimately advance is to dive into any problem and perform with confidence and competence,” Erik says. “I wouldn’t be as capable if I hadn’t learned the breadth of academics that I did at JSC.”
Rebecca echoes that sentiment. “Having skills that can be applied in more than one context made it possible for me to evolve my career with each job role,” she says.
Their liberal arts experience in college also kept them open to pursuing careers unrelated to their majors.
Erik, 33, earned several computer certifications before enrolling at Johnson and today works remotely as a senior security architect for New York City-based FXCM, a company that trades foreign-exchange currencies. “I enjoy the unpredictability and ever-changing landscape that unfolds every day,” he says. “There are choices I make that have global impact. It’s rewarding because the challenge is perpetual.”
Rebecca’s work involves constant challenges, too. Her hospitality degree steered her to a customer service role with an e-commerce company before she transitioned to more technical positions. “I like the sleuthing required to understand the root cause of an issue. I start with a business problem and break down the details of the systems and process involved. Then I work with various roles in the company to make the required changes,” she says.
In addition to the career skills they gained in college, the couple say they benefited from Johnson’s small size. That’s one reason Rebecca, from San Jose, California, chose JSC.
“I liked the small school, where the administration and faculty knew you personally,” she says. “In a larger school, I would have blended into the background. JSC gave me the opportunity to step up and learn how to be a leader in a safe setting.”
Erik, from Lebanon, N.H., learned of JSC from a high school guidance counselor who also was a musician. “I came to JSC focused on chasing my passion for music. I really appreciated the intimacy of the small classes with truly world-class professors,” says Erik, who sings and plays bass, guitar and saxophone.
In fact, the couple met through music: Rebecca prepared refreshments and Erik organized the sound for weekly campus coffeehouse events. They married in 2015 and live in Marlborough, Massachusetts.
Erik played music professionally before and during college. Since then, he has focused on studio recording projects but recently has turned his attention to performing live again.
Despite their successful career detours, the couple may eventually pursue work that aligns with their college majors.
“I still hold on to the dream that one day music will sustain my livelihood. As it stands now, I’m able to participate in musical projects while maintaining a successful career in IT, which is satisfying,” Erik says.
“I’ve never regretted earning my hospitality degree,” Rebecca says, “and I still have this vision that maybe I’ll have a small hotel someday or a B&B when I retire.”