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As he walks around the SUNY Potsdam campus, Rafael Villa ’19, a double major in arts management and theatre, is constantly greeted by people he knows. Villa is one of the most recognizable faces at the College and also one of the most approachable. His friendly smile, pleasant demeanor and intelligence have opened the door to many opportunities, both academically and professionally.

One of those opportunities took place in SUNY Potsdam’s Office of Admissions. Villa started working for Admissions as a student ambassador his sophomore year where he led campus tours and spoke with prospective students about the benefits of a SUNY Potsdam education. He continued assisting the department during an internship as a counselor-in-training, where he supported the admissions counselors on staff. His hard work paid off. Villa was offered a full-time position as an admissions counselor—a job he will start just two days after commencement.

It all started when he was a student ambassador for the Office of Admissions. “When I first came to SUNY Potsdam I was really reserved because I was very aware of my accent and the struggle people have with understanding me at times. So, the fact that this job was focused on giving tours made me a little bit nervous, but now I can easily go up to a group of parents and prospective students and persuade them to come to this school because of the great things that it has offered me,” he said.

Villa is the first student to graduate from SUNY Potsdam’s new arts management program, a brand-new major that provides students with the management and communication skills to effectively operate an arts organization. “Everything that I do on campus has to do with management somehow. As a stage manager, I was able to coordinate rehearsals, manage the actors, and help put the shows together. I connect management to the arts and theater and really any artistic platform—that’s how I gained a lot of management skills through my career here at SUNY Potsdam,” Villa said.

His work within the arts management program has equipped him with leadership skills for graduate school and beyond. Last fall he worked with his mentor, assistant professor of theater Rivka Rocchio, to stage a production at the St. Lawrence County Jail and the Riverview Correctional Facility. “The fascinating thing about that performance is that the actors were both the inmates our SUNY Potsdam students. It was great! I was the stage manager, so I helped Rivka direct the show by taking notes and being a manager for her,” Villa said. “I feel like I’m more prepared for the real world because of the things that she has taught me—just to be more organized and to work in a professional space. She’s my favorite professor at Potsdam. She’s always there as a professor, but she’s also there as a friend,” he said.

Villa has worked on several productions over the past four years including “Blood Wedding,” “Forbidden Planet,” “Quilters,” the one-act play festival and the ten-minute play festival. He has also worked as the light board operator for different dance concerts and he was the production stage manager for the faculty dance concert in the spring of 2018. “I feel like management, and being the person who runs a show, is fascinating,” Villa said.

Associate Professor Kimberley Bouchard has also been a tremendous asset to Villa’s growth as a student. “She’s been my faculty advisor since day one. She speaks Spanish too, so she was the first person to ever actually speak Spanish with me here. That was really welcoming for me and she helped me a lot. She’s a person who I’m really grateful for because she gives me a lot of opportunities on campus. A lot of my stage management positions started because of her,” Villa said.

He has also been working with assistant professor Joshua Vink, one of the newest additions to the Department of Theatre and Dance and the man who launched the brand-new arts management major at SUNY Potsdam. “He’s somebody who I’m really grateful for! Because of him, I’m graduating on time with my double major in arts management and theatre,” Villa said.

“This school has done so much for me! It’s not something that they just gave to me, I looked for it and I found it. That’s what I always encourage my friends to do, go out of your way to get involved."

When Villa first arrived at SUNY Potsdam, he was shy, reserved and self-conscious about his accent. A native of the Dominican Republic, he moved to the U.S. in 2011. He enrolled at the Bronx International high school—a school which meets the academic and social needs of recently immigrated young people and their families.

“People in my high school were all like me in terms of not speaking English well, so we all had an accent and we all understood each other. When I came here to SUNY Potsdam I was really scared, but all the positions that I had here on campus and my speech communication classes helped me. I am now minoring in speech communication to improve the way I speak and converse with other people. It’s definitely been a long learning process, but I’m in a place where English is not what bothers me anymore,” Villa said.

Villa has continued to flourish at SUNY Potsdam both in and out of the classroom. As an orientation leader, he spent his summers in Potsdam helping to create a welcoming environment for incoming freshmen, and he worked for campus life in the Fall of 2018 to helping to schedule events for students on campus. “That’s something that I really like doing, event planning. I also love orientation because I get to welcome students to campus. I just love the fact that I’m here during the summer and it’s really the most beautiful time to be in Potsdam,” Villa said.

His management and leadership skills have developed through internships and paid positions at various departments on campus including the Student Success Center, and the Office of College Communications. After completing a social media internship in the Department of College Communications, he was hired for a position to coordinate social media efforts for the College during his last semester on campus. “Now I’m more involved with how the college uses their social platforms to promote the school and simply how everything works on the inside. It’s really fascinating to me the amount of dedication and work,” he said.

Villa’s growth over the last four years is commendable and he has developed into a natural leader.  “This school has done so much for me! It’s not something that they just gave to me, I looked for it and I found it. That’s what I always encourage my friends to do, go out of your way to get involved. You get involved in one thing on campus and that opens the door to something else,” Villa said.

In addition to his full-time position as an admissions counselor, Villa will also be pursuing an online master’s degree. He was just accepted into New York University’s M.S. in Management and Systems program—which will allow him to build on his arts management training at SUNY Potsdam and achieve his dream of one day owning his own arts organization. He hopes to one day establish the Vill-Act Academy, an organization geared towards supporting low-income actors seeking roles in movies and Television.

For more information about the arts management program, visit: www.potsdam.edu/academics/interdisciplinary/baartsmanagement

Article and photos by Jason Hunter