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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 up many opportunities for him both academically and professionally.

Villa is also a pioneer in several new academic programs on campus. He will be the first student to graduate from SUNY Potsdam’s new arts management program this spring and he is also the first "auto admit" student to be accepted into the M.S. in Management program—a new master’s program that offers auto admission to Potsdam undergraduate students with a GPA of 3.0 or higher.

“Everything that I do on campus has to do with management somehow. As a stage manager seven times here on campus, 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. This semester 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 in addition to our students. It was great! I was the stage manager, so I helped Rivka direct the show by taking notes for her 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,” 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 and reserved and self-conscious about his accent. A native of the Dominican Republic, he moved to the U.S. in 2011, without speaking any English, and 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 process of learning 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 has spent his summers in Potsdam helping to create a welcoming environment for incoming freshmen and he currently works for campus life 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, the Office of College Communications, and the Office of Admissions. After completing a social media internship in the Department of College Communications, he was recently hired for a position to coordinate social media efforts for the College next semester. “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 work within the Department of Admissions is particularly notable. He first started working as a student ambassador, a position that had him interacting directly with prospective students interested in attending SUNY Potsdam—a position that had him leading campus tours and talking about the opportunities at the College. “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 now working in the Department of Admissions to review applications to attend SUNY Potsdam. He will continue that work next semester as he wraps up his undergraduate degree. He will also be taking two graduate level classes as he gets an early jump on his M.S. in Management degree before starting full time in the fall of 2019. “The best thing about all the graduate classes is that they’re at night, which allows me to work full time during the day as a professional,” 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. I first started as an orientation leader and as a resident assistant and now I have five different jobs—I am proud of that,” Villa said.

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

For more information about the M.S. in Management, visit: www.potsdam.edu/academics/SOEPS/BusinessAdmin/mgmt

Article and photos by Jason Hunter