Inside Ivy Tech: Director brings his music, passion to students, College

Unlike celebrities Howard Stern, Heidi Klum, Howie Mandel, and Mel B (Melanie Brown) whose purpose is to judge talent on NBC-TV’s “America’s Got Talent,” the sole big name associated with Ivy Tech Has Talent is there to foster it.

That big name belongs to Jack Willis, executive director of facilities at Ivy Tech Community College Northeast. He’s the chief organizer, music coach, and advisor behind the College’s newest student organization—a music entrepreneurship club for amateurs that debuted in January.

Willis envisioned the idea soon after hearing, “It Takes a Campus,” a presentation delivered to all College employees last September by a nationally known student experience consultant.

“I listened to him and I thought, ‘You know what? My other life is music, and it’s a lot of fun. Why can’t we teach students music business skills, music performance skills, and the like to add to their desire to be here?’” Willis says.

Back row: Ivy Tech Has Talent advisor and music coach Jack Willis, business administration major Desire'e Toran, nursing major Beth McDonald, and Ivy Tech Has Talent music coach Scott Wilson. Front row: Construction management major Matthew Craig and general studies major Emma Trittipo. Toran, McDonald, Craig, and Trittipo were four of the students who participated in Ivy Tech Has Talent's first talent show on April 22.

Back row: Ivy Tech Has Talent advisor and music coach Jack Willis, business administration major Desire’e Toran, nursing major Beth
McDonald, and Ivy Tech Has Talent music coach Scott Wilson. Front row: Construction management major Matthew Craig and general
studies major Emma Trittipo. Toran, McDonald, Craig, and Trittipo were four of the students who participated in Ivy Tech Has Talent’s first
talent show on April 22.

Willis, who has been a singer and keyboard player in a variety of adult contemporary, faith-based, and R&B bands off and on since high school, approached Ivy Tech Northeast Chancellor Jerrilee K. Mosier, Ed.D., with his vision. She encouraged him to apply for an institutional mini-grant. Within three weeks he received the start-up funds to share his passion for music with students and community members alike.

“Entrepreneurship is a skill that should be taught as a course. Using music to accomplish this makes it fun,” Willis says. “And there’s no reason why a two-year community college—and ‘community’ is a very important word here—can’t be more functional by using music as a backdrop for having fun.”

With additional funding from 11 corporate sponsors and a few individual donors, Willis began drafting his blueprint for goals with Ivy Tech Has Talent.

The roster of regular club activities includes a weekly 90-minute workshop featuring music entrepreneurship topics, from song selection and songwriting to stage lighting and sound system management, and monthly concerts performed by local bands—often with an opening musical act that features at least one Ivy Tech Northeast employee. The talents of the Todd Harold Band, Eric Clancy Trio, and Wickersham Brothers were showcased in January, February, and March, respectively.

April was reserved for a semester-culminating talent show, where Ivy Tech Has Talent president and business administration major Desire’e Toran sang “Casualty of Love” by Jessie J., a British singer and songwriter.

Toran credits her participation in the club with introducing her to new music terms and different musical genres, among other skills.

“I have gained breathing techniques, developed approaches to harmonizing, and learned how to be more confident while singing and performing,” says Toran, who discovered her love of singing through middle school choir and high school show choir rehearsals.

As Willis’ Ivy Tech Has Talent continues to gain visibility and participants, his additional goal is to increase sponsorships among Ivy Tech Northeast community members—an investment that will provide access to the club’s performance and workshop benefits for free.

So far, he’s already pleased with the investment made by students.

“We’re not necessarily trying to create talent that’s ready for a national stage, but what we’re doing is showing that people are practicing, selecting and arranging their own material, and being coached to put together a performance,” Willis says. “They’re also developing their learning and people management skills in the process.”

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