Pursuing a career that allows for creativity

by Sam Shugert, MA in Creative Enterprise and Cultural Leadership

I graduated this week with my Master of Arts in Creative Enterprise and Cultural Leadership, an interdisciplinary program within Arizona State University’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts that focuses on entrepreneurship in the arts and culture sector. My college career has twisted and turned in ways that I never foresaw but am so incredibly grateful for. I’d like to tell my ASU story in the hopes that it resonates with or inspires somebody out there.

I first started my undergraduate career at the University of Arizona, studying engineering. It became clear to me after one year that it wasn’t the right path for me. My “aha” moment there was re-discovering my own creativity and allowing myself to be okay pursuing a career that would allow me to be creative every day. I was depressed and felt stifled trying to fit into a mold that society told me was right but wasn’t right for me. Once I switched to the industrial design program in The Design School at ASU, I knew I was on the right path.

My second “aha” moment came four years later, at the end of my senior year in the industrial design program. I had started to become less interested in the design of physical consumer products and more interested in applying design thinking to solving more conceptual problems and designing non-physical products like events, systems and businesses. With the permission of my senior studio professor, I teamed up with two friends who felt the same and we created our own unique senior design project that focused on service design. It was right around this time that I heard about the Creative Enterprise and Cultural Leadership Master’s program. After I found out how perfectly it fit my changing interests, I immediately decided to go to grad school and explore the path of entrepreneurship seriously.

Through the Creative Enterprise and Cultural Leadership program, I’ve built Brandstorming Guru, my own business doing brand strategy consulting work for creatives, artists, researchers and entrepreneurs. My time in Herberger Institute helped me realize that my true passion lies in helping to empower other creatives to be able to practice their craft sustainably and have more reach and impact with their work. Through the process of building my business as my master’s applied project, I’ve had the opportunity to work with clients who are doing seriously awesome work — dancers, researchers, social activists, theatre directors, authors, non-profit founders and even a nutritionist. The program and my mentors pushed me to really clarify and codify my own process for developing a brand strategy and other design work for my clients, and to get to a place where I feel confident that the work I’m doing has real impact.

Something that’s really crazy about my ASU journey is that over my five and a half years here, I actually ended up learning the most from a professor whose class I randomly took as an elective on a whim. David Olarte is an absolutely brilliant professor in the ASU School of Film, Dance and Theatre who teaches Latin dance and is director of the ASU Salsa Devils. I first took his Salsa I class three and a half years ago (and have since taken Salsa II and Salsa III three separate times each and collaborated with him to create and produce ASU’s Latin Sol festival for the past two years, and he was on my master’s committee as well!). He taught me to pursue my passions with confidence and to believe in the validity of what I can contribute to the world. I can’t overstate how much he has helped and encouraged me in so many aspects of my life and work. I owe him a lot.

I would really encourage any students reading this to find an elective or a hobby outside of your required schoolwork and give it a chance. You never know where following your intuition might take you. Taking that salsa class randomly during my undergrad set in motion a series of events, encounters and opportunities that literally changed my entire life trajectory. Because I took that class, I found a life-long passion and hobby, made a huge amount of new and wonderful friends and fell into a worldwide community of Latin dance that I never knew existed. I also met an incredible mentor who became a business partner (we run a Latin dance social every Thursday in downtown Phoenix together) and a dear friend. I offered him my help in organizing Latin Sol festival here at ASU when it was still just a concept, and the work I did there pushed me to start thinking bigger about what I wanted to do with my career. The experience of volunteering to help produce Latin Sol opened up so many opportunities for me that l believe led straight to my decision to pursue my master’s degree and create my business.

Thank you so much to everyone who has helped me along the way during my journey here at ASU. It’s been an absolutely unforgettable phase of my life, and I know that I’ll be reflecting on lessons learned for years to come as I enter a new chapter.

Go Devils!

Pursuing a career that allows for creativity was originally published in ASU Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

ASU Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts