Chemical engineering senior brings together Penn State performing arts groups

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — John Connolly, a senior majoring in chemical engineering, has a passion for enabling people to find joy in the performing arts.

He has been a part of Penn State Thespians since his freshman year, performing in two shows, working on marketing strategies, directing, producing and now leading as treasurer of the group for the past two years.

Connolly’s work with Penn State Thespians inspired him to co-found the Performing Arts Council with his friend Brian Gutierrez, who graduated last May.

“We just noticed that there is a hole in performing arts,” Connolly said. “Theatre has such a pool of talent, but other groups like a cappella, dance and instrumentalists often get left out.”

He and Gutierrez thought if there was an organization that could bring all of the different branches of the arts together, they could raise the quality of performing arts at Penn State as a whole.

The Performing Arts Council officially became an organization in December 2014, making them one of Penn State’s newest affiliate organizations, he said. It represents 82 student-run groups on campus.

The group’s mission is to break down the walls between performing arts organizations and promote cooperation and collaboration to further the mission of each individual organization and of performing arts in general at Penn State.

Connolly said the group is now taking advantage of opportunities beyond encouraging students to audition for other organization’s shows. The council provides the groups they represent with marketing resources and workshops on how to collaborate with Student Affairs and Student Activities to achieve their goals so they can raise the quality of their art, he said.

“We are just trying to open as many doors as possible right now and ultimately that is the direction — create as many stable relationships so we can actually have conversations about performing arts at Penn State,” Connolly said.

In addition to leading this initiative for the arts, Connolly has held many large roles in other organizations on campus. He was a supply logistics captain and special events captain for THON, he was a member of the Student Court for Penn State’s 2015 Homecoming, and he will speak at State of State about the difficulties of changing student culture on Feb. 13 in Alumni Hall of the HUB-Robeson Center.

For his major, Connolly completed internships at EQT, a natural gas company in Pittsburgh, and at GE Healthcare outside of Chicago.

After graduation in May, the Schreyer Scholar will branch outside the realm of chemical engineering and work in technology or business consulting at Accenture in Philadelphia.

Connolly said he is choosing to go into consulting because of his love of problem solving.

“If I’ve learned anything, extracurriculars and engineering have made me love problem solving — hitting a problem hard and working at it for hours on end,” he said. “It will still give me the opportunity to really focus my efforts on something that I enjoy for many hours during the day.”

Eventually, Connolly would like to explore a career in entertainment consulting. After seeing 10 plays and musicals in London with the Schreyer Honors College’s Theatre 490H: London Study Tour during winter break, he said it gave him the inspiration to pursue the entertainment industry.

Connolly hopes his career takes him to Chicago, Pittsburgh or London, but for now he is going to continue to build connections and have new experiences every day, he said.

“My personal mantra is if you live your life honorably and well, you can live it again looking back,” he said. “So I try to pack as much in so that when I’m 80, I can look back and remember how great my Penn State days were.”

Last Updated February 11, 2016