Student Affairs, Center for Performing Arts unite to enhance arts engagement

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State is working to ensure that every student has a meaningful experience with the arts with the help of a new administrative position and student outreach initiatives.

Melissa Croushorn was hired last July to fill the position of student engagement manager jointly for the Center for Performing Arts (CPA) and Student Affairs. Her position connects the two departments with the intent of greater engagement among students in the arts.

“Students are looking for ways to articulate what is happening in their lives, or what they see happening in the lives of people around them,” Croushorn said. “Art is a great way to do that.”

The idea for a student engagement manager came when the CPA received a six-year Classical Music Project grant from the Mellon Foundation. The initial goal of that project was to enhance student engagement with classical music. Barry Bram, senior associate director for the Office of Student Engagement in Student Affairs, has seen the project develop over the years.

In the beginning of the grant, Bram had regular meetings to look at the upcoming performing arts season and consider different types of events they could host, and different ways to get students engaged in the work that CPA was doing with classical music.

“What those meetings really led to was a bigger partnership around all of CPA’s and Arts and Architecture performances and concerts,” Bram said.

In a lot of ways Croushorn was the ideal candidate for the student engagement manager position, Bram said.

“Ideally we wanted somebody who had some experience with arts, either they studied it or performed it, but also had some experience working with students and understanding student life,” Bram said. “I don’t think there are a lot of other positions around the country like this.”

Croushorn has had what she calls “a bit of a winding road” throughout her career. Most of her experience is with dance. In college, she worked with a number of different ballet companies around the country in their summer programs as a residence life coordinator. That was her first real connection to student affairs work. She continued her study of dance in graduate school at Florida State University.

Before coming to work at Penn State, Croushorn knew she wanted to work for a university and think more broadly about arts and education.

As part of her position, Croushorn serves as the adviser for the Performing Arts Council.

Walker Konkle, president of the Performing Arts Council, said Croushorn has a heart for helping students and engaging them.

With Croushorn's help, Konkle said the council has formed a base that allows students to make it thrive.

“So many people come from the business field into the arts administrative side and they forget that there is an art to it, Konkle said. “Since she (Croushorn) has both sets of skills that has been very influential to us and all the programs.”

Croushorn has started a number of arts engagement programs like We Art and ArtOut.

“We want students to see performance spaces as not just a place to see a show but a place where they belong and their ideas are important,” she said.

ArtOut is a place where Croushorn hopes to accommodate students of all levels of interest and ability in the spectrum of creative practice and expression. We Art involves one-hour monthly sessions that highlight different areas and avenues of participating in the arts to illuminate possibilities in the field. The focus, according to the CPA website, “is on introducing students of all majors to broader intersections of art and culture as they consider their professional goals.”

Croushorn has some advice for students who have never engaged in the arts on campus and don’t know how to go about getting involved:

  • Talk to people and feel comfortable coming out to things.
  • When you are at an event, or you’re required to see something for a class, talk to someone there and make a connection with them about what you’re seeing.
  • Don’t worry about ‘not being good enough’ to get involved.
  • Remember there are so many things you can try here that won’t be available to you when you leave the university and are in the workforce.
  • Keep trying until you find something you like.

“What I have encountered here with Penn State students is when people have stepped out to try something new the arts community is very welcoming in that way,” she said.

Croushorn added art is a powerful way of thinking and using your brain.

“That’s where I think everyone is an artist and I think everyone has creative capacity,” she said.

To view the upcoming schedule for arts engagement events on campus, visit

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Last Updated April 19, 2017