Music/business degrees hit high notes, open doors

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The first class to graduate with Bachelor of Music (Honours)/Honours Business Administration dual degrees is first class in every respect.

Stellar musicians and high-achieving business students, the five inaugural grads of the program are each other’s biggest boosters, as well as mentors and volunteers beyond the Western community.

On June 19, Sarah Fogh, Samantha Lanooy, Dorothy Lin and Vanessa-An Tran (with Darren Mak close behind) will join more than 300,000 Western alumni living around the world as a newly minted graduate and member of the Western Class of 2020.

Lin, Mak and Tran knew each other before arriving at Western, often crossing paths at the same Toronto music festivals and competitions. Lin and Mak also had a shared history as members of the National Youth Orchestra (NYO) of Canada in 2017.

“That experience was extra special as we did a coast-to-coast-to-coast tour of Canada during the 150th celebrations,” said Mak, a violinist. “One of the most memorable parts of that tour was getting to Whitehorse, Yukon. There weren’t any public planes to get us there, so we were transported in a private jet, something I never thought I’d get to do.”

Lin was principal violinist and concert master for the university opera chamber orchestra and a commissioner for the Don Wright Faculty of Music’s students’ council. She also performed as the only student in a faculty-based quartet.

“Giving meaning to music with musicians with so many decades of experience between them was transformative,” she said.

She was also an instructor, curriculum developer and award-winning entrepreneur who spent two weeks in Belgrade, Serbia, as a champion of the Ivey Business School case method. There, she taught a bootcamp on business fundamentals and entrepreneurial tools.

She plans to use her dual degree to help investors and artists understand each other and build sustainable relationships.

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Vanessa-An Tran studies both viola and piano. She wasn’t sure she could give up music and “put on a suit for four years.” But her eyes were opened to possibilities when her neighbour, an Ivey professor, told her about the dual degree program.

At Western, she explored her versatility with classical, jazz, electronica and dance music. She also planned and performed the music for Aria, the Canadian Asian International Students Association’s fashion show, in 2019.

Studying at Ivey honed her confidence as a performer.

“Learning from case studies pushes you to communicate clearly, make tough decisions and manage complexity. Having both degrees makes me stand out as a potential job candidate,” Tran said.

She is beginning her career at a large accounting firm and working on a condensed program to gain her Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA) designation. She also plans to expand her piano studio business.

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Lanooy had always intended to apply to Ivey, where her mother had also earned an MBA. What she hadn’t realized until recently was how many opportunities would result from her decision to pick up a trumpet in elementary school.

“The music program gave me the flexibility to learn to teach music, play in different styles and groups and even help a friend complete a scholarly paper that needed a trumpet performance,” she said.

Described by faculty and staff as the “most consistently reliable music volunteer who lives and breathes kindness and collaboration,” Lanooy had also received a scholarship at Ivey for community-building and entrepreneurship.

She plans to combine her information technology and digital security skills with a CPA designation.

Today, however, the Canadian Armed Forces musician is getting in shape through ruck marches – a long, fast walk over rough ground with 35 kg on her back – while helping with the family’s marine supply store.

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Fogh, meanwhile, is counting the days until she can sing with a group again.

“I’ll be looking for a choir to join as soon as we can safely gather. Singing is the perfect mood booster. It soothes your nerves and elevates your spirits at the same time,” she said.

Even after attending an arts high school in Mississauga, she knew she was going to study business at university. “The fact Western had such distinguished music and business faculties and I could do a concurrent degree really sold me.”

Fogh was the vocal director for Theatre Western’s performances of If/Then in 2018 and Chicago in 2019, conference coordinator for Ivey’s Break the Silence event in 2019 and helped lead SWAM London, a not-for-profit student initiative providing affordable one-on-one swimming instruction to children with special needs.

She also taught Introduction to Business Decision Making with Cases at the St. Augustine University of Tanzania in Mwanza, Tanzania.

“That international experience brought home how important it is to understand each other’s perspectives to solve problems,” she said. “My ability to relate to people is one of the reasons I’m drawn to work developing human capital.”

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The fifth member of this music/business quintet, Mak likened the bonds forged at Western to his experience performing with a high-calibre string quartet after the NYO. “We all brought out the best in each other.”

Mak officially graduates in October, thanks to a semester in Singapore during his final year. But it is a short delay that’s long on value, he said.

“That international business experience would not have happened if the music faculty was not so flexible,” he said. “My professors made sure I had the courses I needed to complete the requirements for both degrees.”

He excelled in both programs and made the time to play ultimate frisbee and mentor other students about Ivey’s programs and the application process.

Mak will soon begin his corporate career in the leadership program of one of the world’s largest quick-service restaurant companies. And he will continue playing music.

“I can travel the world with my violin in hand.”