Your Music Life Team: Real Social Networking

by Fernando Jones –

I was the first in my family to graduate from college. It wasn’t that I was smarter or better than my brothers and sisters. For me, there was no other option but to go to college…and graduate. My academic success was “our” success. I had no idea, at that point, about the importance of assembling my music life team nor about the value of social networking as an undergrad.

Freshman Orientation

In a massive lecture hall filled with at least two thousand freshmen from all over the world, I entered the orientation session at the University of Illinois at Chicago, alone. It was as scary as riding my bike for the first time without training wheels. Only this time my brother wasn’t there to catch me if I were to fall. Needless to say, failure was not an option.

At the top of the session, the college president spoke. I can clearly hear his words in my head today as I did thirty years ago. He opened with this remark:

“Look to your left and look to the right. One of you will not graduate.”

I made an instant commitment to myself and my family (though they were not physically with me) that the student who “wasn’t gonna graduate” wasn’t gonna be me. So the first thing I did to ensure it: I went to the bookstore and ordered my class ring. From freshman year through senior year, I wore my ring everyday. Whenever times got rough, I’d look at that ring and my projected graduation date and say to myself, “I’m the 1/3 who is going to graduate.”

I had everything under control as an undergrad, or so I thought, until it hit me that I didn’t know how to network in the classroom. I excelled in in a lot of ways and my experiences are the foundation for who I am as a professional today. But truth be told, I didn’t learn how to network until I was an upperclassman.

What If?

What if I had been taught the importance of networking before I entered college? For example, I was under the impression for the longest time that something as simple as working in a study group with more than two people would be kind of like stacking the deck against the professor. Isn’t that bananas? Well, I’m just being honest. It was not until my junior year that I learned the value of networking with my classmates and sharing information even if it meant finding out which instructor was “cool” and which was not. Most importantly, I wish someone would have explained to me the value of our intellectual capital and the advantages we’d have if we “networked” and celebrated each other’s academic strengths and resources.

Today, I give my first and second year students the gift of information as well as assignments that are structured, to promote interdisciplinary activities. For example, in my music history class, the students range from filmmakers to musicians to graphic designers to audio acoustic majors. I ask them: Who has a band? Who needs to make a student film this semester? Who needs a logo for their band t-shirt? Who needs to record a project for their final project? They quickly learn that most everything they didn’t know they needed is right at their fingertips.

As a special guest lecturer in a colleague’s class of 30, with a range of academic focus areas that included music, theatre, dance, film, and music business, I first asked these students for a 5-second self-introduction. It went something like this:

Student #1 – Hello, my name is Robert. I’m a sophomore from Troy, Michigan and I’m a film major.

Student #2 – I’m Becca from Miami, Florida, a sophomore, and I am studying audio acoustics.

Student #3 – Hey y’all. Greg is my name from the Big D. Detroit’s in the hiz-ouse! and screenwriter is my thing.

First, let’s do the math. These three students sit next to each other twice a week (three hours/week) and it’s week ten, with six more to go until semester’s end. For 20 sessions, three future professionals who could deeply benefit from each other’s skill set never speak to each other. It’s as if the class is designed to be each individual student vs. their instructor.

Now at our school, it has been my experience that we, the instructors, have a culture of supporting our students when it comes to applying and practicing their craft beyond the classroom walls. Bringing this back to the students above, these three will need each other’s services one day soon, if not now. A filmmaker needs a cinematographer to shoot “his” film. Right? And the filmmaker needs a script to make a film. Right? How endless are the possibilities if they have one basic conversation? Troy and Detroit are really close so the geography in itself will prompt more dialogue. Doesn’t that make sense?

As a professional, networking can always be beneficial because as your grow, travel, and raise your profile, your next gig can come down to someone you met 20 years ago recommending you.

You can wait until graduation and apply for a job or start figuring out how to freelance, or you can build your team in class today, even start your own company and be the captain of your own proverbial ship… because “not networking” is not an option.

Fernando Jones, Blues guitarist and songwriter, is Blues Ensemble Director at Columbia College Chicago and the founder of Blues Kids Foundation.

Photo Credit: Monaghan Photography (Mo/Pho)


  1. Thanks for the response. Yah, it’s funny how smart we are in elementary school and lose it temporarily in college. I guess I’d be getting old if I said, “If I knew then what I know now,” so I wont say it. LOL

  2. Michelle Domanchuk

    Mr. Jones,
    I enjoyed your article and couldn’t agree more. At our kid’s school, they get many opportunities to work together on group projects but it’s often the kids who are the leaders who take on certain tasks and end up doing most of the work and not about figuring out who has what skills and what interests one has and dividing the work up according to their interest. I loved your examples of the students and how their interests can help each other out. Kudos to you on your teaching methods.

  3. Thank you for thinking enough of the article and me to write a response. We look forward to his return.

    You are right. George Orwell was right, too. We have to do two things: Embrace the fact that we are from a different generation. And the second thing is that we have to embrace change and technology while infusing our traditional ways of socialization . . . because we are not gonna get older without a fight. LOL

  4. Mary T Scholz

    Mr. Jones
    I fear that this next generation of students has lost the ability to talk to each other. Students attend class and go home. They (students) communicate via text, email, etc all the time but a simple conversation between classmates seem foreign. Keep up the good work Mr. Jones
    My son Daniel (who will attend your blues camp for the 3rd time this summer) is looking forward to attending Columbia in 2014.

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