After 15 years as a classroom music teacher, Earl Vennum was looking for a different rhythm.
“I needed to try something new,” he said. “Nearing the age of 40 made me look at what I was doing and ask, ‘Is this what I want to do for the rest of my career or is there something more for me?'”
That realization led Vennum to enroll in the online Master of Music in Music Technology with a Performance Technology Emphasis program at Southern Utah University (SUU). He completed the program in February 2022.
“This is a good time to go back to school, re-train and get ready for another phase of a career,” he said. “I’ve heard that something like 20% of people have changed careers since the pandemic began. I thought, ‘If they can do it, why can’t I?'”
Vennum made that career switch just 10 months after beginning the program. He is now the audiovisual production manager and technical supervisor for Christ Church Unity and a light and sound technician at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida.
“I was looking for a 100% online program I could do from home,” he said. “This program was designed for professionals to get a degree in as little as 12 months while keeping their day job.
“I did the slightly longer 18-month option, so it wouldn’t put so much pressure on me. It went by fast, though! I was told by a friend ‘The time is going to go by whether you do a program or not, so might as well go through it and have a master’s at the end of the 18 months!’ It was also very affordable.”
The flexibility of the online format helped Vennum make a smooth transition to his two current roles without missing a beat.
“It was perfect,” he said. “Any time I needed something from a professor, they emailed back quickly. I felt very supported.
“In the middle of the program, I got a letter from my main professor with a university keychain and a handwritten card saying, ‘You’re halfway there. You can do it.’ It felt good.”
Vennum grew up in Lakeland, Florida, and he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in K-12 music education from Florida State University in 2006.
“I realized when I was playing tuba in the college band that I love music so much; why would I do anything else?” he said. “If there was a way I could get paid to be involved with music, why wouldn’t I?
“Music made me come alive. I am at home in the world when I am involved in music, so I realized I needed to make music my career path.”
After a mission trip to teach music at an orphanage in Kenya, Africa, Vennum stayed as music director at Nairobi Academy Prep School for four more years.
“I met the love of my life, Leah, and I decided to stay in Kenya since our relationship was my priority,” he said. “I found a job at a British school. I learned Swahili, and enjoyed assimilating into the culture. I actually felt more homesick when I came back than I was originally when I left for Kenya. I felt at home in Africa.”
Vennum enrolled at SUU in June 2020. Two courses in the online curriculum stood out as his favorites.
“Music Technology and Business helped me hone ideas for getting my LinkedIn page looking good, creating business cards and defining and establishing my professional identity,” he said. “That helped me feel confident moving into my career change.
“In Introduction to Music Graduate Study, we wrote a vision resume, predicting where we’re going to be in four years. We had to write it as if it had already happened. It helped me envision what could come in the future with the help of this master’s degree.”
The experience of returning to higher education was so positive for Vennum that his wife is looking into earning an advanced nursing degree online.
“She commented that she hopes to find a program that’s as flexible and supportive as Southern Utah’s,” he said. “She noticed that my professors were there to support me and make the process as painless as possible.”
Vennum also appreciated the regular check-ins from his student representative during his tenure as an online student.
“A few of the times he reached out to me, it happened when I was behind on classwork and feeling stressed because, you know, life happens,” Vennum said. “My student rep encouraged me to not lose hope, but to go ahead and finish the assignment and reach out to the professor. That personal contact from the university even though it was an online program helped me feel connected and supported — not like I was on my own.”
Although Vennum is taking a hiatus from teaching music, he’s not yet ready for the coda on that phase of his career.
“I had two goals for the four-year “future resume” I mentioned earlier,” he said. “One was to be working at a church as the technical supervisor, which I am doing. The other is to teach music technology at the college level.
“You can’t do much teaching at the college level with just a bachelor’s degree unless you have unique and highly specialized experience like being the drummer from a band in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame or an internationally recognized visual artist, which wasn’t my story. This degree gave me the education and the confidence to move forward with my dream of teaching at the collegiate level.”
The master’s degree has already led to career opportunities for Vennum. He is confident it will continue to do so in the future.
“Finding out that I could do it helped me believe in myself,” he said. “I found nothing but encouragement along the way from professors, and the online program wasn’t as difficult as I thought it might be. Without a doubt, Southern Utah University helped me move forward in my life and career.”