by Tricia Duke '19
Music student Samantha Burgess '18 interned with Conductor Kira Omelchenko '05 last summer, the culmination of a mentorship through the Knox Alumni Mentoring Program (KAMP).
KAMP, coordinated by Associate Director of Alumni Engagement Eric Johnson, fosters opportunities for alumni to assist current students in connecting the classroom experience to their career paths. "KAMP is a way to help ease a student's transition from college to the real world," says Johnson.
Burgess, a music and neuroscience double major who plays the violin in both the Knox-Galesburg Symphony and String Ensemble, has long harbored the ambition to be a conductor. She was paired with Omelchenko, assistant professor of music and orchestra conductor at Florida Southern College.
Omelchenko's college-aged self shared a lot with Burgess. Omelchenko participated in "probably all the performing arts activities one can take part in," including the Knox-Galesburg Symphony, String Ensemble, Knox College Choir, and Repertory Theatre Term.
"Once we had been paired, it was up to me to reach out to her," Burgess said. "Dr. O and I emailed back and forth a few times, and then we set up a Skype meeting. She even sent me a little care package as a welcome to the mentorship program."
For her part, Omelchenko said that the Knox experience shaped her and she wanted to be a part of that experience for someone else.
"I look back at my time at Knox as a time that I grew probably the most," Omelchenko said. "I wished to help Sam discover her goals and potential, and solidify her aspirations in the music profession."
Omelchenko offered Burgess an internship at the Florida Southern String Camp, which Omelchenko directs each summer. In addition to shadowing Omelchenko, Burgess taught elective classes and conducted warm-ups for the string ensembles.
Burgess recalled a time when she needed to work on cuing orchestra sections. "I think the way Dr. O described it was that it was like I was giving my little brother a smack on the head rather than a cue," Burgess said. Omelchenko had already described the process as "a breath, energy, and initiation," but Burgess struggled. Instead of explaining again, Omelchenko pulled a little rubber frog out from her desk.
"She had me take a breath and toss the frog at her, making eye contact as if she were a section leader," Burgess said.
"I have picked up lots of little tidbits like this from Dr. O as we have worked together, all of which go into giving me the tools to be a successful professor and conductor one day."
Burgess recommends KAMP to any students interested in setting up contacts or furthering their careers.
"Alumni really want to give back to the Knox community and give opportunities to current students," she said. "Participating in KAMP is one of the best opportunities that I've had since coming to Knox. I have learned so much from Dr. O."
Johnson described KAMP as an opportunity for both professional advantages and personal connections.
"Kira is willing to help others," Johnson said. "My hope is that Samantha will be someone who helps down the road. The cycle of giving back doesn't stop at Knox."