One of the crown jewels of the University of Saint Francis' campus expansion in downtown Fort Wayne was the opening of the Music Technology Center on Berry Street, complete with state-of-the-art engineering equipment, a 2,000-seat concert hall and recording studios open to students 24 hours a day.
The building, next to the Robert Goldstine Performing Arts Center, is a testament to the continued growth of the school's music technology degree program, which got off the ground in 2007 and has since become an important feature in the university's School of Creative Arts.
That degree program, which had 50 bachelor-level students enrolled in spring 2018, is the result of the partnership between Saint Francis and Sweetwater Sound. The relationship between the school and the business is mutually beneficial, providing Saint Francis students targeted coursework with state-of-the-art equipment and internship and job opportunities and giving Sweetwater – just west of Fort Wayne on U.S. 30 – a deep, experienced talent pool from which to recruit.
Saint Francis opened the downtown campus in the fall of 2016.
Sweetwater provided grants and purchasing recommendations for major studio equipment in the Music Technology Center and over the years has provided gifts for scholarships.
“A lot of our students are first-generation students,” said Colleen Huddleson, dean of the School of Creative Arts. “We use those scholarship funds to build the program and provide access for more students to enter. ... (Sweetwater) has been great stewards toward scholarships, which has just been wonderful.”
A good portion of that funding has come from Sweetwater founder and President Chuck Surack and his wife, Lisa. They had donated $420,000 for scholarships as of 2018 and poured an additional $250,000 into Saint Francis' downtown campus.
“The bottom line today is that they're cranking out graduates that are trained and skilled and ready to go work anywhere in the industry, anywhere in the country, anywhere in the world, actually,” Surack said of the music technology program. “I would say Saint Francis and the partnership with them has allowed the program to mature and become much more successful.
“The graduates are all employable. This is a field where there's still a huge, huge shortage of people in this industry.”
The partnership has proved fruitful over the dozen years it has existed. Since the music technology major was created, 50% of its alumni have gone on to work at Sweetwater, in a variety of roles. Surack remembered a group photo taken a few years ago in which there were about 50 Saint Francis alumni among the Sweetwater staff.
“We always tout the access for students,” said Miles Fulwider, chair of the music department at Saint Francis. “That's built along the fact that students can get out of this as much as they want. We have great instructors.
“On the career side, students are interfacing with the current trends in technology which they need to be skillful in order to enter the professional field. ... They know the right questions to ask.”
Sweetwater has a hand in helping the students interact with much of the latest technology. Along with the support it gives for the Music Technology Center, it also offers guaranteed internships to everyone in the music technology program at Saint Francis, helping fulfill a School of Creative Arts requirement.
Students also go through a portfolio review in their sophomore and senior years, looking at the projects they've done at Saint Francis. For music technology majors, those reviews are performed on-site at Sweetwater, getting what Huddleson calls “one-on-one professional feedback.”
One Saint Francis alumni who has made the transition from classrooms to Sweetwater employment is Krystal Davis, an assistant studio engineer at the company. Davis, who attended Saint Francis full time from fall 2014 to summer 2016, wasn't aware of the partnership between Saint Francis and Sweetwater when she moved from Michigan to attend the university, but it helped set her up for a job she enjoys.
“I never would have thought that I'd be working in a corporate environment like this,” Davis said. “If you asked me then, I would've been like, 'No way!' But the people at Sweetwater is what makes the difference. It wasn't just another corporate job, it's so much more. (The partnership) is not what attracted me, but it's what kept me here.”
Davis said the access to the equipment and professional expertise from Sweetwater while at Saint Francis helps make the transition to the professional world much smoother than it could otherwise be.
“Once you graduate (at Saint Francis), you're completely ready to go,” she said. “There are times you might second-guess yourself, like we all do, but there are less of those moments. You feel more confident and sure of yourself because you had the proper training in school.”
The partnership is still growing and changing. In the near future, Fulwider envisions Sweetwater adding a liaison to the program that would help connect students' highly specialized interests with opportunities at the company or with its clients. For example, a student interested in being a drummer might be hooked up with a drum manufacturer that does business with Sweetwater.
Still, the partnership is already considered a success.
“To go back to Sweetwater and see so many of (our alumni) working there,” Huddleson said, “it sounds completely cheesy, but it's one of the most brilliant successes of the university to see their alumni working, successful in the field, at a great company and building their lives off of the education they were able to get from us and the experiences they were able to get at Sweetwater.”