URBANA – After graduating from Pepperdine University in 2001, Mike Marriner, Brian McAllister and Nathan Gebhard embarked on a cross-country road trip, hoping to discover their own paths in life.
They interviewed 85 eclectic people to find out how they arrived at their careers. Interviewees included Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, a stylist for Madonna, a lobsterman from Maine, the chairman of Starbucks and the scientist who decoded the human genome.
After three months and 17,000 miles, the young men turned their quest into Roadtrip Nation, a documentary that they screened on college campuses that eventually became a movement that now includes a PBS series, three books, a Web site and a student network on more than 350 campuses.
Now on their Fall Campus Tour, McAllister and Roadtrip Nation "Roadies" will visit the University of Illinois on Wednesday to help students and others discover their passions and how to turn them into jobs. Their green RV will be parked outside Krannert Center starting at 10 a.m. to receive visitors, and McAllister will talk at Unit One at Allen Hall.
It was Michele Plante's idea to bring Roadtrip Nation here; she is the career services coordinator for the UI College of Fine and Applied Arts. She helps students in the visual and performing arts figure out how to make a living by finding the right jobs by developing their entrepreneurial, marketing and self-promotional skills.
"Also, just to explore different career options that they may not have known existed," said Plante, who holds "office hours" Thursdays in the Krannert Center lobby. Her primary office is in the Architecture Building.
"Mine is not a placement office," she said. "It is an office to help students develop the tools they need to be working artists."
While in class, students in the arts are busy learning their craft and have no time to develop job skills. Plante teaches them how, as artists, to appeal to wider audiences and how to create their own art ventures.
She does that by making presentations to classes, planning and hosting career-exploration events, and teaching the course FAA 300, which next semester will be titled "Entrepreneurship and Self-Promotion in the Arts."
She also introduces students to professionals, this semester via the Exploring Careers in the Arts Free Lunch Series at various sites on campus.
So far students have heard from Meagan Hennessey and Richard Martin, who won a Grammy Award in 2006 for best historical album; Boneyard Pottery owner Michael Schwegmann; independent and award- winning filmmaker/ UI Associate Professor Jay Rosenstein; Urbana art gallery owners Jan Chandler and Carolyn Baxley; and musician and Pogo Studio owner Mark Rubel.
Upcoming events in the series include "Expanding Your Audience," a panel discussion with visual and performing artists at noon Oct. 24 in the Krannert Room at Krannert Center; a screening of "The Blue Man Group: Inside the Tube" on Nov. 7; and a meeting with music producer/composer Sharon West, who has an engineering degree from the UI.
Plante believes Roadtrip Nation is "fabulous" and will inspire students to become proac- tive and take charge of their lives.
"Roadtrip Nation encourages students to explore different options, to interview people who have interesting jobs to find out how they got there instead of just doing what they feel they're expected to do," she said.
Plante has seen how empowering the Roadtrip Nation interviews are.
"When I share them with high school students, they all feel so much better. It relieves the pressure on them. They discover that a lot of the people didn't get a degree in what they wind up doing. That's not what they've been told. They start to realize that they can do whatever they have a passion for and whatever fits their talents rather than having to do one of six careers that make a lot of money."
She noted that opportunities exist for college students and recent graduates to get grants to go on the road themselves as part of Roadtrip Nation. The experiences they gain through the "Behind the Wheel" and "Independent Roadtrip Grants" programs are shared online at www.roadtripnation.com. Roadtrip Nation is sponsored by State Farm, Adobe and Australia.com.
As for Plante, a native of New Jersey, she originally studied at the Tyler School of Art at Temple University before transferring to the UI to obtain a bache- lor of fine arts degree in graphic design. She worked freelance and arts administration jobs for 15 years before taking her current position two years ago.