When Alexandra Arpajian earned her bachelor’s degree in music performance, she started taking many opportunities that came her way. While it was nice to take the time to figure out her niche, she experienced a lot of rejection.
“I would never get the final offer because they would always say, ‘This person has a master’s degree or this person has a higher degree,’” she says.
During that time, Arpajian says a lot of the work she took was in nonprofits. She particularly enjoyed a job in parks and recreation working with people with disabilities.
To follow this new interest and make herself more marketable, she enrolled in two programs at UNC Greensboro — the online Graduate Certificate in Nonprofit Management (NPM) program and the M.S. in Parks and Recreation Management with a concentration in Therapeutic Recreation.
A New Career Path
Arpajian’s decision to go back to school paid off. After graduating and completing the certificate, the Winston-Salem Symphony hired her as assistant director of Education and Inclusion, a position created to highlight her unique skills.
Her role includes community engagement and inclusion in the symphony’s education department, coordinating volunteers, and supporting education programming.
Stacking Skills to Stand Out
Arpajian pursued the NPM certificate because she wanted to continue nonprofit work. “I thought it would make me more marketable and achieve the ultimate goals of my career,” she says.
She hopes to someday head an arts agency, run her own expressive arts therapy and inclusive arts business, or possibly teach at a university.
The certificate gave her an additional skill set in nonprofits that ties into her music background as well as her master’s in therapeutic recreation. All of these experiences complement her role at the symphony.
“I realized how difficult the working world is, especially for someone like me who wants to be successful in an extremely narrow field,” she says. “You have to be even more competitive and qualified.”
Putting Skills to Work
The NPM program gave her valuable nonprofit tools and taught her the inner workings of a nonprofit, such as how to support staff and volunteers. Working on a full-time staff of 12 at the symphony, Arpajian has relied on those skills for everything from getting the job to providing input on marketing and strategic planning.
“It was helpful when I was interviewing for jobs to know that I could go online and look up a business’s Form 990 and understand their financial health, and also giving me insight into nonprofits before I even got my foot into the door there so I could speak their language during the interview process,” she says.
Courses like Philanthropy and Resource Development touched on many things she would be learning in the program. Dr. Tamaki Onishi’s class taught her about nonprofits in the area.
“She has also worked in the symphonic world, so she was a great resource for me and my unique interests,” she says.
Online Eases a Demanding Schedule
While earning the certificate, Arpajian was a full-time student with several jobs, including teaching fitness classes, teaching music and managing an afterschool program, working as a graduate assistant at UNCG’s therapeutic department, and teaching music classes for individuals with disabilities through a parks and recreation program.
The NPM program’s online format worked well with her demanding schedule, allowing nights and weekends to complete coursework.
“I think after you get through an undergrad degree you kind of understand that you’re getting back into the game for a very specific reason, so you have to be dedicated,” she says.
Finding Her Passion
Arpajian’s graduate assistantship paid for her master’s degree, and she worked to pay for the NPM certificate so she would only have to take out minimal loans, paying them off within a year after graduating.
Arpajian says that hard work eventually pays off. “As you find something you’re truly passionate about, that’s what makes all those long hours and heavy lifting worth it,” she says.
Find out more about the online Nonprofit Management Certificate.