Aida Johnson-Rapp is a Master of Arts Management graduate student. Below, she shares about her Graduate Manifest project submission as well as the impact Columbia College Chicago has had on her career over the years. Her full project submission can be viewed by anyone with a Columbia College Chicago email address here.
Congratulations on graduation! Your connection to Columbia College Chicago goes back several years. What first brought you to this school?
Back in the late nineties I lost my brother to ALS and just needed to take a break from working full-time. I have spent many years in the fitness industry, and I had been very involved in musical theater and dance. The break I needed was to manage my grief and get back to things that gave me a lot of joy, which was performing. I had been fortunate enough in my early performance years to get my Equity and SAG union cards and, even though it had been a decade since I had performed professionally, I had kept my dues current. I decided to get new headshots to submit to agencies. I also continued to teach fitness and dance classes part-time.
Sometime between my performance years and full-time fitness years, I did a stint in the U.S. Army. While in the Army, I participated in the Morale Welfare and Recreation services, which provide active duty military and their families with all types of life enrichment programs. I got to know the program directors at my various duty stations, and I am confident that I was one of their favorite participants because I helped with everything from teaching fitness classes, performing in shows, officiating basketball games, hosting events, and even being a member of the track and field team. What I enjoyed most about this experience was the production aspect of creating events. Even after the Army, I would be the first manager at my fitness facility to volunteer to organize team activities, host member special events, etc.
During my hiatus from full-time work, aside from seeking performance opportunities, I started looking at educational programs that would allow me to take a deep dive into event management and production. At the time, Columbia College had a continuing education department called Columbia College 2 that offered a certificate in Sports and Entertainment Management. I enrolled and completed the certificate and later went on to join an association for event managers.
Shortly after completing the certificate program, I went back to full-time work in Student Affairs at then Robert Morris College. I coordinated events for alumni and students using all the skills that I learned in the Certificate Program. As a military veteran, I had an educational benefit to use and I had always wanted to continue my education, so I decided that the Arts, Entertainment and Media Management (AEMM) program would be a good fit for my new passion of “Events.”
What brought you back to finish this Master of Arts Management degree?
Everything that I learned in the AEMM graduate program has contributed to my success and satisfaction with every position I have held since. During my first enrollment, I dove into the program with great enthusiasm. I started during the spring term and took 9 credits right away. I continued through the summer with a full-time load and did the same for the fall and following spring. By the following spring, I had managed to earn 41 credits and it was time for my internship. I began my internship with the Mayor’s Office of Special Events and within six short weeks of this internship, I was offered and accepted a full-time position as an Event Coordinator with duties and responsibilities that my graduate studies at CCC had fully prepared me for. I stayed in this position for five years where I worked on many of Chicago’s major festivals and events.
My best CCC experience happened when I was asked by Phyllis Johnson and Dennis Rich (former department chair) to be an adjunct for the undergraduate program at CCC teaching three full semesters and two sections of the course “Events: Concerts and Festival Production.” The reason I left the adjunct position was because I was recruited by a major fitness organization and moved to Miami, Florida. I had great success in this new position, however, after several years I moved to California where I worked as the Recreation Center Director during construction and opening of state of the art, LEED Gold Certified, 138K square foot Student Recreation Center at California State University Northridge.
I returned to Chicago in 2012 to be closer to my aging parents. What was missing and disappointing for me was not completing the final requirements for the AEMM program. I am proud of the education that I received at Columbia College Chicago and I wanted to be a fully credential representative of the school, so in December 2018 I appealed to come back and finish the requirements for the MAM degree.
Tell us more about your project to bring a cycling studio to East Bank Club.
We undertook a major renovation and reprogramming of our indoor cycling facility and offerings, which launched on November 1, 2019. The new studio features a 23- by 14-foot, high-resolution, LED video wall; multi-color lighting programmable to match ride intensities; customized sound design with nightclub-grade acoustics; and much more. In our new studio, we decided to tier the bikes stadium style, and in doing so created a theater-like environment. We decided to remove the instructor stage element since the bikes are raised and place the instructor bike in the center to create engaging, arena/performance-like experiences.
On our expansive video wall, we offer a virtual stationery ride through intricate, digitally created worlds. Instead of staring at a teacher or mirror, participants watch on the wall, virtual landscapes such as jungles, the Redwoods, or majestic ice glaciers via a program called “The Trip.” Additionally, we program Live DJ Rides, Music Video Rides, and themed music rides to bring both entertainment and motivation to an in-person fitness experience. We ultimately decided that the most appropriate name for the studio is “ShowTime @ EBC.”
When project planning began, I had the good fortune to have my design ideas and program concepts presented and approved by my executive team. I did extensive field research, managed the project through construction, and I continue to lead a team of high performing instructors since completion and opening day.
For me, my work on this project represents all the skills and knowledge that I acquired through the required and elective coursework that is presented in the MAM program.
What has been the most influential thing you’ve been able to take from your experience in this program?
My education at CCC has given me the skills to feel confident in my ability to lead diverse teams and manage projects for varying disciplines in entertainment, events, recreation, sports, and fitness.
What advice do you have for anyone coming into this program in the fall?
My advice to new students is to approach every project and every assignment with the goal that what you create in your courses could potentially be a project that you would actually get paid to do. Something that you present to a future employer or a business that as an entrepreneur becomes your life’s work. Use the program as an incubator that will lead to the birth of your visions and dreams.