It's not every university that provides undergraduate students a culture that allows for conversations with a dean completely in French, or the opportunity to be the first to try a new study abroad program. It was those experiences—big and small—that have fostered courage and passion in Juliana Ortegon to pursue her dreams.
Ortegon wanted to find a way to combine her many varied interests and it was Northern Arizona University that gave her the chance not only to major in Arts Management, but also to earn minors in Theatre, French, and business.
"I wasn't just stuck to this one script," she says. "I had a little more say in what I did and I could extend my curiosity and subjects."
That curious nature led her to study abroad for a year in Montpellier, France, where she became fluent in the local language. She then decided to give a brand-new program in Siena, Italy a try, where she learned about art history, painting, book-making, and took Italian and language classes. Ortegon also was turned on to work in museums and galleries after getting hands-on curator experience, learning skills in art handling and exhibit creation.
"The curriculum was absolutely excellent," she says. "It's always been a dream to go to a private all-girls' school and study languages and arts, and that's what it was for a semester."
Ortegon also got her fair share of curator experience on campus. As one of four student curators of an exhibit called "Wunderkammer: The University as Cabinet of Curiosities" at the NAU Art Museum, she designed a special exhibition featuring items from departments across the university that have been used for teaching, research, and other applications.
For Ortegon, the work at the museum served as her capstone project, which is a comprehensive project that applies the knowledge and skills learned throughout the degree program.
"It was just a good hands-on practice of actual preparation of an exhibit," she says. "I worked at the NAU art museum and that really opened up my love for working in a museum."
Ortegon also credits her academic advisor, Debbie Berktold, and then-museum director Jen McLerran for serving as her mentors, helping guide her way toward graduation and encouraging her to gain as much experience as she could while enjoying her undergraduate years.
It's a lesson Ortegon hopes that students following in her footsteps learn. To her, the reward of her university education was in the risks she was urged to take, such as studying abroad.
"It is enriching. You get to learn different cultures, meet wonderful people - it's the experience of a lifetime," she says.
Now living in New York City—where she arrived after graduation with "a suitcase and one friend"—Ortegon is interning at an event-planning agency helping nonprofit organizations throughout New York raise money. The agency produces concerts, galas, and fundraisers, making it another opportunity for Ortegon to test her creativity in the arts.
Though making ends meet in the big city is a challenge, Ortegon is confident that her experiences are leading her in the right direction. The final destination is unknown, but she's following the advice she gives to other students pursuing the arts: "To each their own journey."