Alumni Leading Our Community

  • Dayna Del Val

    Executive Director, The Arts Partnership | Board President, Arts North Dakota | Theatre Arts, 1994

    "Getting a theatre degree was invaluable. I learned how to be part of an ensemble and to take the lead; to listen and to ask questions; to take risks and to fail; to get over disappointment and to manage success."

    How did your MSUM experience transform your life?

    Many of my very best friends and memories are from my years at MSUM. My theatre degree is the most important education I have because I learned how to be a good actor, and believe me, that has served me well day in and day out in my current position.

    What activities were you involved in at MSUM and how did they influence your career path?

    I was mostly involved in theatre productions, including two summers of Straw Hat Players. A theatre degree is all consuming because it’s not just about learning the lines, choreography and blocking; it’s also about building the sets, constructing the costumes, gathering the props and so much more. I knew I wanted to be an actor, and I have been extremely fortunate to make a side career out of commercial acting. When I applied for the Executive Director position at The Arts Partnership, I didn’t truly understand that all the skills I acquired to earn that theatre degree would be such an active part of my day-to-day life. It’s been a lifesaver more than once!

    Was there a faculty/staff mentor who inspired you? If so, tell me how he/she inspired you.

    David Grapes, Jim Bartruff and Bill Wilson were important faculty to me while I was at MSUM. They held me to high standards, challenged me to reach beyond where I thought I could go, and have kept in touch with me all these years later. Their guidance when I was a young actor and their ongoing friendship has been important to my personal and professional development.

    How did your time at MSUM shape you to be the leader you are today?

    Getting a theatre degree was invaluable. I learned how to be part of an ensemble and to take the lead; to listen and to ask questions; to dig deeply into another character and to bring my own experiences to the stage; to take risks and to fail; to get over disappointment and to manage success; to perform through pain and to express deep emotion.

    Tell me about a time when you failed and how it made you a better person and/or leader.

    I didn’t manage staff very well when I began at The Arts Partnership. I had never really had a boss of my own, so the only leadership style I knew anything about was parenting, which I didn’t want to bring to the office. I let too many things go that didn’t work the way I wanted them to because I wasn’t communicating my expectations as clearly and as quickly as I needed to. When one of my early employees left for another job, I decided I would never again find myself in a position of having to accept what I was given when I knew I wanted something more. Deciding to embrace being the boss freed me up to set clearer expectations and hold employees to a higher standard, which they were more easily able to achieve because they knew what those expectations were.

    What advice would you give someone striving to improve their leadership skills?

    Work or volunteer in the nonprofit sector. It’s a segment of the professional world that is chronically understaffed and underfunded, so there are many avenues to get valuable opportunities and grow in professional ways, even if you are young and short on past work experience. For many of the organizations I am involved in, young staff and volunteers have direct access to the leaders, so watching leadership in action is easy and the results are often immediate and very visible. Many of my very best friends and memories are from my years at MSUM. My theatre degree is the most important education I have because I learned how to be a good actor, and believe me, that has served me well day in and day out in my current position.

    Parting thoughts?

    In this day and age, when the liberal arts are often dismissed as having far less value than a degree in the STEM fields, I just want to point out that every field needs communicators, creatives, community-builders and dreamers. Find a way to add the arts to your STEM education—sing in a choir, play an instrument, take a poetry class, audition for a play, enroll in a drawing class. You won’t regret adding those skills to your toolbox, and your future employers will appreciate that you are well rounded. Trust me.