By Phoebe Roe
Greg Rosenbaum ’10 graduated from Kenyon as an economics and music double major and now works in Austin as the South by Southwest education producer. South by Southwest is an annual film, music and interactive conference festival frequented by 15,000 to 20,000 people. At Kenyon, he played in a band (Walk the Moon once opened for him), he was a Delt, struggled with his ear-training class and never thought he would one day be a producer in a major education-music festival. Rosenbaum has proved his worth at South by Southwest and credits Kenyon with giving him skills he utilizes every day.
While you were at Kenyon you studied economics and music. How does that play into what you’re doing now?
I graduated in 2010 and moved to Austin with not much more than a little bit of savings and bought a bike, started looking for jobs and was playing music, and I went to a Kenyon alumni mixer and I met some folks. Two of the guys who run South by Southwest are Kenyon alumni so they said, “Look, we have this position.” It was a brand new event for them but you know, South by Southwest was typically a music festival, so they were starting in education and needed somebody to do the legwork, so I applied, got the job and have been there ever since. Like most Kenyon majors, my major did not predetermine my career path.
What does a day in your job look like?
In many ways it’s like community organizing — there’s a lot of event planning and production, it’s a really close-knit team, it is in some ways an office job, we have an office that we operate out of, but in many ways you’re out doing meetings, you’re working internally on a lot of projects, you’re programming stuff. We do a lot to connect with other people within the industry, including developing parties and events and bringing bands in to play and participate and screening films. So we work all year round for four days.
What is the goal of the organization? Are you trying to change education in the U.S.?
You know, I think there’s the lofty goal to sort of help enact some social change by convening a diverse audience at the event, that the individuals that come together build relationships and develop some initiatives that over time create some impact so there are organizations that have started as a result of coming and convening at the event but as an organization our principal focus is to continue to perfect the conference and festival model, have people enjoy themselves, learn a lot, experience a lot, meet a lot of new people and just continue to evolve.
Why did you choose education as the focus?
So it started as a music festival in 1987 and then in the early ’90s we added what is now the film and interactive portion of the festival, and all those industries over the last 20 years have gone through a lot of change in technology. All those things have had a great impact on growing and sustaining a community of industry leaders. Education, for a long time, was a little stagnant in following the trends but now the last five to seven years education has been going through a lot of the same transitions.
Do you think that’s a good thing? That technology is becoming such a huge part of education?
I think in ways it is and in ways it isn’t. I think the big thing is that innovation isn’t always technology, so there are elements that technology becomes an inhibitor for good learning to happen, potentially. But I think the end goal isn’t for technology to facilitate a new wave of education. It’s more a tool than the solution.
Is technology growth going to be a trend? Do you see robots in the classroom in the future?
Robots have actually been used in many ways to help students with special needs who are unable to be in the classroom every day to have a more personalized learning experience with other students. I think technology is here to stay and it’s going to be ingrained in everything we do and learning fundamentally is going to change.
When teachers are learning about these changes at the conferences, are they upset about the technology?
There has been some pushback, some concern that the technology replaces the teacher in some way. There is still a place for the pedagogical impact that a teacher has to go beyond technology. Technology is trying to give the kind of learning that Kenyon creates to the greater masses. How do you bring that to scale? It’s hard to bring a 400-person class to scale for all college students, but does technology help facilitate a 400-person lecture at a state school or a large institution to become more personal through the leveraging of different technologies?
How did Kenyon play into what you’re doing now?
You know, I think Kenyon is a place that teaches you how to think and learn and adapt to new situations, so there weren’t necessarily direct skills that prepared me, but the social and personal development that happened while I was here is utilized all the time in the work I do now.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.