“As a teen, I wanted to be in a rock band,” says Daisy Salas, a student in the MA in Nonprofit Management at Antioch Online. Today, Salas is living that dream as the rhythm guitarist and lead singer for the Los Angeles-based indie rock band Conductora. The band plays shows around Southern California and has already cut one full-length album. With that desire accomplished, Salas’s ambitions have expanded—now she dreams of working to help Los Angeles youth, youth like her younger self, to accomplish their own artistic and musical dreams. It’s a dream that has led her to her current degree program at Antioch.
Salas is studying nonprofit management in her MA program as she continues to build skills in this field at her day job, which is also at Antioch. She serves as one of the program coordinators for the MFA in Creative Writing at Antioch Los Angeles. In this role, which she has held since 2018, she works on a daily basis with the program’s two core faculty and one other program coordinator to keep over a hundred writers stay on track with their studies. Her job includes planning and running extremely complex ten-day intensive residencies every June and December along with her colleagues. (These “residencies” used to be held in person but since the pandemic have shifted to an online format.)
Salas is driven by her passion for the mission-oriented nature of nonprofit organizations, her love of art and music, and lessons she has learned along the way. “Eventually,” says Salas, “I hope to work with the youth of LA, and I want music to be a part of that work.”
A Love of Learning, Supported by Family
Salas grew up in Los Angeles, the daughter of Mexican immigrants. “My parents came [to the US] from Mexico when they were twelve and fifteen to make a life for themselves,” says Salas. Her parents, like many new immigrants, had to focus first of all on establishing a strong foundation for their family in the US. But this left little room for creative expression. “They worked for a better life for us, and I think it can be hard for first-generation youth to find their passion and creativity because so much of life is about survival and achievement.”
At first, Salas worked hard to achieve the linear career success that her parents dreamed of for her. As an undergraduate at Cal State Los Angeles, she majored in kinesiology and rehab therapy. During this time she did volunteer and internship work at nonprofit organizations such as the Ann Douglas Center for Women, assisting with an exercise program for formerly unhoused women. She planned to build on her undergraduate degree and pursue further studies and a career in occupational therapy. But professors and supervisors recognized her stellar leadership qualities, and they encouraged her to explore a career that would make use of her ability to lead. At the same time, she continued to develop her appreciation for the mission-oriented work she’d been doing with nonprofits.
Salas began working at Antioch LA with the Urban Sustainability MA program, and soon transitioned to a full-time position with the MFA in Creative Writing program. She loves working in like-minded teams to make a difference in people’s lives. Salas was initially drawn to Antioch’s commitment to social justice-oriented education and embracing diversity, and has found that the university delivers on this promise. In the MFA program, she says she’s found a “dream team” of people to work with and learn from. Her decision to continue her studies at Antioch while an employee just felt like the next right step on her path.
Studying Nonprofit Management—And Bringing Lessons to Work
Salas describes her decision to enroll a year ago in the MA in Nonprofit Management program as a no-brainer. And the program isn’t just giving her new skills—it’s also leading to deeper self-knowledge. “I feel like I’ve learned so much about myself in the program,” she says. She is learning not just about best practices in running nonprofits but also new ways of thinking about teamwork and leadership. “Specifically there’s a class on leadership that felt therapeutic,” says Salas. The class is about leading high-performing teams and thinking about how to work with and empower others. Salas found herself thinking that everybody who works on a team should take a class like this. “It hit me, wow, this program, this class, is changing my life,” she says.
Salas says she’s been enjoying bringing new skills and techniques she has learned into her role as program coordinator on the MFA team. “It’s about seeing the best out of everyone you work with and how they can work better within their capacity—how they are, not how you want them to be,” she says.
Salas’s advisor in the MA in Nonprofit Management, David Norgard, serves as the program’s chair. She has felt extremely supported as a student by his mentorship. “It’s been amazing,” she says. “He really cares about students and their experience in the program. He checks in often and is always available to help in planning out professional development and other opportunities.”
Today, Salas is fully booked. She just finished helping run a fourth entirely-virtual MFA residency, she’s entering the second and final year of her MA in Nonprofit Management studies, and her band Conductora is on the verge of recording their second album. She’s not looking to make specific plans for the future, as she is currently fully engaged with her work and studies. Ultimately, Salas feels confident and excited that she’s in the process of acquiring the skills and experience to make her present work ever more effective and satisfying—and to build towards future dreams of working with LA youth in arts and music come true.