Graduating Music and Digital Studies Major Helps Others “Say What They Want to Say”

By Tom McLaughlin

Simply put, exclaims Sam Paulson, do what you love!

And if you are having trouble finding what that is, says the graduating Rutgers University–Camden senior, let your fascination run wild and don’t be afraid to take chances.

Paulson credits his professors in the music program for allowing him to discover what being a musician meant to him.

“Take some leaps of faith,” says the senior music and digital studies major. “Explore things that are new to you and, sooner than later, you’ll fall into something that resonates with you.”

For the Atco resident, the words of advice read like a roadmap to his academic career at Rutgers–Camden and his future career pursuits.

Upon graduating from Hammonton High School in 2014, Paulson arrived at Rutgers–Camden that fall admittedly not knowing what direction his career would go.

What he did know, however, was that he loved everything about music.

Since he was 9 years old, he recalls, he has primarily played the trumpet, the instrument being “the rawest, most liberating outlet” that he has ever had in his life. To him, learning the trumpet, as with other instruments, was like learning a new language.

“At first, it’s impossible to articulate how you feel,” he says. “But with practice, you are eventually able to let your emotions flow as if a faucet’s been turned on. The body-washing euphoria of letting my feelings pour out of my instrument is so incredibly healing.”

From the first note, Paulson found his professors in Rutgers–Camden’s music program to be incredibly supportive as he tried to figure out what being a musician meant to him. He remembers discovering “joy in the realms of performance, theory, composition, history, and technology,” which he attributes in large part to the open-mindedness of the faculty.

“Even when my ideas are eccentric,” he says, “they only do their best to lift me up, and for that I am so grateful.”

It was this freedom to invent and explore, continues Paulson, which enabled him to realize that there isn’t a set “musician mold” which he needs to fit into.

“I came to understand that musicianship was a part of me, and I was free to express it in my own unique way,” says Paulson, who has performed with several bands at notable venues around the Philadelphia area.

As for digital studies, he says, somehow that path found him, which all started when the Digital Studies Center assembled a “ragtag band of game enthusiasts” to jumpstart Rutgers–Camden’s own student-run video game studio.

“I enthusiastically jumped at the opportunity, and I quickly learned that digital studies is the crossroads between academia and many of my lifelong interests,” says Paulson, who notes that he fulfilled a longtime goal of creating music for video games.

Becoming a student of digital studies was an “incredibly validating” experience for the Atco resident. He recalls that, early in his undergraduate studies, he was insecure about what he would be able to contribute to society after college. However, as with his music professors, the faculty affiliated with the digital studies program supported him wholeheartedly in all his pursuits – and it made all the difference.

“They have shown me that my interests – no matter how seemingly obscure – do have value; that there is a place for me,” he says. “I am incredibly happy to say that, since then, I’ve been living my academic dream.”

For the past two years, Paulson has teamed with Prof. David Salas-de la Cruz to host The Eureka Effect on WCCR.

For the past two years, Paulson’s diverse interests have included teaming with David Salas-de la Cruz, an assistant professor of chemistry, to host The Eureka Effect, a podcast that explores “aha!” moments, on WCCR, the campus’s student-run radio station.

“‘Aha!’ moments are those moments when everything suddenly clicks, and you have a euphoric realization,” explains Paulson, who notes that they have interviewed students, faculty, and alumni about their experiences with the eureka effect.

At the outset, he says, he and Salas-de la Cruz never foresaw how emotional their interviews would be. Their guests have regularly told them inspiring stories of how they overcame overwhelming adversities, all thanks to a path spawned from a single, fortuitous realization.

“There is so much to learn from others and, if you ask, a lot of people are happy to share,” says Paulson, who adds that, even after he graduates, “the show will go on.”

Paulson has also been “at home” serving as a digital consultant in the Writing and Design Lab, a part of the Digital Commons on campus. He has mainly helped students “say what they mean to say” – assisting them with writing and other media assignments, in addition to running workshops, designing graphics, and helping students produce their own podcasts.

“The Digital Commons is a blessing,” says Paulson. “It is a space where students can throw their academic inhibitions to the wind and explore the subjects in which they are interested — no matter how obscure.”

Reflecting on his time at Rutgers–Camden, Paulson says that studying music and digital studies together led him to realize the overall value of communication. He maintains that, if more people were able to communicate effectively – with clarity and authenticity – then the solutions to problems in many different arenas would be possible.

And that’s where Paulson hopes to find his place.

“I believe everyone has something to say, but they don’t always know how to say it,” he says. “With the experience that I’ve gathered working in so many different mediums at Rutgers–Camden, I am very excited to help others to be clear and open, no matter where my career takes me.”

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