Student Spotlight: Mike Else
Major: Graphic Design/Music
At one point, Mike Else’s entire academic record at College of DuPage contained six withdrawals, two F’s and one B.
As a result, the College would only let him take one class at a time. So Else took Drawing 1 and then Design 1 the following semester with Graphic Design Professor David Chu, who would help turn Else’s life around.
“Design was much more difficult than I had expected. It was the only class I took that semester, but I found myself spending several hours every night working in new mediums I had never touched on projects I had never considered,” Else said. “I eventually came to Dr. Chu’s office late one night deeply stressed about a project for class. We sat in his office and he gave me a talk that night that – to this day – I can trace back to as the beginning of a new chapter in my life.
“It was what he told me about being passionate about my work – how pouring your heart and your livelihood into something you can believe in as an extension of yourself – it was those words that awakened something in me that I had, until then, thought died a long time ago.”
Else completed the project, earned a B in the class and then took Digital Illustration with Chu the following semester, finishing with an A.
“I re-took all of my failed classes and passed them, leaving COD with a 3.4 GPA – a significant improvement from the 0.4 GPA I had two years prior. It was in doing so that I took Music Theory with Tom Tallman twice and realized my honest and true love for music.”
Else is now a graduate from Columbia College Chicago, his dream school, with a bachelor’s degree in Music Composition, his dream degree. After working for a small web and design agency called Dom & Tom Inc. on the 32nd floor of Tribune Tower in Chicago, where he was involved in web development, social media management, and graphic and interactive design, he is now a full-time freelance composer and music producer for games and films. For example, he composed and produced the music for the games “Trackmania 2 Stadium” and “Trackmania 2 Valley.”
“It was a lot of work, extremely time consuming, and difficult to balance between my personal business and my full-time job at Dom & Tom,” he said. “So, in short, my passion won. So we’ll see where it takes me!”
In addition, Else has a lucrative career creating music that he gives away for free around the world using the Creative Commons copyright license and commercially licensing music to companies like Red Bull, Coca-Cola, AdWeek, UbiSoft and EA France under the moniker “Professor Kliq.”
“It was easily the craziest thing I’ve ever done in my music career, and it was all because a couple of the animators on the project had used my music in their college showreels – easily accessible due to a Creative Commons license,” he said.
“Today, I’m working at a very delightful company called Jellyvision, creators of ‘You Don’t Know Jack’ and co-developers of a wonderful little Dreamcast game called ‘Seaman.’ I work on the Alex development team, bridging the gap between design and development. It’s easily the greatest job I’ve ever had; it’s a company focused on passion and the core of the human element.”
He still thinks back to the night in Chu’s office that changed his life.
“If the same terrified kid who sat in his office that night could see what I've done and where I’m at today, I don’t know that I would have ever believed it,” he said. “It took a little while longer to really understand what Dr. Chu meant, but in the years that followed, the uncertain and difficult times through school and everything that happened in between, I reminded myself of what he said that night. There were so many times that I wanted to give up, so many times that I thought that I wasn’t meant for school, that I didn’t have the courage or the perseverance to complete a daunting assignment or perform a given piece of music, that I wasn't good enough as a student or even a composer... but I remembered what he said, and how happy he was to tell me that there is something in the world for everyone, that nobody is outside of spending the rest of their life doing what they love.
“Even now, there are trying and uncertain times. The real world, as it turns out, is not very much like college at all. There are no instructions, there are no grades, and the only way to know the correct answer is after the decision has been made, and to hope that you made the right one. I find myself having to defend my position and find new ways to function that help both myself and the company I work for. Nothing is ever perfect and I don't know that it’s gotten any easier. But things have certainly gotten better, and it’s Dr. Chu’s words, his lessons and – most importantly – his attitude that inspired me to keep going, to try my best, to take pride in my work, and to righteously enjoy my successes and triumphs.
“If what he told me that night was something I could hang on my wall, it would be next to my degree which hangs so proudly in my studio. Dr. Chu managed to turn a key that nobody else could, something that he should be extremely proud of.”
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