Jenn Armstrong can play four instruments. One is almost as big as her — the baritone sax.
She performs in five bands at High Point University — that’s right, five – and she’s also HPU’s first drum major – a position in which she conducts the pep band, something she’s done for the past three years.
That volunteer gig has sometimes turned her undergrad years into a treadmill.
For example, she’ll play at a basketball game in Virginia and come back to campus two hours past midnight. Then, she’ll grab a few hours of sleep, go to class for interior design and earn grades that helped her make the dean’s list every semester.
HPU has noticed. This senior who stands 5-feet-1 was selected as HPU’s Extraordinary Leader for the month of February.
If anyone asks about her frenetic lifestyle, she has an answer .
“It’s crazy,” she says. “But I’ve got it.”
The Allure of Innovation
Armstrong came to HPU from Newark, Delaware, to study interior design. When she arrived, she knew what grabbed her attention. It’s what she felt — and heard.
“You see it with the quotes on the walls,” Armstrong says today. “You hear all this talk about change and innovation and how change brings opportunity, and it makes you realize High Point wants innovative minds who look toward the future, and I was ready for change.
“When I was leaving high school, everyone was crying and upset, and I wasn’t necessarily sad. I knew there were greater things out there, and I knew High Point was where I needed to be.”
Today, Armstrong is Presidential Scholar, a Millis Scholar, a tutor and a Peer Facilitator for HPU’s School of Art and Design. She’s also a member of the Alpha Chi honor society and part of Who’s Who Among Students in American Universities and Colleges.
Then there is the High Point Market, the world’s largest home furnishings trade show. Every six months, the market draws to High Point 75,000 people from around the world.
In her sophomore year, Armstrong walked into a large exhibition space in downtown High Point to interview for an internship with Sunpan Modern Home, a furniture company based in Toronto, Canada.
She met the company’s president from Canada, and he interviewed her for 15 minutes. His last question: “If you were an animal, what animal would you be?”
“A lioness,” Armstrong responded. “I like being in charge, and I like having all the information. But I don’t have to be the figurehead.”
The owner laughed. Armstrong got the intern slot. Since then, she has worked the past five markets with Sunpan.
‘A Special Young Woman’
Armstrong was barely a week at HPU when she walked into Dr. Danny Frye’s office, shook his hand and introduced herself.
“Do you have a drum major?” she asked.
“Well, it’s funny you should ask,” responded Frye, HPU’s band director and assistant professor of music. “We’re thinking about that.”
“I was a drum major at my high school,” she told him, “and I want to be your drum major.”
Armstrong auditioned. She got it.
Her leadership, though, extends beyond conducting. She helped create a campus band culture that has become more popular – and more responsible.
Membership in the pep band has doubled, from 29 to 71 members. Meanwhile, as practices stretch into the night, Armstrong will send Frye videotext messages of their practices to show how they’re doing.
“She is just a special young woman since the day I met her,” Frye says today. “You don’t meet a lot of young people like that.”
Armstrong plays four instruments, the clarinet and three different saxophones. Her first instrument? The clarinet. She started playing at age 9.
She plays in three different bands and helped create two, the Clarinet Ensemble and the Saxophone Quartet.
Yet, she’s not majoring in music. But Frye depends on her. He also worries. This year, because of her course load, Frye asked if she wanted to drop an ensemble – or two.
Armstrong told him no.
“I look forward to this every day,” she told Dr. Frye. “I play with these groups because I love to play.”
Armstrong’s Next Step
Armstrong will graduate in May with a degree in interior design and a minor in human relations. Then, she’ll go after another dream. She wants to work as an imagineer, employees at Disney World whose creativity and technical know-how add to the park’s magic.
Armstrong knows that magic well. She started going to Disney World at age 4, and she’s gone every year since with her family.
Then, as a drum major, with her longtime band director Jonathan Wittman standing off to the side, she led her high school band down a street at Disney’s Hollywood Studios for a competition.
“He was like a rock,” Armstrong says of Wittman. “Always pushing me forward.”
But it’s more than marching and Mickey Mouse that attracts her to Disney World for a career. It’s the chance to build upon what Walt Disney created.
She wants to be a part of that. Like she was at HPU. If that happens, she knows who will eventually go with her.
Her older brother, Jason, another big Disney fan.
Jason is 26, and he uses a wheelchair to get around. Jason has cerebral palsy.
“Family is the most important thing you have,” she says. “And when it will become just the two of us, where is he going to live? When it’s family, you have to take care of each other.”