Nearly two years ago, Taylor Caplan stood backstage at Roberts Hall and saw her future in front of her.
As president of the Campus Activities Team (CAT), she spent weeks helping put together the concert after another band canceled during the first week of school. In less than a month, members of CAT and the Office of Student Life worked tirelessly to find JOJO & Two Friends and book them for the Fall Concert, an anticipated event every year at High Point University.
On a Saturday night, after all that work, she stood backstage and saw hundreds of students crowd onto the lawn of Roberts Hall, hold their iPhones in the air and wave them back and forth like lit candles as JOJO & Two Friends played.
That show made all the difference to Caplan.
“It solidified it for me,” Caplan says. “I want to work in music and entertainment, and the JOJO & Two Friends’ show made me confident that this is a valid career path. That makes me happy.”
Caplan, a senior from Fox Chapel, Pennsylvania, is one of two Extraordinary Leaders for the month of February. She is a strategic communications major with a minor in event management, and she wants to help make a performance stage come alive.
HPU is helping her get there.
Caplan’s Big Break
Last fall, Caplan heard about an internship in class from her professor Michael Wallace, an adjunct instructor in communication.
“I would love to be a recommendation,” Wallace told his students in his social media and analytics class.
Caplan took him up on it because the internship offered what she dreamed of doing ever since she wallpapered her bedroom with musician posters she found in teen magazines.
She wanted to work in the music industry in some way, and the internship Wallace recommended offered an HPU student a chance to work with singer-songwriter Stephanie Quayle and Big Sky Music Group, a record label, management and entertainment company based in Nashville, Tennessee.
Quayle created Big Sky to help support female artists and other creators in their careers, and she was looking for an intern to help her with her work as well as Summerfield Farms, which she owns with her husband 25 minutes from campus.
Before the global pandemic, Quayle spent a majority of the year touring and performing. But because of the pandemic, Quayle found herself staying on the farm. She found she needed an intern to help the farm with content creation as well as help her with everything from content creation to branding on social media.
Caplan applied and went through four interviews –– two on the phone and the third face-to-face with Quayle and the farm’s manager, Holly Summers. The fourth interview came when Quayle asked Caplan if she could come back that weekend to the farm.
Caplan was leaving Monday for winter break. But she didn’t hesitate.
“I’ll be there,” Caplan said.
Caplan drove to Summerfield Farms, a pristine spot of more than 600 acres where beef cattle graze, weddings happen, and corporate meetings take place. Quayle owns Summerfield Farms with her husband, David Couch, CEO of The Blue Ridge Companies Inc. and a longtime HPU supporter.
That day on the farm, Caplan helped Quayle record a Christmas song for a holiday video. Hours later, Quayle told Caplan they’d be in touch.
A few days later, Caplan got the call. She got the internship.
Caplan was ecstatic because she had been crushed a few months before. Last summer, she received an internship with the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas, and she was slated to be a media intern for the world’s biggest poker festival.
It was a win-win for Caplan. She would get experience in the business of entertainment, and she would live in Las Vegas, a city she has loved ever since visiting it with Carrie Cunningham, one of her best friends from their days together as summer camp counselors.
But the global pandemic cancelled her internship. Thanks to Wallace, Caplan got another chance. She found an internship that would give her the experience she needs to become what she wants to be.
Caplan now works three days a week all day with Quayle.
“Every day I pull into her place I get so excited,” Caplan says. “It’s such an inspiring environment, and Stephanie always tells me, ‘I appreciate you.’ I get to talk to her about the music industry, and she has put so much into me, even with a million things going on.
“It makes me want to work harder.”
HPU: A Leadership Incubator
Caplan started on her professional path in the Slane Student Center. First stop: Carolyn Rauch’s third-floor office.
In the fall of 2019, Rauch started as the assistant director of campus engagement and student activities in the Office of Student Life. A big part of Rauch’s job was to plan HPU’s large events and advise the Campus Activities Team.
That semester, Rauch asked Caplan if she’d be interested in interning 12 to 15 hours a week in HPU’s Office of Campus Engagement. Caplan said yes. She already had been a member of CAT’s executive council as its events coordinator for two semesters. Caplan felt that working with Rauch would help her reach her dream.
“She’s driven,” Rauch says. “She understands that High Point University provides a lot of different opportunities for its students that exemplify the words you hear often on campus – innovation and extraordinary. She was willing to step up.”
After the 2019 Fall Concert featuring JOJO & Two Friends, Caplan gained confidence in her ability to pull together big events. By December, Caplan became CAT’s president. With Rauch’s help, Caplan learned how to exercise her style of leadership.
Rauch saw it in the way Caplan recruited new members.
“In the past, it was always, come join us,” Rauch says. “But Taylor came at it as make friends, and you’ll get some real-life experience implementing and working with events. The students really reacted to that.”
Caplan created three new committees and oversaw their duties. She helped create new events, put together established events, communicated with outside vendors and connected Rauch with professors teaching event management.
She also helped create a partnership between HPU’s event management program and the Office of Campus Engagement. Event management majors received money to learn how to create events, and the office recruited more students into CAT. The partnership, Caplan says, helped double CAT’s membership.
During that time, Caplan continued to staff a table during HPU’s Open House in the Slane Student Center. Since the fall of 2019, she has fielded questions from students interested in the movies, concerts and other activities CAT helps put together.
Caplan enjoyed that assignment.
“It’s cool to see the kids lighting up when they hear about all the things you can do on campus,” she says. “I tell the parents this is a great place, and for me, that feels great because I know I’m representing a place that has done so much for me, and I’m helping someone else find out that it can do that for them.”
The Power of Friendship
In the fall of 2018, Caplan came to HPU as a sophomore. She transferred from a university in Florida where a majority of the students lived off campus and the school had no sense of a collegiate community.
Caplan longed to find that. She wanted that sense of college, of living on campus, going to events, finding new experiences and making new friends.
She found what she was looking for at HPU.
She first found it through her roommate, Kinsey Williams. They were randomly assigned, and they became good friends. Caplan knew no one when she came to HPU. Williams, who grew up in nearby Greensboro, North Carolina, introduced Caplan to the many people she knows.
That includes the Phi Mu sorority.
Williams was a member of Phi Mu, and she encouraged Caplan to rush. She did. She became a Phi Mu sister and met Morgan Kauffman, an HPU student from Clermont, Florida, a member of her pledge class and Williams’ little sister in the sorority.
Caplan and Kauffman have been friends ever since.
During that time, Caplan also met Macketta Johns, a fellow Phi Mu sister, president of CAT and a 2018 Extraordinary Leader. Johns approached Caplan about joining CAT and becoming part of its executive council as its events coordinator.
After Johns graduated in May 2019 with a degree in journalism and a minor in event management, Caplan approached her for help in going after the internship with the World Series of Poker. Johns obliged. She had mock interviews with Caplan and helped her polish her answers.
And she did this while working full-time in Austin, Texas, for Bumble, a social media company.
“She called me after the first and second interview –– and I had four or five,” Caplan says. “Macketta really made sure I was prepared, and she took the time to call.”
The Meaning of One Book
After her first month interning with Summerfield Farms and Big Sky Music Group, Quayle gave Caplan a present. It was a book by Jim Kwik, titled “Limitless: Upgrade Your Brain, Learn Anything Faster and Unlock Your Exceptional Life.”
“If I can give you any book,” Quayle told her, “this is the book.”
Caplan was speechless. Today, she knows the meaning behind Quayle’s gift.
It’s more than just a book.
“Stephanie saw me as more than just an intern who creates content for her,” Caplan says. “She wants me to be a better person, and the book was a help before I even opened it. Someone I look up to was investing their time in me.”