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He did it his way: Enterprising student creates, self-funds internship across Africa

Will Baxley, Class of 2015, has built a passion for world music while at Jacksonville University, and with encouragement from faculty and senior administration, he was able to expand on his interest by embarking on an eight-week internship across Africa.

“I was recording some music last summer, and after I packed up my equipment one day and loaded it into my messenger bag, I realized I could take it anywhere and make professional-quality recordings,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to travel and I’m very interested in ethnomusicology, in which you document different music cultures through audio or video recordings, so I literally googled ethnomusicology field work trying to to see what was out there.”

Initially, Baxley said he couldn’t find a position designed for undergraduate students, but after connecting with Professor Diane Thram, a Professor and Director of the International Library of African Music at Rhodes University in South Africa, the two developed an internship that was exactly what he was looking for – with a catch. In order to make the trip, Baxley had to raise the $6,000 required for air travel, supplies, food, lodging, vaccinations and more.

“I really wanted to pursue the opportunity, but it’s not like I have that kind of money laying around,” he said. “I’m living on a college student’s budget.”

So the 21-year-old got busy – and creative. He produced a promotional video and came up with a title for his quest: “Will Baxley Records Africa! Not long after, he listed the project on crowd funding site gofundme.com. Fast-forward a few weeks and Baxley had a visa, a finalized trip schedule and the money he needed.

“It was pretty incredible,” he said. “I never thought I would exceed my goal by almost a $1,000.”

A double major in JU’s Division of Music who was able to apply both his music composition/theory and commercial music studies to use for this project, Baxley was also the 2013-14 JU Student Alliance president and is a well-known face across campus.

“Basically I worked as a personal assistant to Dr. Thram, which was a real honor,” he said. “She is very well respected in the field so to be working so closely with her was amazing. I also made connections with some very well known professors from across the United States – I’m on a first-name basis with many them.”

While overseas Baxley attended the South Africa National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, flew to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, for the Wagogo Music Festival and a symposium on the island of Zanzibar, and ultimately went into the bush for the last major leg of the trip, in and around Nairobi, Kenya.

“One of the biggest things I wanted to focus on was technology and equipment,” he said. “My background is studio tech, so I was curious to find out how you actually produce in the middle of the bush. What do you use?”

A testament to the experience, Baxley said he plans to use what he learned as part of an undergrad thesis. He also has more than 75 gigs of video.

“I definitely got what I wanted out of this experience,” he said. “I wanted to travel. I wanted to do something with music that would make me marketable in the field. I definitely have.

“I’ve already been invited to conferences across the country where I will continue to learn and visit with the new friends I’ve made. I’ve also been invited to return to do field in Kenya – expenses paid.”