Fall 2023 class notes

Annette Huelskamp ’19

If you find yourself in the halls of a hospital in Troy and hear a nurse singing, it’s probably Annette Huelskamp.

Huelskamp, known on stage as Shega, was awarded Best Female Voice at the 2022 Kilimandjaro Music Awards (KMA) in Toronto. The KMA Facebook page says the event recognizes “the best Afro artists in North America.”

The road to an award-winning music career and parallel career as a nurse runs directly through the middle of Wright State’s Lake Campus.

Huelskamp is a 2019 Lake Campus graduate, with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. She is from Haiti. Soon after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, she and her husband found their way to west central Ohio, where they have lived since.

Huelskamp said she knew from an early age in Haiti that she wanted to be a nurse. It was the new nursing program at Lake Campus that made her childhood dream possible.

She remembers finding a welcoming environment for someone like her who didn’t look like or sound like the others in her class. While Huelskamp speaks four languages, English is not her first—yet that was not an issue at Lake. For that, she credits Lynn Franck, M.S., R.N., and director of Lake’s nursing program, for creating a space that allowed her to excel at nursing school despite language and cultural barriers.

Again and again, she was met with understanding and gracious instructors who made space for her music interests as well. She recalled that oftentimes her classes would be interrupted by phone calls from press or others wanting to talk to her about her music. It is possible to do both, she says—having a nursing career and sharing her talent on stage.

Recently she was back in Haiti performing and traveling with all the trappings of stardom, only to find herself back on the floor of the hospital a few days later, caring for and singing to patients—easily moving from one to the other, just the way she hoped it would be.

Jonathan McNeal ’96

Jonathan McNeal ’96

Jonathan McNeal has parlayed his 1996 degree in motion picture production into a career now in its 22nd year of being manager of The Neon, the independent movie theater in downtown Dayton.

After graduating from Wright State, McNeal became a manager in the retail world, which made him a good fit to be a manager of The Neon when the position opened a few years later.

Since the pandemic, many small businesses have been struggling to recover. Theaters are no exception. McNeal spends his days keeping the theater operating. The pandemic caused the theater to temporarily close; ticket sales were lower than ever.

For McNeal, it began like this. As a Dayton native, he found himself at Wright State because of the affordable cost of the school and the opportunities the motion picture program offered. McNeal said he had his mind set on motion pictures and Wright State in the eighth or ninth grade because of his fascination with how motion pictures are made and the proximity of the school.

When asked why he would encourage others to attend Wright State’s motion picture program, his response was definitive. “A lot has changed over the years and how the program is run…but certainly in my time it was a very nurturing program. By the time you got to the junior or senior year, you got a lot of hands-on, one-on-one time that was [with] award-winning, Oscar-nominated artists with great bodies of work.”

He added, “By the time you came out of the program, you had a portfolio like someone out of a prestigious grad school.”

McNeal noted that it was because of Wright State and its motion picture program that he was able to “get my feet wet in production.” McNeal also said the program “offered me a jumpstart in understanding and being able to grasp what it took to put on programs.”

His advice for others going into the motion picture industry is, “There’s always work but it’s always a hustle. The work is out there, but it’s not always in your backyard.”

He added that his job is a little different than the normal trajectory students hope to get in film. Yet, it is rewarding and a job valued by the community when done well.

As a filmmaker, McNeal made a documentary on the Rubi Girls, a comedic drag troupe. This documentary has helped the group grow throughout the years and has helped promote cultural sensitivity. He predicts it will come in handy to help combat legislation against the drag community.

Today, McNeal spends his time “getting our audience back” at The Neon. McNeal says some days he “spends as little as six hours in the theater, other days it’s 10-hour days.”

He added that he uses film “as the ultimate life form that it is and to rally the community to make things better.”

Renika Williams ’15

Renika Williams ’15

As a student at Stivers School for the Arts, Renika Williams began acting in school plays at age 12. As she fell in love with performing, she asked her father, “Can I do this when I grow up?” He replied, “You can do whatever you want to do.”

Just as Williams’ father inspired her to pursue her dreams, he also encouraged her to audition for Wright State’s theatre program. When she received a generous scholarship from Wright State, going to college in her hometown became too good of an opportunity to pass up.

“I’m glad I chose Wright State because of the education I got there,” said Williams. “The great thing about Wright State’s professional training program is that it’s rigorous but intimate. You get to know your instructors, and you feel comfortable with them. You grow as an artist and as an adult.”

After graduation, Williams interned for a year at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park before heading to New York City, where she landed various roles in live theatre productions.

“Doing theatre introduced me to a whole new world of people and storytelling,” said Williams, who has since transitioned to performing in front of a camera for the role of Willow in The Sex Lives of College Girls on HBO Max.

“From day one, I thought it was really funny. When I got the script, it stood out to me,” she recalled. “Willow is bold and charismatic. She’s an opinionated person who is not afraid of expressing how she feels. I love that about Willow, and that’s what attracted me to the character.”

Portraying Willow has also given Williams the good fortune of working with the show’s co-creator, Mindy Kaling.

“Mindy is a powerhouse, but she’s also really warm. She’s very intentional about what she writes, the people she works with, and the stories that she wants to tell to continue to move the art form forward. I really love that about her,” said Williams. “She’s definitely become a mentor.”

This article was originally published in the fall 2023 issue of the Wright State Magazine. Read more stories at wright.edu/magazine.

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