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Dennis Dennehy (A.B. English, 1989) can still recite the opening lines to Beowulf in Old English. It’s a skill he might not have used every day as a major label publicist for recording artists, including rapper Eminem, but it represents just how much of an impact his time studying English at the University of Michigan had on him.
“My English degree from Michigan—the emphasis on communication, storytelling, and writing skills—has served me incredibly well in my career,” says Dennehy.
Following graduation, Dennehy briefly worked on Wall Street before landing his first job in the music industry with heavy metal label Noise Records. “We were a small independent label trying to gain traction in what was about to be a period of phenomenal change in popular music. One of the main ways to do that, at least in media at the time, was through press releases,” says Dennehy. “I really put some, shall we say, ‘creative writing skills’ to work in pursuit of that."
He went on to spend 27 years at Universal Music Group, first with Geffen and DGC records, where he helped launch legendary 1990s artists like Nirvana and Beck, then as executive vice president of marketing and publicity at Interscope Records. In 2019, Dennehy tackled a new challenge. He’s now chief communications officer at live music company AEG Presents, owners of the iconic Coachella Festival and tour promotors for everyone from Elton John to Tyler, The Creator.
Dennehy wants LSA students to think creatively about how studying English fits within an interdisciplinary liberal arts education, and how they can use their degree to find work that they love after graduation, like he did. It’s one of the reasons he was the first donor to support the Great Lakes Arts, Cultures, and Environment Summer Program (GLACE). GLACE is a residential interdisciplinary humanities program held at the University of Michigan Biological Station, a research campus on Douglas Lake about thirty minutes south of Mackinaw City. Over six weeks, a cohort of about 20 students take four interconnected, two-credit courses: two in English, one in anthropology, and one in American culture. Students live in charmingly rustic cabins and eat their meals communally, alongside the Bio Station’s larger community of student and faculty researchers in microbiology, climatology, geology, and ecology.
Dennehy’s relatively newfound love for GLACE’s setting helped inspire his support. A core component of GLACE is understanding and exploring Northern Michigan.
“I never ventured north of Ann Arbor when I was an undergraduate. It’s only been in the last ten or fifteen years that I discovered what a magical place Northern Michigan is,” says Dennehy, a Long Island native who now owns a home on northwest Michigan’s Leelanau Peninsula, not far from the University of Michigan Biological Station.
It’s very fulfilling to support GLACE now so that it can establish a sure footing to take root and grow into something long-lasting.
Dennehy established the Dennehy Family English Fund to support GLACE in Spring 2019, just before the first group of students arrived at the Bio Station to kick off the program. He also recently joined the department’s English Advisory Board to work on highlighting the various, sometimes surprising, career paths (like his) available to English majors.
“I was drawn to GLACE because it opens up access to the Bio Station for LSA students from all different disciplines and encourages—really inspires—them to work together. The idea of having students embed themselves in the beauty and incredible natural environment of Northern Michigan as part of their liberal arts study is really interesting,” noted Dennehy.
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GLACE's first cohort spent six weeks at the Bio Station in 2019 exploring what makes a place, a place. Read about their experience.
There’s so much value in participating in this kind of focused learning environment that is extracted from the traditional on-campus college experience. It might spark a new idea about what a student can do with their degree, or their set of skills, and bring that to bear in a different manner.