Life after Rock ‘n’ Roll

Like a lot of graduate students in the School of Human Ecology’s (SoHE) human development and family studies program, Dave Smallen PhDx’18 wants to find a deeper understanding of how human minds and emotions work.

Unlike a lot of grad students, however, he almost didn’t finish his undergraduate studies because in 2006, when he was 21, he was touring the nation with his band, Street to Nowhere, which had signed a recording contract with Capitol Records.

“It was the songs in which I was vulnerable about my own experience, especially in regards to personal struggles, that had the most genuine impact on people.”
Dave Smallen

Smallen had achieved an adolescent dream — he was a working musician. But he also felt an emptiness underneath that dream.

He went back to school and began to study psychology and sociology, hoping to discover what makes authentic connections among people.

In 2015, he enrolled at UW–Madison, where he now teaches courses such as Human Development: Adolescence through Old Age while pursuing his doctorate. Drawing on his experience as a songwriter, he encourages students to see that the deepest connections come through mutual sharing and vulnerability.

“It was the songs in which I was vulnerable about my own experience, especially in regards to personal struggles, that had the most genuine impact on people,” he says.

By supporting SoHE’s annual fund, alumni help the school to attract and retain students such as Smallen — ones whose distinctive perspective improve our understanding of how our minds work, helping to move us all forward.