A summer of opportunity

Funds help grad students with professional development.

As each school year draws to a close, graduate students in the College of Music typically apply to receive fellowship funding for travel and participation expenses for conferences, competitions, and festivals, and to cover research materials and experiences. In the age of COVID-19, however, nothing is typical. So the college – with help from the MSU Graduate School – leapt into action to ensure quality professional development for its graduate students this summer.

“I started to see the writing on the wall with summer opportunities in the performing arts industry being curtailed and all festivals being canceled,” said Christine Beamer, director of career services and entrepreneurship in the college.

Beamer and Associate Dean for Graduate Studies and Research David Rayl began working to deploy funding to as many Music graduate students as possible to help non-profits, other students, and themselves through quality internship and tutoring experiences, independent projects, and entrepreneurial activities.

Whitney Mayo, a doctoral student in Music Education, works online with young students in the Community Music School - Detroit's Musical Village class, one of nearly 20 Music graduate students given a summer internship opportunity through special funding.

Beamer reached out to the MSU Community Music Schools and arts organizations such as the Detroit, Lansing, and Jackson symphonies and the Detroit Public Schools Fine and Performing Arts Department, asking them to partner to offer virtual summer internships. Each organization received multiple student applicants, and quickly selected student interns who matched their organization’s fit and goals.

Tutoring programs for students at CMS-EL, CMS-D and for both returning and incoming undergraduate students in the College of Music were created for another set of students. Still others were given the opportunity to develop independent projects designed to help them launch entrepreneurial ventures, develop artistic products, or enhance their professional development.

Nearly 20 students are working for a non-profit or providing tutoring, and over 30 students received funding for independent projects.

Independent projects provide a way for students to develop their creative portfolios and their reputations as scholars, composers, performers, or educators. The projects are self-driven but need to be completed in a safe, virtual way – this year at least.

“Students presented dynamic ideas that provide innovative approaches to reaching different communities, exploring online formats and reflect the diversity of our graduate population,” Beamer said.

Music conducting master's student Randi Simons-Miller is working with CMS-D's Aspiring Musicians Program this summer with the help of funding from the College of Music Graduate Office and the Graduate School at MSU.

Independent projects include:

  • Research, transcription, preparation, and publishing a set of new viola da gamba works for double bass;
  • Creating original arrangements for Orff instruments to use for elementary classes and workshops, tied to Universal Design for Learning principles to increase access for children of all abilities;
  • Running a pilot program to teach musicality in young piano students via online learning;
  • Launching a podcast called “Lowering the Brow” on choral and pop music;
  • Developing a marketing campaign for an online music festival showcasing student performances; and
  • Developing professional websites to develop fan bases, attract presenters, and sell original music.

“The individual projects represent a wide variety of things,” Rayl said. “We tried not to make it too prescriptive in order to get funds in the hands of students quickly and make sure they can spend their summer productively.”

While the funding of summer activities has many elements and variations depending on the student and their particular needs, Rayl views it as one project with many important partners.

Photo of Spencer Arias, founder of Cooking with Creatives
Composition graduate student Spencer Arias is beginning a new online show called Cooking with Creatives. Funding from the college helped him purchase a new camera, tripod and lighting equipment. His first episode debuts on June 9 at 10am on YouTube.

"I see all of this as one effort to create professional development opportunities for graduate students who because of COVID-19 have limited opportunities in the summer,” he said. “People like Graduate School Dean Thomas Jeitschko have, from the very beginning, expressed concerns about the specific need of graduate students in Music. He understands that COVID-19 took away what was for many of them expected education opportunities and money making opportunities. His support and that of our partner organizations is why we’re able to do this. We are grateful and eager to see what these students accomplish.”

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