Building networks and confidence

College of Music enriches student experience through professional development.

Music Theory students, including Gerry Lopez (right), were able to attend a conference in Columbus, Ohio in November 2019.
Students on a field trip to Detroit with Music Education faculty Ryan Shaw take in a bit of rehearsal by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.


Gerardo Lopez admits he wrestled with the idea he wasn’t “good enough” for the career path he’d chosen. But those thoughts were replaced with a newfound confidence after he attended a conference with his teachers, fellow students and professionals in his field.

Lopez is among dozens of students in the MSU College of Music who participate in professional development activities to enrich their education and career prospects. As a first-year graduate student in music theory, Lopez leapt at the chance to attend the annual conference for the Society of Music Theory, eager to network with scholars from around the world and to hear directly about current research directions.

“The program at MSU is fantastic, so this was the cherry on top,” said Lopez. “After seeing what everyone else was doing and who was doing it, it was empowering to think that ‘hey, I might be able to do this.’”

Expansive horizons

All across the college, faculty and staff encourage students to broaden their horizons through conferences, off-site trips and activities along the continuum of professional development. Support ranges from stipends to transportation to coordinating “away-time” with other faculty and courses.

Professor and Chair of the Musicology/Ethnomusicology area Kevin Bartig said their students regularly attend two key conferences—one hosted by the American Musicological Society, the other by the Society for Ethnomusicology. Master degree students typically participate to get a clear picture of the profession, and to explore studies at the Ph.D. level. Some students present research or assist with faculty projects.

“As faculty, we often attend the same conferences ourselves,” said Bartig. “That means we’re there on the ground to help students network, and to get the most from these main events for our disciplines.”

Andrew Bobker expects to graduate with his master of arts in ethnomusicology in spring 2021. The graduate student attended the national meeting for the Society for Ethnomusicology in November 2019. He said it was his first professional experience within the discipline of ethnomusicology. Before that, his sense of the profession came second-hand through books and articles.

“A student can read books and hear lectures, but that kind of information is anachronistic,” he said. “Only by direct contact with active researchers can a student hope to understand the ‘state of the art.’ This understanding, alongside reciprocal networking, is vital to the success of an aspiring professional.”

Detroit Symphony Orchestra education staff took time to meet with Music Education students while they visited various locations in the city.
Recent Music Theory alumna Stephanie Bilidas and current Music Theory master's student Zachary Lloyd were able to present their research at a conference in May 2019.
Florida State University music theorist Michael Buchler is among the many guest lecturers that the Music Theory area lines up to bring unique research insights to MSU students and create opportunities for professional networking.

On the road

Ryan Shaw got a van, made some arrangements, and took 10 undergraduate Music Education students on a field trip to Detroit. His goal was to showcase music education opportunities in mid-town Detroit, and to allow students to hear unfiltered perspective about the challenges and rewards of the profession.

Shaw and students visited staff at the MSU Community Music School-Detroit and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Students also met with teachers overseeing drumlines, vocal ensembles, bands and orchestras at Detroit College Preparatory High School-Northwestern, Detroit School of Arts High School, and Spain Elementary and Middle School.

“Part of this field trip was just getting students to see the different schools and districts and to reflect on what they might do if they taught there,” said Shaw. “We feel that experiences like these broaden student horizons and equip them to be more prepared when they graduate.”

Shaw plans to organize similar field trips to school districts in Lansing and Grand Rapids. His efforts, he said, are all entwined with a larger, ongoing initiative to tap into the network of MSU music education graduates around the state.

“It’s enticing and helpful for new teachers to have fellow Spartans to lean on for mentorship,” said Shaw.

Junior Ian Brinklow hopes to teach or work in arts administration in New York City when he graduates. But he admits he has little experience with teaching in an urban environment.

“My lack of personal experience in this model of education creates natural barriers to my effectiveness in this role,” he said. “Our trip to Detroit started the process of lowering those barriers by allowing me to gain first-hand experience in urban schools and communities.”

Immersive value

Faculty and students agree that networking, immersive experiences, and professional development activities are a valuable supplement to the mentoring that takes place daily at the MSU College of Music.

In the Music Theory area, more than 10 students attended informative, professional events with faculty in fall 2019—including the pinnacle annual conference for the Society for Music Theory. In November, students traveled with faculty to Columbus, Ohio, to participate in workshops, network with scholars, and listen to research presentations—some by MSU alumni and faculty.

“When faculty and students attend conferences together, it presents a whole set of great mentoring opportunities,” said Michael Callahan, associate professor and chair of the Music Theory area. “Plus, it’s fun and a great way to build community.”

Master’s student Hanisha Kulothparan said going to a professional conference helped her feel more connected to the music theory community both at MSU and beyond. The experience also validated her decision to enroll at MSU, and she was thankful for the funding that made the trip possible.

“I chose MSU because I saw the importance that faculty put on providing students with as much support as possible with conferences, presentations and Ph.D. applications,” she said. “I definitely feel I am being provided for, and I’ve had a wonderful time and learned a lot at MSU in the short time I’ve been here.”


Private gifts play a vital role in the quality of programs and in the ability of the MSU College of Music to remain a premier training ground for future scholars, administrators, teachers and performers. To find out more about how you can invest and make a difference, contact Rebecca Surian, senior director of development, College of Music, at surian@msu.edu or 517-353-9872.

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