Summer Master’s Program Offers Convenience and Range of Opportunities

Music educators and conductors take classes for six weeks through MSU summer master's program.

The Summer Music Master’s Program at MSU is fully accredited by the National Association of Schools of Music. Individual courses are also available through MSU’s Lifelong Education Program.
At the piano, Jonathan Reed, professor of music and associate director of choral programs at MSU teaches Seminar in Choral Conducting during the summer of 2017.
Mitchell Robinson, associate professor of music education at MSU teaches Music Curriculum and Methods during the summer of 2017.

Music educator Allison Paetz spends August through June working with students. But when school lets out, the high school choir teacher from Ohio reverses roles, choosing to spend the summer months learning from faculty in the MSU College of Music.

For the past two years, Paetz has been among several dozen students enrolled in the six-week summer music master’s degree program at MSU. Designed for working professionals, the summer program leads to master of music degrees in either music education or choral conducting. The summer courses cover the same material as those offered during the traditional academic year but are scheduled from June to mid-August to fit within the busy schedules of music teachers.

Paetz works in a public school district just west of Cleveland. Driven to enhance her skills and credentials, she inquired with her former college adviser for recommendations on a master’s program. The MSU College of Music was at the top of the list.

“The more I learned about the program and the faculty the more excited I was that I had found a well-respected and unique program,” she says. “I liked, too, that the program was contained during the summer. I have other responsibilities as an ensemble director, and wasn’t interested in trying to do it all during the school year.”

Each June since 2016, Paetz has packed her things, left her home in Ohio, and sublet an apartment in East Lansing. She immersed herself in campus and city life, and forged strong bonds with other students in the master’s program. She collaborated on a research project, and shared ideas on teaching practices and classroom scenarios. Often, she took those ideas back and applied them on-the-job.

“I love getting to be around other music teachers 24/7,” Paetz says. “It’s a luxury because in my district, I’m just one of two in my building. It’s so wonderful to talk with colleagues in-depth about things we care about.”

Paetz plans to return for one more summer and wrap up her music education master’s in 2018. This year, she was one of more than 30 music education students enrolled.

Associate Professor and Chair of Music Education Mitch Robinson is among the MSU faculty who oversees and teaches in the summer program. He says the program offers a unique way for working teachers to earn their master’s degrees, as well as to strengthen their professional network within the music education field.

“Most of these summer students come and live temporarily in East Lansing despite having homes and families in other cities and states,” says Robinson. “That’s a real testament to how seriously these individuals take their roles as music educators. We view these students as colleagues, and encourage them to share the knowledge and experience they’ve gained.”

Summer learning, summer sharing

Professor of Music and Director of Choral Programs David Rayl concurs that the only tangible difference between the summer master’s program and the program offered during the academic year are the students.

“The intended audience has always been practicing K-12 teachers who don't want to give up their jobs and go back to graduate school full-time,” says Rayl, also associate dean for graduate studies and research. “What’s interesting, too, is that we’ve moved from a program that was primarily Michigan teachers to one that’s more national in scope.”

In the last five years, the program has attracted an increasing number of students from Florida to California, from Minnesota to Texas, and most any state in between. About 30 to 35 teachers come each summer to work on their music education master’s, while an average of 15 to 16 professionals come to work toward a master’s in choral conducting.

“Good things feed on themselves,” Rayl says. “Once students started coming and had a good experience in the program, they went back to their home states and began talking to their colleagues. There’s a certain synergy going on, and things have really started to blossom.”

Connor Koppin was drawn to MSU’s summer choral master’s program after several of his colleagues in Iowa graduated from the program and spoke highly of the experience.

Koppin enrolled for his first summer session in 2015 and received his master’s in choral conducting in August 2017. Among the many highlights, he says, was the ability to build a strong network of peers to share collective knowledge and varied experiences. Koppin also collaborated with fellow student Benjamin Murray on a commissioned choral work for Murray’s high school chamber choir. The work premiered last spring at the Pennsylvania Music Educator’s Association conference.

“I learned a great deal from my fellow teachers through simultaneous study,” says Koppin. “I learned not only about the repertoire discussed in course study, but about successful teaching strategies that are at play in the real world.”

Attending MSU, he says, empowered him to make bold choices in his teaching in ways that were historically and practically informed. Koppin says he is eager to return to the Des Moines area where he teaches high school vocal music, and to apply what he has learned.

“When you’re working and attending classes like this for three consecutive summers, you’re able to take that knowledge immediately back and apply it to the classroom,” says Koppin. “There’s a lot to be said for that kind of experience and the ability to do that.”

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