Fairfield University music program director, Dr. Laura Nash named 2009 Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching Connecticut Professor of the Year
(Posted on November 19, 2009)
Dr. Laura Nash, whose musical interests know no bounds and who has worked tirelessly to bring music to inner city classrooms, has been named the 2009 Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching Connecticut Professor of the Year. The honor was announced today at an awards luncheon in Washington, D.C. at the Willard InterContinental, followed by an evening reception at the Folger Shakespeare Library Exhibition Hall.
In 2003, Dr. Nash created the "Music for an Urban District" program with a $670,000, three-year grant from the U.S. Department of Education, which she received in collaboration with the Bridgeport Public Schools. She designed the program to allow faculty from the Department of Visual and Performing Arts at Fairfield to mentor Bridgeport teachers while providing year-round professional development, including multicultural and technology workshops, needed equipment, and an intensive weeklong summer institute. Among the many success stories to emerge is the African drum circle that was so popular, Ms. Fran Russell, a middle school teacher, had to add practice times before school. The group was invited to represent Connecticut in a national showcase of best practices in music in Washington, D.C.
Dr. Nash, director of the Music Program at Fairfield, has successfully applied for other grants to keep the "Music for an Urban District" program alive. The work is timely, she says, because "Current research shows a robust relationship between literacy and language development and learning in music and in drama." Ultimately the project may expand beyond Fairfield County, since one of the goals of the grant is to create a model for music education that can be replicated in challenged districts nationwide.
In her classroom at Fairfield University, students know Dr. Nash as someone who uses every tool at her disposal, including multimedia technology in the smart classroom, to engage and inspire her students. But her strongest suit, according to her students, is her own enthusiasm and willingness to explore all kinds of music and her encouragement and support of their goals, while making herself accessible pretty much at any time.
While a student at Fairfield, Michael Ciavaglia, M.M., decided to pursue a graduate degree in music. He applied to Temple University to study choral conducting, a program that only accepted four students from an applicant pool made up primarily of graduates of conservatory-type music schools. Recalling his successful quest against such odds, he said, "As I prepared my application and audition, Dr. Nash would sit at the piano, while I paced, patiently drilling me in aural theory; and there were yet more meetings to work through Gradus ad Parnassum, Fus's 18th-century counterpoint tutorial." Even while at Temple, he said, Dr. Nash continued to support and mentor him.
Jonathan Tirrell, who just graduated from Fairfield in May, also credited Dr. Nash with helping him find a direction for his love of music. "When I expressed my interest in finding a way to combine my passions in psychology and music, we engaged in some research and a series of discussions and I realized that music therapy was the answer. You have to understand that Dr. Nash doesn't have a background in music therapy, but she was willing to learn along with me, found experts with whom we could consult, and worked with me to design an unprecedented internship observing a variety of approaches to music therapy as a form of field work."
In 2006, the music education certification program Dr. Nash developed received state approval. A colleague, Brian Q. Torff, professor of music, says, "There was student interest and she saw a direct connection to the University mission and an opportunity for meaningful service learning, so she did all the research, report writing, committee presentations, site visits, and everything else required to make this program a reality." The program became one of 24 arts teacher preparation programs cited by the Dana Foundation in its publication, " Transforming Arts Teaching: The Role of Higher Education."
Dr. Nash was named the 2008 Connecticut Music Educator of the Year and in 2000 was selected as the Alpha Sigma Nu Teacher of the Year at Fairfield University. She is the recipient of several significant grants to support her outreach work. Most recently she was awarded a 2009 Teaching Fellowship by the National Endowment for the Humanities to continue to develop her innovations in teaching music.
Dr. Nash holds an M.A. and Ph.D. from Yale University, Department of Music. She is a graduate of Wellesley College with a bachelor's degree in Music.
This is the second Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching Connecticut Professor of the Year for Fairfield University. Dr. Kim Bridgford, professor of English, was named in 1994.
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Vol. 42, No. 131