Ohlman awarded top honor by NAfME
Kathleen Ohlman, assistant professor of practice in Doane’s music education program, has been named a Lowell Mason Fellow by the National Association for Music Education (NAfME). The fellowship is one of the highest honors the organization can give to American music educators.
“We are excited to honor Kathy for all of her accomplishments and leadership in music education,” says Mackie Spradley, president and board chair of NAfME. “Great leaders focus on what they can do for others. Throughout her career, Kathy has given her personal best and refused to accept the status quo.”
NAfME is a professional organization of American music educators dedicated to the advancement and preservation of music education as part of the core curriculum of U.S. schools. The Lowell Mason Fellowship is named for Lowell Mason, a man considered the father of public school music education in the U.S., dating back to the 19th century. The modern award is given to music educators identified by their peers as among the best and most dedicated in the country to the field.
Prof. Ohlman has been an educator in some form for the last 35 years. She began her career as a general K-12 educator, but for about the last 16 years her focus has been on music education, and the training of new music educators. She adores her work.
“I have the best job in the world,” she says. “Some days I’m amazed I get paid for it.”
Prof. Ohlman believes in the power of music education not just for aspiring musicians and educators, but for all students at all levels. The study of music has learning applications across disciplines, and it needs qualified educators to teach it.
“Students that study music are fluid and flexible and facilitate well in and out of other learning domains,” Ohlman says. “They tend to be high achieving learners. At Doane I get the best students on campus.”
So crucial is the study of music to Prof. Ohlman that she has taken it on herself to be an advocate at the local, state, and national levels for the importance of music education as part of any public schools core curriculum. She has been the primary organizer for a number of “hill days” for music education, sponsored in part by professional organizations like the Nebraska Music Education Association (for which Ohlman is director of advocacy) and NAfME. These are special days of political advocacy in which she and collegiate members of various music education associations gather with lawmakers to advocate directly on behalf of music educators for their field. Prof. Ohlman has found some success in her efforts.
As director of advocacy for NMEA, Ohlman wrote and received a grant to sponsor the organization’s first state hill day. She also recruited numerous collegiate members of the organization to attend the hill day and advocate for their future career field.
“It’s good to have college members show up to do the advocating, since then we don’t have to find substitute teachers for them, since they’re not in the field yet,” Ohlman says.
Ohlman is thrilled that thanks in part to her efforts and the efforts of other advocates nationwide, music education is listed independently of any other arts as part of the U.S. Department of Education’s list of “10 well-rounded subjects.” The list identifies the full range of educational priorities in America’s public schools.
Professional development is another major area of focus for Ohlman, especially for music teachers in rural areas.
“They don’t have access to a lot of the professional development that people in urban areas do,” Ohlman says. “We developed a series of professional recordings and planned some live service days to bring more development to these underserved areas.”
Prof. Ohlman’s colleagues have taken notice of the dedication she brings to both her educational work, and her advocacy for the field. The Lowell Mason Fellowship is awarded to educators who are nominated by their peers in the field, so just to get nominated in the first place is testament to how highly Prof. Ohlman’s colleagues think of her.
“Kathy has worked tirelessly on behalf of NMEA,” says Dr. Jay Gilbert, Doane’s director of instrumental music. “She has met with both local and national politicians on important legislative issues, and her willingness to bring those perspectives back to the state of Nebraska has deepened our understanding of arts advocacy.”
Moving forward, Ohlman says the biggest challenge on the horizon for music educators is funding. Public school curriculum funding is ever in a state of flux due to the changing nature of public education administration at the federal level. And in a post-COVID world, things are even less clear. Her goal moving forward is to make plain to lawmakers just how valuable music education is for all students.
“The wonderful thing about music students is that they seem to function fluidly in all learning domains, the psychomotor, affective, and cognitive,” Ohlman says. “Students who study music tend to be high achieving, no matter the level.
“At Doane I get the best students on campus.”