Graduate Study @ MSU

Our doctoral students play a critical role in the music education community at MSU. Each of our students is highly experienced in their particular area of expertise, and make valuable contributions to the undergraduate and graduate programs in music education.


We consider our doctoral students to be "fixed-term junior faculty" colleagues, and believe that this approach to developing a "community of learners" assists our doctoral students in making the transition to collegiate faculty positions much more smoothly.


MSU Ph.D. students teach and assist with courses, observe student teachers and conduct independent research during their residencies.  These experiences help them gain valuable collegiate teaching experience and preparation for the establishment of a scholarly agenda.


Current Doctoral Students

Rachel Grimsby has 15 years experience in elementary general and choral music education. She holds a B.M.Ed from East Carolina University, and a M.M.Ed from The University of Hartford’s Hartt School of Music. She has obtained certification in all Kodály and Orff levels. Rachel is a teacher trainer for FAME, holding certifications in First Steps and Conversational Solfege Levels One and Two. Rachel is a frequent clinician at the local, state and national levels, and is a member of the National Association for Music Educators, Organization of Kodály Educators, the American Orff-Schulwerk Association, and is a current and founding member of the Feierabend Association of Music Education. Rachel is looking forward to beginning her Ph.D studies at Michigan State University in the fall of 2017.

David Potter is a Ph.D. student in music education at Michigan State University. Before coming to Michigan, David taught K-5 Music in Memphis.  In his six years in Memphis, he received the New Teacher of the Year award, the Teacher of the Year award, TMEA’s Outstanding Young Music Educator award, CBS/WREG Educator of the Week, and the inaugural Legacy Award for outstanding service to the field of music education. In addition to his teaching duties, David wrote the new Tennessee standards for K-5 music education, served on the textbook review committee for the State Board of Education, and worked as a Peer Reviewer/Executive Reviewer for the Tennessee Fine Arts Portfolio. David has presented several times, including the NAfME, SEADAE, and TMEA conferences. His topics included, “Universal Techniques for Top-Notch Observations,” “Teacher Leadership in the Peer Review Process,” and, “Orffervations: Techiques for Level Five Observations.” He currently holds a BM in Music Education from the Eastman School of Music, an MM in Music Education from the Crane School of Music at SUNY Potsdam, and Orff Certification in Levels I-III from the University of Memphis. David’s research interests include music teacher assessment and social justice.

Amy Lewis originally hails from Kansas City, MO and is a Ph.D. student in music education at Michigan State University. Previously, Amy taught Kindergarten-8th grade general music, concert band, jazz band and choir in Des Plaines, Illinois. She also taught high school choir at Urban Prep Academy in Chicago, IL. During her time in Des Plaines,  Amy was the 2015 Illinois Education Association Bob Haisman Teacher of the Year recipient and also received the “Those Who Excel Award Recipient: Excellence” as an Early Career Educator in October 2012 from the Illinois State Board of Education. She has facilitated many sessions at the Illinois Music Educator’s Conference in Peoria, IL with session titles including “How to Survive Your First Year Teaching” and “Common Core in the General Music Classroom”. Outside of the music classroom, Amy has been an involved member of the Illinois Education Association as an elected delegate to three Illinois Education Association Representative Assemblies and two National Education Association Representative Assemblies. She is a dedicated educator that believes in the abilities of all students and considers herself to be a lifelong learner.


Colleen McNickle is pursuing her PhD in Music Education with a choral cognate at Michigan State University where she also supervises student teachers and assists with undergraduate coursework.  An Illinois native, Colleen earned her undergraduate degree at Augustana College, earned her Master’s in Music Education at the University of Illinois, and spent five years teaching middle and high school choirs, music theory, piano, and beginner ukulele.  Her research interests include Musicians’ Health and Wellness, Comprehensive Music Education, and creating a dialogue about Social Change through Choral Education.

Jessica McKiernan is a Ph.D. student in Music Education with a choral cognate at Michigan State University, where she supervises student teachers; assists with undergraduate coursework; serves as co-advisor for the NAfME student chapter; and takes coursework in conducting, choral literature, and music education. Her research interests include gender and identity development through music education, inclusive and culturally-responsive pedagogy, and student engagement and agency in ensemble-based classes. 


Before her doctoral studies, she taught choir in Oregon, where she served as the head of her district’s secondary choral music learning team, festival creator and coordinator, and focused on engagement between schools and the community. A certified clinician, she specializes in sight reading adjudication and engaging students in the process of music making. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Music and a Master of Arts in Teaching from Oregon State University, both with an emphasis in choral music education.

Erika Knapp is a Ph.D. student in Music Education at Michigan State University with an ethnomusicology cognate. A Texas native, Erika holds a B.A. from Austin College, with a double major in Music and Religious Studies and she earned a double master’s degree in Choral Conducting and Music Education from Central Michigan University. She spent 13 years teaching elementary music, middle school choir, music appreciation and beginning ukulele in the Mid-Michigan area. Erika has certification in all Orff levels and is a Level I pedagogy teacher for the American Orff Schulwerk Association. She is a frequent clinician at the local, state, national, and international level and is a member of the National Association for Music Educators, the American Orff-Schulwerk Association and the Mid-Michigan Orff-Schulwerk Association. She presents topics on “Authentic Assessment in the Elementary Classroom”, “Infusing Creativity and Improvisation in Lessons”, “Leaping into Literature” and “Keeping the Play in the Schulwerk”. She recently published an article, “Authentic Assessment in the General Music Classroom: Merging the Music and the Metrics” in the 2017 edition of the Michigan Music Educators Journal. She is currently a member of the music education faculty at Central Michigan University and her book of world folk song arrangements for the elementary classroom is currently undergoing the editing process for publication and is anticipated in Spring 2020. Her research interests include disability studies, authentic assessments, and issues of sourcing and utilizing world music with integrity.  

Whitney Mayo is a Ph.D. student in Music Education at MSU. Originally from Michigan, she spent nine years in Texas, where she earned her Bachelor of Music Education degree from the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor and her Master of Music in Music Education from Baylor University. Prior to beginning her Ph.D., she taught for six years on Fort Hood in Texas, working with a military student population in a PreK 3 (three-year-old) through third grade elementary setting. She has completed Orff Levels 1 and 2, as well as Music Learning Theory Early Childhood Level 1 and Elementary General Level 1. At MSU, Whitney serves as the co-advisor for the NAfME student chapter, supervises student teachers, assists with undergraduate coursework and takes coursework in music education and ethnomusicology.  She also teaches early childhood music classes at the Community Music School in East Lansing. Recent publications include a research article entitled “The Effect of Parameters on Composition Anxiety.” Her research interests include student perceptions within the elementary music classroom, teaching methodologies, and research applications for practicing teachers. 

Rebecca DeWan is a Ph.D. student in music education at Michigan State University. Prior to moving to Michigan, she taught music in Maine for thirteen years. At Noble High School in North Berwick, Maine, she directed four choruses and served as the Visual & Performing Arts Subject Area Coordinator. She recently completed a Master’s in Choral Conducting at the University of Southern Maine. She taught grades 5-12 vocal music in Houlton, Maine, where she directed school choirs, taught general music, directed and produced the annual musical, and directed two show choirs. She has conducted honors festivals in Maine and New Hampshire. She has presented workshops at the Maine Music Educators Association conference including: “Transgender Singers in the HS Choral Classroom” and “Contemporary A Cappella: A Vehicle for Music Theory.” She was named the Maine ACDA 2018 Outstanding Choral Director of the Year.