William Oliver '22

Music Education alum named to Yamaha’s ’40 Under 40’

School of Music alum William Oliver is making an impact in the HBCU music education realm, a goal he set when he enrolled in the Music Education Ph.D. program at Penn State.

“While at Penn State, I could remember being asked the tough questions about this vastly underestimated and, at times, misunderstood music-making space,” said Oliver, director of bands and assistant professor of music education at Huston-Tillotson University. “Penn State helped me bring supporting data to the problem statement, which clarified my mission and gave me the confidence to tackle HBCUs’ most pressing issues.”

Oliver, who graduated from Penn State in 2022, is now being recognized on the national level, as one of Yamaha MusicUSA’s class of 2023 “40 Under 40” for Excellence in Music Education. He was one of hundreds nominated for the award, which was established in 2021 to celebrate and recognize outstanding music educators who are making a difference by growing and strengthening their music programs.

He credits School of Music faculty members Gregory Drane, director of the Blue Band, and Darrin Thornton, associate dean for academic affairs and outreach in the College of Arts and Architecture, for serving as both examples and mentors.

Both Black Ph.D. graduates from Penn State, both professors at the institution. Aside from their frequent check-ins and warm embrace, they both served as a constant reminder that this Ph.D. degree was attainable. Representation matters.”

As a faculty member at Huston-Tillotson, located in Austin, Texas, Oliver has leaned on peers in the HBCU realm to better prepare his own students. He seeks feedback from HBCU graduates and other first-year teachers to identify areas of their music education where they wish they had more training.

According to Oliver, Penn State heightened his sense of curiosity and showed him the importance of developing innovative ways to engage students.

“Having an opportunity, through elective coursework, to interact with professors and students in the business, information technology, and engineering schools was a tremendous value add to the problem-solving and creative side of my career.”

He strives to give his own students experiences outside their university. In 2022, he took a group to the Texas Music Educators Association Conference.

“Our future music educators must be exposed to professional development opportunities while studying to become certified music teachers,” he explains. “I met with the university president to discuss the benefits of our attendance, highlighting the presentations, live performances and networking opportunities. Without hesitation, she agreed to cover our trip, which emphasizes the value of instilling a lifelong love for learning in our students.”

He advises current music education students to “follow the music”—from one’s classes to live music concerts to professional development conferences, and more.

“Following the music always leads to a more diverse taste and perspective. It helps cultivate a more profound love for the career and more music knowledge and skills to assist your students better.”