By Kendra Johnson, Arts Editor
Hired to fill the position of associate professor of music education, Dr. Patricia Nelson is one of four new full-time faculty members in the College of Fine Arts.
Nelson joins OBU, coming from a lengthy background of experience in both music education and music post-secondary education.
The hiring process for a new faculty member such as Dr. Nelson takes an average of nine months.
“We identify needs and […] We’ll make a recommendation to our leadership at the university and they look at the big picture and determine how best to approve placements for faculty and those types of things,” Christopher Mathews, dean of the Warren M. Angell College of Fine Arts and professor of music, said. “Once we hear that word, then we form a committee within the division.”
These committees are selected to include individuals whose area of specialty are as close as possible to the specialty of the position that they seek to fill.
“In Dr. Nelson’s regard, we had three faculty members,” Mathews said. “Dr. Jim Vernon was the chair of that committee, Dr. Teresa Purcell and Dr. Brent Ballwig served on that committee. So, once we knew that we were able to conduct a search then we put together a job description. […] We’re just looking at collecting all of the applications that we can.”
Next, the application list is narrowed down.
“For Dr. Nelson’s position, we had multiple candidates for that that we presented,” Mathews said. “In this case, that happened sometime in March.”
Final approval comes from the president of the college who presents the final candidate to the board of trustees who approve the hire.
Nelson first applied to the position after hearing about it from an acquaintance.
“OBU’s a great place to work; it has a great reputation; always had a good music department,” Nelson said. “And my daughter is due with our first grandchild this next Friday. And this is a whole lot closer to family.”
Nelson has had multiple family members graduate from OBU.
“She understands our culture, understands our mission,” Mathews said.
For Nelson, OBU runs in the family.
“My father [Burton Patterson], who is an OBU Alum [‘50s], is a lawyer by trade but is a church musician, played the organ, and we had a piano at home, we had an organ at home and when I was very small I wanted to play them, and from the time I was in kindergarten, I wanted to be a piano teacher,” Nelson said. “That’s what I knew. And so, it’s just always been there for me. I was just one of those people who there was lots of music in my home, and I loved it and gravitated toward it and then was good at it. So, it wasn’t something [to which] I came too late; it was something I just don’t know what life would be like without it. It’s always been there.”
Now, she has over thirty years of professional music experience.
“I’m actually an elementary music specialist and I’ve been teaching for over 30 years, taught in public school, taught in private lessons, worked in churches and just recently have come into higher ed.,” Nelson said.
The transition to higher education happened gradually.
“I was working at a church in Texas and I had a minister of music that had encouraged me to get my master’s, and I had done so, and then my mentor at my masters level was consistently bugging me about doing my terminal degree,” Nelson said. “And I finally decided that’s what God wanted me to do and so it was just kind of a natural progression; it wasn’t a planned thing. I hadn’t planned to teach here and then do this, then do this and then do this; it was really doors that opened for me that made it obvious that I was supposed to make the shift.”
Nelson’s experience as an elementary teacher gives her first-hand knowledge that she can share with students.
“I really enjoy teaching novice teachers how to relay the simple stuff to the students that they’re gonna be working with,” she said. “Because it’s not always a natural thing, [college level students] think musically, but how do you work with a kindergarten student who has no experience yet.”
A key part of teaching the students is forming close relationships based on trust.
“My students are gonna be going out into the public schools. And as a teacher you’re never alone in your classroom until you’re actually hired,” Nelson said. “There’s always someone there to save you. And I want to build a good enough relationship with my students that once they’re out in the classroom they feel comfortable calling me and telling me what they did well or what they’re having struggles with.”
These relationships allow Nelson to watch her students grow in their skill are as teachers.
“I love watching the growth that happens between when people think you’re already grown, you come in as a freshman you’re already a grown up, well sort of,” Nelson said. “But watching that, it’s like watching a flower grow and seeing that all of the flowers in my garden are different flowers that they didn’t just try to do what I did but they found their place and their way and their style and they’re successful. And that’s really what I love the most.”
Many of her former students are now actively teaching music themselves.
“In Georgia [my former students] who are teaching are touching lives in ways that often the math teacher or the science teacher are not going to,” she said. “And they touch more lives in the school than just the regular teachers. Not that those teachers are not important, they are, but the music teacher gets to see more kids. And so that’s just very exciting.”
However, one of the many challenges her students here at OBU will face is the challenge of pay.
“Pay in Oklahoma [is a challenge], getting the kids to stay here and not go to Texas where they pay more,” Nelson said.
“Helping them understand that what they do is important regardless of how society views us. Our society says that our teachers are important but, if you look at the pay difference between a professional athlete and a teacher, we don’t act like our teachers are important,” she said. “And teachers know that, we understand that, we know that ‘oh you’re just a teacher.’ And so, I think that’s a challenge helping young pre-service teachers.”
Nelson’s relationship emphasizing approach is one way to help her students see that their contributions to their students’ lives matter and her experience allows her to speak to her students’ struggles from a place of experience both as a professor and as a school teacher.
“We were able to get her from Shorter University and she was associate professor of music education there,” Mathews said. “In terms of ranking, our full-time faculty begin as assistant professors. Associate is the next level, and full is the next, so associate indicates that she has a significant amount of collegiate experience as a researcher, as a teacher and as a teacher of teachers. So, we were delighted to get somebody with that level of experience.