Alumni Profiles

Alumni in Their Own Words - Nicole Richard Williams

Alumni in Their Own Words - Nicole Richard Williams

Nicole Richard graduated from CMU in 2013 with a Bachelor of Music Therapy.

Where has your life taken you since you left CMU?

After finishing my Bachelor of Music Therapy at CMU, I worked as a music therapist in Winnipeg for about three years. During this time, I started working with many clients on the autism spectrum and noticed that doing rhythmic and drumming interventions with these folks really seemed to help them reach some of their therapeutic goals. I wanted to deepen my understanding of how exactly music therapy could help autistic children. Going to grad school had always been a dream of mine, and so I decided to take some time off working to do a Master's in Music and Health Science at the University of Toronto. During that degree, I decided I wanted to continue on and do a PhD and was accepted again at the Music and Health Science Research Collaboratory (the lab out of which the master's and PhD are based) at the University of Toronto.

At the time of writing this, I just submitted my PhD dissertation to the university—six years after starting the PhD. The title of my thesis is "Instruments of movement: How auditory cueing can support movement in autistic individuals, both in-person and via telehealth." As you can see, the topic of music therapy for autistic folks continued to inspire and motivate my work over the past seven years or graduate school (master's plus PhD). But I haven't stayed in Toronto the whole time.

In my third year of the PhD, I had a short break one day in which I had completed all of my tasks and was waiting to meet with my PhD supervisor to decide on the next steps for a particular project. During those 10 or 15 minutes, I decided to browse vacant faculty positions in music therapy and stumbled upon one that was intriguing to me. Belmont University, a Christ-centered university in Nashville, Tennessee, was looking for a full-time music therapy faculty member. Long story short, I ended up applying for the position for fun, getting through each round of interviews, and being offered the position. Thanks to an extremely supportive supervisor and group of colleagues in my Toronto lab, I was able to move to Nashville in 2021 and start teaching music therapy while finishing up my PhD remotely in Toronto. I have now been teaching music therapy at Belmont for almost three years, and it has been the best experience I could ask for.

Also, I met a wonderful guy in Toronto who is now my husband. He also happens to be an American, and was happy to move back to the United States with me when I got the job. His name is Nathan, and he's finishing up a PhD in Theology while working as a hospital chaplain here in Nashville.

What components of your experience at CMU have influenced your current work?

My current work as teaching faculty has been inspired by a number of exceptional professors I learned from at CMU. For example, Sue Sorensen came with us down to Kansas on a choir tour during my first year at CMU. I remember her speaking about the power of story to engage and uplift. I never actually took a course with Sue, but the notion of the power of storytelling struck a deep chord with me, and has become one of the pillars of my teaching philosophy. Students regularly tell me that the stories and examples I tell during class keep them engaged and help them learn the content.

The integrative studies component at CMU was also very impactful. I remember taking a course with Delmar Epp on Psychology and Christianity. This course equipped me to think deeply about how aspects music therapy interacted with my faith, sparking lines of thought that I have continued to ponder over the years. Further, working now at a Christ-centered institution, I often encounter students who are asking questions related to the integration of faith, study, and work. By creating spaces for me to ask such questions as a student, I feel that CMU equipped me to engage my students now in a more nuanced and thoughtful way.

There are so many other things I could say about how CMU influenced me. Being at other institutions (University of Toronto, Belmont University) with high-quality music programs has made me realize that the music education I received at CMU as part of my music therapy degree was of extremely high quality. Learning from teachers such as Verna Wiebe, Cheryl Pauls, Janet Brenneman and so many others equipped me very well as a musician. CMU is much smaller in size than the other institutions I have been associated with since my time as an undergraduate student, but I have never felt like the proverbial "small fish in a big pond" after leaving CMU. Overall, I think the high quality of teaching I received at CMU has inspired me to want to bring high quality teaching to my role as an educator now.

What is a memorable story from your time at CMU?

I don't have a specific event to relate, but more a general memory about the caring nature of faculty. At CMU, my professors often had an open-door policy: if the door was open, you could go and ask questions. I took advantage of this policy a lot. Like, a LOT. I don't think I've yet had any students who come to me for office hours nearly as much as I went to office hours as a student, which has caused me to realize just how caring and patient my professors really were! Here's the amazing thing: I can't remember a single time that any professor ever acted like they were annoyed.

What I do remember is feeling authentically cared for as a human person. I don't know if even I am aware of how that care helped to nurture me as a growing young person—I think it had a very deep impact on me. So, as a professor now, I have had moments where a student pops in to chat, and I am tempted to try to make the meeting as quick as possible so that I can get my other work done. Inevitably though, the gratitude and desire to pay forward the grace I received as a student at CMU overwhelms any misplaced priorities, and I find great joy in interacting meaningfully with students who come to see me.

What would you say to a prospective CMU student?

I am so glad that I started my academic journey at CMU. At CMU, the academic rigour is high, and the opportunities for whole-person formation truly shape you into the type of person that will be highly valued in any career. If you go to CMU, your professors will care about you; they will invest in you; they will expect a lot from you; and they will support you. I don't know what factors would matter more when choosing where to study!

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