By Ashley Hughes
Were it not for an inspirational choir instructor, this act in Michaela Rael’s life might have played out much differently.
Following an unexpected back surgery in high school, Rael’s choir instructor encouraged her to perform in musicals and other shows. That kept her spirits up during the challenges of her recovery, instilled in her a dream of becoming a music teacher and put her on a path to completing her music-education degree at Metropolitan State University of Denver.
As her time on the Auraria Campus comes to a close, Rael has already helped countless children find music and she’s poised to help many more as she pursues a career in music education. The University recognizes her academic achievement and volunteer work as the President’s Award winner for fall 2019.
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Rael credits MSU Denver for helping to make her dreams a reality.
“I love that it’s such a diverse education, with professors that are actually still in the field doing music,” Rael says. “That was remarkable to me, so I loved MSU Denver from the second I auditioned here.”
Even as she earned a 3.77 grade-point average, Rael dedicated an impressive amount of her time to volunteer work. She spent the past two summers serving as a volunteer music teacher in Puerto Rico and Ecuador and completed an internship at El Sistema Colorado, a music-focused nonprofit for children in underserved neighborhoods of northeast Denver. She also volunteers at local organizations such as the Denver Rescue Mission, Metro Caring and Food for Thought Denver.
“I love the idea of getting to work with these kids at such a pivotal point in their life,” Rael says. “And being that loving support that not everybody has, giving them a voice and empowering them to reach their full potential, I think that’s beautiful. That’s all I ever want to do.”
Rael’s dedication to volunteer work impressed Carla Aguilar, Ph.D., associate professor of music. “These opportunities put her minor in Spanish language into practice, which she earned above and beyond the requirements for the music-education degree,” Aguilar says.
Explaining the technical terms of music to kids can be daunting in a second language, says Rael, who cites Selena and Lin-Manuel Miranda as her favorite Latino artists. But because music is a universal language, she and her students are able to connect in a powerful way.
Her passion and personal growth have not gone unnoticed, says Michelle Diggs Thompson, affiliate instructor of voice.
“In her role as a volunteer, she was given the task to inspire young students to explore their creativity through the use of instruments and song,” Thompson says. “I know Michaela was able to inspire these young minds because she is very passionate at what she believes in and what she does.”
Rael wants to find a full-time position as a music teacher in Denver working with Latino youth. Looking further down the road, she would like to be able to influence systemic change in education.
“Someday I would like to serve in the Department of Education, either on the state or federal level,” Rael says. “I want to ensure justice and equity for all students on a large scale.”
Rael, who grew up in Arvada, says the support of her family allowed her to pursue these dreams.
“My parents have worked their whole life to provide my brother and I with a life they never had growing up,” she says. “So much of my motivation comes from an innate desire to give back to my roots because I would be nowhere without them.”
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