Katie Starnes

Katie Starnes

Photo by James Tensuan, '15 Photojournalism

Dean's Scholar

Major: Music Education
College of Humanities and the Arts

Why did you choose your major?

I have known since I was 5 or 6 years old that I wanted to be a teacher, and as I was applying to college my senior year of high school I applied to study history so I could later become a high school social studies teacher. However, by January or February of that year I knew that I wanted to study music education and become a music teacher, so I contacted my advisor to change my major and later filed the paperwork to become a music education major. Since middle school, music has always been a big part of my life, and I wanted to take my passion and love for music and be able to pass it on to my future students.

What does receiving this particular award mean to you?

My education has always been the most important thing in my life, and earning this award makes me feel like my hard work have paid off. I am a first generation college student with a single father who runs a small business. His hard work and efforts to support us living in Silicon Valley inspire me to work harder and make my education my number one priority. During my time at SJSU, I have pushed myself to be as well rounded as possible so I can be a better teacher for my students some day. Participating in many different ensembles, organizations, and teaching opportunities while achieving academic excellence makes me feel like I have accomplished my goal to be a well-rounded future music educator.

Who has had the greatest influence or impact on your life?  In addition, tell us about a SJSU faculty member who contributed to your academic success.

My dad has always supported me, going to my ice skating practices, serving as a band booster, and helping try to make our lives seem as normal as possible when my mom became sick and passed away during my sophomore year of college. He has worked so hard to keep a roof over our heads and support me through college, and he still finds time to come to all of my concerts.

Honestly, it’s impossible to narrow it down to one professor who has made an impact on my academic career. So many professors in the SJSU music department devote so much time to passing on their wisdom and art to the students of the department. Dr. Michael Hernandez, Dr. Diana Hollinger, and Dr. David Vickerman have all given me amazing advice, opportunities, and have been huge role models to me during my time at SJSU. I can never appreciate them enough for their dedication to the SJSU music department and all of the knowledge they have shared. They have inspired me to someday go to graduate school and get my masters, and maybe even my doctorate.

Describe an experience that has shaped who you are today.

When I entered SJSU I was not prepared to be a college music major. I had never taken private lessons, I had no music theory training, and I had a hard time reading rhythms and understanding time signatures. This motivation has pushed me even more. I quickly caught up and was able to play at a collegiate level on my instrument, and I soon become proficient at several other instruments, while excelling in my courses. Playing in the SJSU wind ensemble, serving as a student conductor with the SJSU symphonic band, and representing SJSU on the statewide  music education collegiate council have all been accomplishments that I achieved due to my dedication to my education. The phrase “Started from the bottom and now we’re here,” is super cheesy, but I feel like that can sum up my 4 years at SJSU.

What would you say to other students to encourage or inspire them to attain academic excellence?

Your education is what you make of it. Staying on top of your studies helps you stay motivated in your classes and can make the subject seem more interesting. Also, studying something that you are passionate about makes college that much more rewarding. Build good relationships with your professors, go to class, and absorb all the information you can. Get involved in groups related to your major, and find job opportunities that can benefit you right now and later when you are in the professional world. I promise that your hard work will pay off, even if it takes time for others to notice. Do it for your future self, and for the others you might impact in the future.

What makes you a Spartan?

Persevering through everything that life has thrown at me, and turning it into motivation for me to become a better person and future teacher.


Nominated by Fred Cohen
Director, Music and Dance

"Katie is on the field, literally. Every week she is working with students in Cupertino, putting everything she is learning at SJSU into practice. She is not just a student; she is a practicing musician. It gives her work, both in and out of SJSU, a broad context. In the hallway, you see her physical and mental exhaustion at times. Instead of complaining, she puts in more work because her internal barometer tells her that she can give more than 100%. It is because of her self-awareness to a bigger picture that I believe Katie will continue to develop as a wonderful musician, music educator, and human being."