Vander Cook Sign 1 1

Where the most Inspired Musicians
become the most Inspiring Music Teachers

Support VanderCook

Alumni Board


Lauren Erickson-Vega resides in Valparaiso, Indiana. She works for River Forest Community Schools in New Chicago, Indiana teaching at both the Middle and High Schools. For the Ingots she wears many hats in the school district teaching Choir and Theater and acting as the head varsity Track and Field as well as Cross Country coach for the High School. 

Lauren received her undergraduate in Choral and Instrumental Music Education from Indiana State University in 2005. She later went on to receive her Masters in Choral Music Education from VanderCook College of Music in 2011. 

Outside of the classroom Lauren keeps very active, still performing on tuba and singing in a wide variety of groups. She also coaches and participates in adult and youth running teams in NW Indiana. Sigma Alpha Iota is also a big part of her life having served in almost every office of her local alumnae chapter in Lake County Indiana. She is married to Michael Vega and has a house full of fur babies. 

JOEL DeFAYETTE, Immediate Past-President

Joel DeFayette (MMEd ’11) graduated from the University of North Texas with  Bachelor of Music Education with a concentration in Voice in 1998. Originally from Dallas, Tx, Joel has taught general music and choir for both public and private middle school students for over 23 years. Joel completed his master’s degree at VanderCook in 201 upon returning to teach in Dallas for four more years. Before moving to Chicago in 2015, Joel performed with the Dallas Symphony Chorus and served 2 years as Bass Section Leader. He currently teaches at the Frances Xavier Warde School Holy Name Campus as 4 th – 8 th General Music and Choir Teacher, as well as school’s Cantor and Liturgical Music Coordinator. Joel also serves as Instructional Special Teams Lead, the Steering Committee Accreditation for Fine Arts, and the school’s Equity and Justice Forum. Joel is currently pursuing his Ph.D. in Educational Leadership in Higher Education at DePaul University Lincoln Park campus where he was inducted in the Golden Key Honour Society in 2018.

RON PACHECO, Recording Secretary

Dr. Ronald Pacheco (B.A. ‘91) began his career as a band director at Hobart H.S., in 1991, later relocating to Bremen H.S. and finally the Blue Island Public Schools. During his band directing experience, Ron earned a M.A. in Educational Administration from Governors State University (GSU) in 1999 and entered administration as a principal in the Blue Island Public School System in 1999. In 2014, Ron completed his Doctorate in Educational Leadership from Northern Illinois University (NIU).
Currently, Dr. Pacheco is the principal of Manhattan Junior High School,

located in Will County, and began this role in 2003.  During his tenure, the music programs have thrived and garnered a reputation as some of the elite programs in the Chicagoland area. Manhattan is known for establishing the first Junior High String Program in the Lincoln-Way Area in 2006.  Approximately one-third of the student body is involved in the performing music programs. In addition to his principal duties, Ron is an adjunct professor for Doctoral Students at GSU. 

Ron resides in Manhattan, Illinois, with his wife, Joyce (B.A. ‘88, M.A. ‘91)


Brandon M. Crawford came to Princeton High School after the retirement of Joy E. Schertz in 2010. Prior to coming to Princeton, Brandon taught instrumental music in Campbell Hill, Illinois for one year, 7-12 vocal music in Mexico, Missouri for 3 years, and k-2 general music and was Director of Percussion in Louisburg, Kansas for a year. Brandon studied under Dr. Robert Sinclair at VanderCook College of Music in Chicago, Illinois where he received his bachelors in Music Education (2005) and Masters in Music Education (2017). He is currently serving the ILMEA organization as the Chorus Venue Chairperson.


Dr. Dennis Hayslett was formerly the director of bands at Eastern Illinois University, where he taught conducting and instrumental music education and guided the graduate degree program in wind conducting. He has held similar positions on the faculties of The University of Toledo, Kent State University, and Western New Mexico University, directing concert and marching bands as well as teaching a wide range of graduate and undergraduate music courses. Much of Dr. Hayslett’s experience has been as a teacher in the public schools. Ensembles under his direction have received superior ratings at contests and festivals, and have performed for such prestigious clinics and conventions as the Mid-West International Band and Orchestra Clinic, the American School Band Directors Association Clinic, the State Convention of the Ohio Music Education Association, the Illinois All-State Conference, and the Ohio Band Directors Conference. He has been engaged in presenting premiere performances of compositions by leading composers such as Eric Whitacre, Ned Rorem, Libby Larsen, Donald Erb, and W. Francis McBeth, which have been highly praised by the composers. Dr. Hayslett is continually active as a guest conductor, clinician, and adjudicator. He has presented clinics and workshops both nationally and regionally for various organizations including the Music Educators National Conference (MENC) and the National Band Directors Workshop. In addition, he has served as guest conductor for many all-state and regional honor and festival bands throughout the United States and internationally. He is a contributor to Strategies for Teaching: Guide for Music Methods Classes and Spotlight on Teaching Band, both published by MENC. Dr. Hayslett’s research investigating aural perception and conducting pedagogy has been published in numerous educational journals. His professional affiliations include the National Band Association, American School Band Directors Association, College Band Directors National Association, and the Music Educators National Conference. He is past vice-president of the New Mexico Music Educators Association, and has served on the Board of Trustees of VanderCook College of Music and the editorial board of the research journal Contributions to Music Education. He holds memberships in Phi Beta Mu, Pi Kappa Lambda, Kappa Kappa Psi, and Tau Beta Sigma. He has been the conductor and music director of the Toledo Youth Symphonic Band, the Toledo Chamber Winds, and the Livonia Youth Philharmonic of Michigan. Professor Hayslett has been awarded the Citation of Excellence from the National Band Association as well as the prestigious Stanbury Award from the American School Band Directors Association. In 1998 he was given the distinction of being included in Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers. In 2002, the Disney Foundation granted him the $10,000 Dr. Martha Uhrig Memorial “Most Inspirational Teacher” award.


Kristin Koterba (MMEd ’13) graduated from Kent State University with Bachelor of Music Education and Flute Performance degrees in 2005. Koterba taught elementary music and assisted with high school band for two years in South Carolina and taught middle school band, high school band, and coached varsity softball for seven years in Georgia. In 2013, she completed her master’s degree at VanderCook and served as class president. Koterba then returned to Ohio to join the Shaker Heights Schools band staff where she student-taught with fellow VanderCook alumnus Tom Deep (‘94). In Shaker, Kristin primarily teaches beginning band at Woodbury Elementary School. Her other duties include working with the Shaker Heights High School Marching Band and assisting with their international trip planning to Spain (2016) and Italy (2019). Koterba also spent two summers teaching in Otwock, Poland, with the Teaching English in Poland Arts Focused Camp through the Kosciuszko Foundation. She began work on her Ph.D. in Music at Kent State University in 2017. Outside of teaching music, she serves as a team captain for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Light the Night event.


Christopher Kuzmanoff graduated from VanderCook College of Music in 2003 earning his Bachelor’s Degree in Music Education and returned to VCM Earning his Master’s Degree in 2015.  After graduating in 2003, he was appointed Director of Bands at George W. Collins High School, a high poverty Chicago Public School. While at Collins, he was awarded the Ronald R. Nezbit Community Educator Award, worked with the Chicago All-City Bands, and was a gigging musician.  In 2006, Colling High School was ”phased out” by the city. Mr. Kuzmanoff and his family moved to Southern Ohio where he served as a strings teacher for the Chillicothe City School District. While at CCSD, he increased enrollment in the orchestra program, started a guitar program, served as department chair, was named Who’s Who of American Teachers, served as South Central Regional Chair for the Ohio Music Educators Association, and was appointed the Midwestern Representative for the National Council for Guitar Education for NAfME.  In 2012, the Kuzmanoffs returned to Chicagoland to be closer to family and Mr. K began working for Loyola Academy as Director of Orchestra and Guitar. While at LA, he founded the Loyola Guitar Ensemble as a performing group, traveled with the strings program, and worked to foster a strong sense of community within the strings program. In 2018, Mr. Kuzmanoff joined the River Trails School District to teach Orchestra and Guitar in the community he lives in and loves!

Outside of teaching Mr. Kuzmanoff is a proud husband, father of two, violist, guitarist, banjo player, an avid bowler, golfer, and gamer.


Dr. Christopher Nakielski (MMEd ’09) is the Director of Choral Activities at Cornell College (Mount Vernon, IA). Immediately prior to this post, “Dr. N” was an assistant clinical professor of voice, choir and choral music education at Washington State University. Nakielski recently earned his DMA in choral conducting and pedagogy under the tutelage of Drs. Timothy Stalter and David Puderbaugh. Prior to his enrolling at The University of Iowa, Nakielski received his bachelor’s degree from Ripon College in 2006 in addition to his MMEd from VanderCook. After completing his degree at VanderCook, he directed choirs at college-preparatory school Loyola Academy in Wilmette for six years. While at Loyola, Nakielski toured nationally and internationally, including Italy, Poland and the Czech Republic. In 2013, his Honors Chamber Singers were invited to participate in Chicago radio station WFMT’s live broadcast of “Introductions,” a weekly program that features the Chicago area’s finest pre-college classical musicians. Later that academic year, Nakielski was awarded Teacher of the Year at Loyola Academy, the first performing-arts teacher to receive the award in the school’s 108-year history. As a tenor soloist, Nakielski has sung with several professional choral ensembles in Chicago, including the Chicago Choral Artists and the New Classic Singers, in addition to serving as a tenor section leader for Queen of All Saints Basilica and St. Peter’s in the Loop. As a rock musician (keyboards and backup vocals), he toured for five years with singer-songwriter Ben Ripani, playing at prestigious festivals and stages across the country. In 2010, the band’s music was featured in 2010’s Season Two finale of the 90210 reboot on cable television. Nakielski is also interested in 20th-century Polish choral music, having recently finished his dissertation involving research on the first female Polish choral conductor, Irena Pfeiffer (1912–1986).


Puja Ramaswamy is the Director of Choirs at Lake View High School in Chicago.  She completed her undergraduate degrees in Music and Philosophy at the University of Illinois at Chicago and her Masters of Music Education degree from VanderCook College of Music.  Prior to her position at Lake View, Ms. Ramaswamy was the Director of Vocal Music at Eisenhower Junior High School in Darien, Illinois.  Her choirs have had the opportunity to travel and compete in locations such as Disney World, Nashville, St. Louis, and Hershey, PA. and consistently received Division I ratings at the Illinois Grade School Music Association Organization Contest.

Ms. Ramaswamy was the ACDA Illinois Middle School R&S Chair from 2017-2018, served as the Honor Choir Coordinator for the 2016 ACDA Central Division Conference in Chicago, and the Middle School Girls’ Honor Choir Chair for the 2014 ACDA Central Division Conference in Cincinnati. She was also a member of the Apollo Chorus of Chicago for several years and has performed with them at various venues including Ravinia, Symphony Center, and the United Center.


Michael Teolis received his Bachelor in Music Education from DePaul University andhis Master’s in Music Education from VanderCook College of Music. He was a choral, orchestra, and band director, as well as general music instructor in the Chicago Archdiocesan school system from 1974 until 1989, when he came to the Latin School of Chicago. While at Latin, he served as the school’s Instrumental Music Director and Performing Arts Chair, until his retirement in June, 2018. With Latin School’s Wind Ensemble, he conducted performances in England, Ireland, Finland, Estonia, France, and Germany, often combining forces with local vocal and instrumental ensembles.

Over the years, Teolis has worked with many notable artists in the classical and popular musical fields, such as Gian Carlo Menotti, Diane Bish, Peter Schickele, Sir David Willcocks, Mike Post, David Foster, and Broadway star and Miss America, Kate Schindle. Many of his students have found their way into the field of music, including Joseph Burgstaller, Yamaha artist and former lead trumpet for the internationally renowned ensemble The Canadian Brass. Teolis’ published music has been featured in concerts, festivals, and broadcasts in the United States, Canada, Europe, China, and Singapore, and is available through Hinshaw Music and Agape Press.


Chris Vanderwall (BMEd ’06) began his role at Plainfield Central High School in 2018. Prior to PCHS, Vanderwall was Director of Bands at John F. Kennedy Middle School in Plainfield, IL. He earned his Bachelor of Music Education degree at VanderCook while studying percussion with Kevin Lepper, and earned a Master of Music Education degree at the University of Illinois in 2011. At Plainfield Central, Vanderwall’s responsibilities include teaching AP Music Theory, Music Production, directing the Wildcat Marching Band, Wind Ensemble, Jazz Band, Musical Pit Orchestra, and Percussion Ensembles in addition to co-directing the Symphonic Bands.

Vanderwall continues to maintain an active role in the music community. He served as the District IX Junior Level Band Representative for the Illinois Music Education Association, and subs on timpani with the Elmhurst Symphony Orchestra.  Vanderwall also maintains professional memberships with the Percussive Arts Society, National Band Association, and the National Association for Music Education, in addition to proudly endorsing innovative percussion and Etymotic Research ear protection.

The mission of VanderCook College of Music is to enrich the lives of present and future generations by developing uniquely skilled music teachers who exhibit strong character, professionalism, and a commitment to excellence.

© 2023 VanderCook College of Music. All Rights Reserved.
Scroll to Top