LAUREN ERICKSON, President
Lauren Erickson-Vega (MMEd ’11) 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.
JOEL DeFAYETTE, Immediate Past-President
Joel DeFayette (MMEd ’11) has taught general music and choir for both public and private middle school students for over 25 years and has also served as a school Cantor and Liturgical Music Coordinator. Originally from Dallas, TX, Joel graduated from the University of North Texas with a Bachelor of Music Education with a concentration in Voice in 1998 and completed his Master of Music Education at VanderCook College of Music in 2011. He served as Alumni President and Representative on the Board of Trustee.
Before moving to Chicago in 2015, Joel performed with the Dallas Symphony Chorus for 5 years and served 2 years as Bass Section Leader. He received the Dallas Work of Heart for Excellence Teaching in Catholic Education Award in 2007. Joel taught 4th – 8th-grade music at Francis Xavier Warde School (FXW) and also served as an Instructional Special Teams Lead, a member of the Steering Committee Accreditation for Fine Arts, and the Equity and Justice Forum.
Joel is currently pursuing his Ph.D. in Educational Leadership in Higher Education at DePaul University. He was inducted into DePaul’s Chapter Golden Key Honour Society in 2018. Joel currently teaches music for Lower and Middle School and serves as Internal Systems Chair of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Advocacy Team (DAT) at The Bennett Day School in the West Loop.
MICHAEL LEONAS, President Elect
Michael J. Leonas (MMEd ’13) received his Master of Music Education degree from VanderCook College of Music (2013). He also holds a degree from Syracuse University (2011) and Lamar University (2021). Leonas received his Kodály Teacher Certification from Southern Methodist University (Level 1 & 2), where he studied with the world-renown Ms. Lenke Igó of the Kodály Pedagogical Institute (Budapest). Leonas completed Level 3 at DePaul University. Leonas also received his Level 1 Orff-Schulwerk from VCM.
Leonas currently resides in Little Elm, Texas teaching Middle School Choir at Navo Middle School in Denton Independent School District. He was previously the Elementary Music Specialist at Ginnings Elementary in Denton ISD. He was also the Fine Arts Council Representative for Elementary Music where he advocated elementary curriculum and instruction. His Choirs received Superior ratings from numerous Festivals across the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. In 2019, his choir was crowned “Grand Champions” at the NRH20 Music Festival in North Richland Hills, Texas where his 4th/5th grade choir was in the same division as other elementary and middle school choirs. Leonas was awarded Teacher of the Year at Ginnings Elementary for his dedication and leadership in 2019. Leonas was also a Quarterfinalist of the 2021 GRAMMY Music Educator Award as he was one of the 180 finalists with over 3,300 nominations. He was a quarterfinalist before in 2020.
Before Denton, Leonas taught in Dallas, Texas teaching PreK-5 Elementary Music, Middle School Choir, and Beginning Band. Through the extensive training from VanderCook College of Music, Leonas was able to develop an elementary music curriculum and begin an instrumental program at his campus. Leonas founded the West Dallas Youth Men’s Choir, a vocal ensemble for Latino youth in the western neighborhoods of Dallas. The ensemble was created to promote the advancement of young Latinos in the field of Music Education; developing as musicians through comprehensive, bilingual choral education.
RON PACHECO, Recording Secretary
Dr. Ronald Pacheco (BMed ’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. Dr Pacheco will retire at the conclusion of the 2024 school year after 33 years in the field of public education.
Ron resides in Manhattan, Illinois, with his wife, Joyce (B.A. ‘88, M.A. ‘91)
Brandon M. Crawford (BMEd ’05) is the Director of Choirs at Princeton High School in Princeton, Illinois. He completed his Bachelors and Masters of Music Education degrees from VanderCook College of Music. While at Princeton, his choirs have performed at IHSA Contests consistently receiving Superior Ratings and Best of Day Awards, and have performed at the ILMEA Music Educators Conference in 2014, 2017, and 2022.
Mr. Crawford has served as the ILMEA District II Senior Choir Organizational Chariperson, ILMEA District II Senior Chorus Representative, and currently serves as the ILMEA Chorus Venu Chairperson. His duties at Princeton include teaching Freshman Choir, Junior Varsity Choir, Concert Choir, Men’s Choir, Women’s Choir, Jazz Choir, Star Spangled Singers, and the Madrigal Singers. His other duties include teaching Music Theory, Beginning and Advanced Piano Courses, and Beginning Guitar. Mr. Crawford is also the Head Boys and Girls Golf Coach.
When not making music at Princeton High School, he enjoys spending time with his wife Kayla, their son Grayson, playing golf, and playing guitar.
Dr. Dennis Hayslett (MMEd ’81) 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 (BMEd ’03, MMEd ’15) 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 (MMEd ’08) is the Director of Choirs at Lake View High School in Chicago where she teaches four choral ensembles and serves as the Music Department Chair. She believes in creating a culturally relevant curriculum where student voice guides instruction and learning. Her students have participated in multiple choral festivals throughout Chicago, worked with expert teaching artists through the Lyric Opera High School Residency Program, and were part of the Emerging Voices Project with the William Ferris Chorale. Prior to her position at Lake View, Ms. Ramaswamy was the Director of Vocal Music at Eisenhower Junior High School in Darien, Illinois where she directed numerous musicals and organized choral trips for her students to experience
performing across the country.
Ms. Ramaswamy is a National Board Certified Teacher and received the Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2022. She has adjudicated and served as a clinician for the IGSMA District 7 Choral Contest and the Illinois ACDA Treble Choir Festival and has been a guest conductor at the Waukegan Middle School Music Festival. She serves as the Secretary on the Illinois ACDA Board and is a member of the VanderCook College of Music Alumni Board.
Ms. Ramaswamy holds degrees from the University of Illinois at Chicago and a MMEd from VanderCook College of Music.
Michael Teolis (MMEd ’91) 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. Since retiring from Latin School, he remains active as a substitute teacher at Latin and at several local school districts.
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 lead trumpet for the internationally renowned ensemble, The Canadian Brass. He is the founder and music director of the Michael Teolis Singers, a 30-voice mixed vocal ensemble he established in 2007. 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) has served as Director of Bands at Plainfield Central High School since 2018. Prior to PCHS, he was Director of Bands at John F. Kennedy Middle School in Plainfield. He earned a Bachelor of Music Education degree at VanderCook in 2006 and a Master of Music Education degree at the University of Illinois in 2011. At Plainfield Central, his responsibilities include teaching Music Theory, Music Production, Wind Ensemble, and Percussion Class in addition to directing the Wildcat Marching Band and being the Executive Director of 202 Indoor Percussion and Plainfield Winter Guard. Chris also proudly endorses Innovative Percussion, SABIAN Cymbals, and Etymotic Research.