Dr. Blythe LaGasse receives CSU Board of Governors Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching Award

Every year, Colorado State University celebrates the teaching, research, and service achievements of CSU students, alumni and friends, academic faculty, administrative professionals, and classified staff. As one of the most anticipated Universitywide events, various committees across campus nominate and select esteemed honorees.

Recognizes a faculty member whose excellence in teaching involves creating a process of inquiry that stimulates the curiosity of students by motivating and challenging them.

Blythe LaGasse, M.M., ’14
Professor of Music Therapy – School of Music, Theatre, and Dance

Blythe LaGasse makes a difference in lives of others through her dedication to her field and those who study, practice, or participate in it. Her incorporation of active learning strategies, including role play, case studies, and inclusion of guest presenters is noteworthy, and more so, is her engagement of undergraduate students in research, service learning, and problem-solving.

Blythe LaGasse, professor of music therapy in the School of Music, Theatre, and Dance in the College of Liberal Arts at Colorado State University, is the recipient of the 2021 Board of Governors Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching Award.

The award is presented in support of the Board’s belief that excellence in teaching involves creating a process of inquiry that stimulates the curiosity of students and that helps them develop and probe ideas. The teaching function increases motivation, challenges students, and channels inquiry, and LaGasse has demonstrated these characteristics throughout her career at CSU.

LaGasse teaches undergraduate courses in music therapy methods, practice and research. Her approach uses neurological and best-practice approaches, including service learning, peer-to-peer collaboration, feedback mechanisms, and technology to support student learning and success. Her overarching mission is to prepare students for careers as clinical music therapists and for advanced study in the field as scholars and practitioners, with a focus on developing clinical, musical, and research skills throughout the four-year undergraduate curriculum.

LaGasse also established the Undergraduate Music Therapy Research Academy, where music therapy students have the opportunity to engage in research with peers from across the university in collaboration with the Brainwaves Research Lab, which focuses on interdisciplinary neuroscience and music research. In 2020, she started a collaboration with the University of Colorado Hospitals on the use of music therapy and virtual reality for pain control in palliative care.

Her dedication as a teacher was rewarded at the college level in 2016, as she was the recipient of the College of Liberal Arts Excellence in Teaching Award. She was the 2017 recipient of the Online Innovative Educator (OLIE) Award and the 2020 recipient of the TILT Exceptional Achievement in Instructional Innovation in Service-Learning Award, among many other recognitions.

LaGasse joined the faculty in 2005 after completing her master’s in music therapy at CSU. Her undergraduate and Ph.D. work was competed at the University of Kansas. She currently serves as editor of the Journal of Music Therapy, has published dozens of academic articles and chapters, edited an introductory textbook to the music therapy profession, and has presented workshops and invited lectures online and around the world.

“Dr. LaGasse is an outstanding instructor and is fully prepared when working with students,” wrote fellow faculty member Wes Kenney after observing a class taught in April 2019. “The observed class exercises and presentations were well-thought-out from beginning to end. At no point did the energy lag as the students were constantly challenged to come up with answers or solutions based on information received. Dr. LaGasse kept changing how information was presented through questions, lecture, and demonstrations. The students were interested in the subject matter being presented and showed themselves to be fully involved gleaning knowledge through full participation.”

In 2020, LaGasse redesigned her courses, in part due to the pandemic and the need for different ways of learning. However, she took this as an opportunity to really look at all course alignment, assignments, and practices, making significant changes especially at the 200-level.

“When reviewing prior class structures, it seemed that the issue was that students who did not grasp concepts accepted a lower grade and moved forward, consistently making the same mistakes,” she wrote in her application for this award. “The new system allowed students to learn from their mistakes, building the foundation necessary for all other methods courses. Although there are modifications needed for this new structure, the students showed higher competency throughout class, as compared to prior years.”

LaGasse is also a strong proponent of service learning for those using music in health care.

“What I appreciate about service learning is how this experience helps to shift students from the idea of ‘healing’ or ‘changing’ people with disabilities (an ableist idea) toward a mindset of using their skills to help each individual realize their own potential,” she wrote. “This change in mindset is essential because it pulls students away from the idea of savior-ship to understating their role as an ally and an advocate for other people.”

Alumni of the program report that they have been able to use this concept in their professional lives.

“Dr. LaGasse gave me the skill to develop new ideas that allow my clients to best meet their goals,” one said.

“To say that her method of teaching was effective and engaging would be a gross understatement,” said another. “It not only helped me understand the class material, but it also gave me a framework of inquiry that I can use when I am faced with challenges in the workplace.”

Current students also appreciate her teaching.

“Since returning to college after some time off I can safely say Dr. LaGasse is one of the best teachers I have had. She has exceeded what I was hoping for in a university level education and has made the transformation from community college feel natural,” one wrote in a class survey. “Dr. LaGasse is very knowledgeable with music therapy and we are lucky to have her at CSU.”