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2020 Presser Scholar: Gabriella Bernard

portrait of Gabby Bernard

This fall Gabriella Bernard, entered her senior year at KU as a music therapy major, while minoring in psychology. She plays trumpet in the KU Symphonic Band and is a teacher’s aide at Hilltop Child Development Center. During her three years at KU, Bernard has excelled in research under the guidance of Abbey Dvorak, but she downplays the challenges — moving forward from one accomplishment to the next.

This spring Bernard was recognized as the 2020 Presser Scholar, one of KU Music’s most prestigious undergraduate awards. Bernard has presented research posters at the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA) National Conference, AMTA Midwestern Regional Conference, and the KU Undergraduate Research Symposium. She has also applied for and received travel funding awards through the Center for Undergraduate Research to share her research in these venues.

Bernard was an Emerging Scholar through the Center for Undergraduate Research, a program in which first-year students are paired to work as research assistants with faculty mentors. She was also selected for a second year as an Emerging Scholar — only about half of these applicants are typically approved. Through this program, Bernard was third author on a research project that was published in Music Therapy Perspectives, a leading clinical journal in the field. Dr. Dvorak was so impressed with Bernard’s work during these two years that she hired her as a grant-funded research assistant in her junior year, and they are currently working on a team research project in which Gabby is team lead and second author. They plan to submit the project this year to a top peer-reviewed research journal.

“I was fortunate to initially be paired with Dr. Dvorak. The past three years have offered a variety of opportunities for growth, not only as a researcher, but as a clinician, student, and person.”

In addition to being an Emerging Scholar, Bernard is also a KU Global Scholar. She was one of 15 students from diverse academic fields across campus chosen for their interest in global and international studies and potential for high academic achievement and leadership. As part of her work with global scholars, Gabby was awarded an Undergraduate Research Award for her individual project about uses of music in trauma-informed care with refugees. 

“Gabby truly is an outstanding student. She is kind, gracious, positive, and professional in her interactions with faculty, staff, clients, and students. Gabby is a deep and critical thinker,  and will be an innovator in the music therapy profession,” Dvorak said.

Bernard had originally planned to study music education, but a book given to her by her father piqued her interest in the field of music therapy. “I was looking for an expansion of maybe what music educators do, or just a different version. And so, my dad actually got me a book by Oliver Sacks, and I read that, and realized what music does to the brain and I wanted to be a part of that process. So, it’s fully developed into where I am now,” Bernard said.  Bernard was drawn to minoring in psychology after finding that with relatively low impact on her academic schedule, it would not require a large amount of additional coursework when combined with her major, but that the addition of the minor would add value to her degree and open doors for other opportunities. In fact, Bernard has become an advocate for the minor among her peers. “So in terms of the minor, I actually was trying to tell my other fellow music therapy music people ‘just do it, because it can set you up for grad school, set you up for social work.’ There are a lot of things you can do with a psych minor.”

As the coronavirus pandemic caused universities across the nation to take traditional face-to-face classes online, we all faced new and unprecedented challenges. For Bernard the most significant of these challenges was missing out on interacting with people for her coursework. Specifically, discussions and applications of material, but she credits music therapy faculty in their efforts to keep classes moving forward and staying connected. She says she experienced some grief for what was lost, but that there is a lot to be grateful for as well. “I’m looking at the available literature for trauma-informed care practices with music for refugees, so, I’m in the middle of that. And it’s really intriguing because there are not really a lot of studies that have been done. So, the whole point is to compile what exists and then what are the implications for practice. So, you know, in terms of the pandemic, I’ve been given a lot of time to do that. So, it’s kind of a blessing. Gotta find the silver lining somewhere,” Bernard said.

Bernard says that as the pandemic crisis evolved during the spring, Dr. Dvorak provided her with more opportunities for leadership on the project they are currently working on. “I have kind of taken the helm in terms of giving her the outline for the meeting, like this is probably what we need to discuss. It’s all her brain, it’s all her idea, but how can we make it work for everybody on the team?” Bernard said.

Bernard is uncertain of exactly how her future will play out. She is always looking for opportunities and how best to apply what she has learned through her research and coursework, as well as her interests.  ■

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