Retired faculty member, School of Music, The Ohio State University
Pioneer in life/work balance and voice healthcare and maintenance (BS, Education, 1953; MA, Music, 1966)
I could not have gone to college without the Alumnae Scholarship Housing and additional scholarships made available through the School of Music. I didn’t even look at other college or university options. It was a marvelous first step to my career.
How did your experience at Ohio State shape your career path?
There were always teachers in my family. While growing up I wasn’t aware that the women had other options. I pursued music education as my academic program, which led me to work in public schools, direct choirs for 20 years and offer private teaching, which I did with great pleasure from my home.
Eventually I came to realize that I wanted to build upon my undergraduate degree. When I returned to Ohio State, my supervisor allowed me to design my own unique graduate program. I turned to the departments of physics, speech and hearing science and the medical school to study acoustics, anatomy, engineering and more. I was a teaching assistant in the performance division and my advisor provided great freedom as I developed my thesis. The department of music asked me to stay on as a faculty member, but there was a lot to consider. I was married while I was in college and, by graduate school, had three small children at home. I wasn’t able to accept the opportunity right away. I continued my choral work, private teaching and cared for my mother for a year before the university offered the faculty role once more, on the schedule of my choosing. I taught in music education, in the performance division and chaired the voice performance area.
Go outside the box. The degree programs are wonderful, as is the option of independent study. Choose your academic courses judiciously and learn what you might not be getting in a regular program because it’s going to be important to you! I tell my grandchildren and great grandchildren that if the door opens, stick your foot in. Things happen unexpectedly and there’s a reason sometimes that they do. That opportunity is the opening to the next step, and the next. You won’t know where you’re going to end up, but it doesn’t matter. It will be all right, and very exciting.
The Helen Swank Research and Teaching Lab in the department of vocal music is a world-renowned learning center for Ohio State’s Specialization in Singing Health and voice pedagogy programs. She served as president of Phi Kappa Phi and as head of the voice performance area for 13 of the 25 years that she taught on campus. As two time recipient of the Alumni Distinguished Teaching Award and recipient of the School of Music’s Distinguished Service Award, she has made a distinct mark on The Ohio State University and the field of voice science and research.