Music inspires, motivates master’s student

December 7, 2011

Music has always been a part of Kimberlee Headlee’s life. “As a child, I’d make up songs and improvise on the piano, discovering for myself all the qualities of music that continue to inspire me today,” she says.

During her undergraduate studies at ASU, she continued to sing and compose but found herself searching for a way to integrate her music studies with her interests in health care, psychology and computer science.   Kim Headlee Download Full Image

Her passions began to converge when she joined the School of Arts, Media and Engineering (AME) as a graduate student and discovered a new creative path.

“I want to develop ways that technology can be applied in music therapy,” she says. “AME offers me an incredible opportunity to live, learn and grow in an interdisciplinary environment.”  

AME, a collaboration between Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts and the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, combines arts and technology by bringing together students, faculty and professionals from many different backgrounds, such as bioengineering, psychology, dance, theatre and computer science, to search for new rehabilitation and learning systems.

“More than anything, AME has helped me understand the importance of intellectual diversity for creative development,” Headlee says.

In a burst of innovative approaches to music therapy, Headlee created a unique interactive system in which users can create music by moving their bodies through physical space. In essence, bodies can be used as musical instruments. The system has several therapeutic effects, including increased spatial and body awareness and auditory discrimination. It helps motivates physical movement, providing a boost in endurance, muscle tone, balance and synchronized movement.

Developed as a therapy for children with mild to moderate developmental disabilities, Headlee hopes to make the system available for pediatric hospitals and music therapy clinics.

“The most rewarding aspect of this project is getting to see people's reactions when they first experience the system,” Headlee says. “Everyone inevitably finds something magical about the fact that their body movements create sound out of thin air. Even adults have facial expressions of child-like excitement at the apparent magic.”

Working at AME revealed many ways in which music can be used in powerful, innovative ways. Researchers introduced her to the possibilities of using music as audio feedback for stroke rehabilitation, communication in aphasia, and motivation for movement with autistic children as just a few of the potentialities.

Headlee has been busy with a number of projects, including working as a teaching assistant in ASU’s new Digital Culture initiative and volunteering for Rosie's House, a Music Academy for Children that offers free music lessons to underprivileged children in the Valley.

With two AME doctoral students, she helped launch an online community called “The Route Sixty-Kicks Composition Project” that encourages collaborative musical composition for both non-musicians and musicians.

She co-authored a paper presented at the 2010 conference for New Interfaces in Musical Expression (NIME) and presented a poster on her research at the American Music Therapy Association Conference in 2011.

Living with the auto-immune disease Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) – characterized by joint pain, fever, fatigue, skin rash and chronic inflammation – has not slowed Headlee down or induced any self-pity.

“Instead it caused me to re-evaluate my life's priorities and see the value of living each moment to its potential,” she says. “I learned that it takes dedication and perseverance to accomplish a goal. I also learned when it's important to not take life too seriously.

“One of my life goals is to coach others with chronic illnesses, especially young and newly diagnosed individuals, on coping strategies and the importance of optimism.”

Headlee recently accepted a position teaching music to kindergarten and first- and second-graders in a Phoenix school. “I started already and love it! My love of music as an art will never diminish but neither will my love of finding innovative, functional ways to add music to others’ lives.”

This December Headlee receives a master’s degree in music composition with a concentration in interdisciplinary digital arts media and performance.

Michele St George
Publications, Graduate College

Alum offers multifaceted support to ASU's New College

December 7, 2011

Good friends are good for our health, or so the research says. One could argue that this is true for organizations as well as people. If so, Ed Vasko is doing his part to help ASU’s New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences remain healthy and continue growing stronger for years to come.

Vasko, who describes himself as a “serial entrepreneur,” earned his bachelor’s degree in history through New College, the core college on ASU’s West campus, in 1995. In his 20-plus years in the information technology field, he has started five companies. Ed Vasko and his daughters Download Full Image

So what’s the connection between a history degree and the IT field? According to Vasko, the path to his bachelor’s degree served to strengthen his business skills. “My time studying history and other traditional liberal arts taught me to interact with people, gave me an understanding of the relevance of examining what has occurred so that the same mistakes are not made, and, more than anything else, provided me much better communication skills,” he explained.

Vasko puts those skills to use not only with his company, the technology consulting firm Terra Verde Services, but with the strong ties he has kept with New College and the West campus. He serves on the Dean’s Advisory Council, where he plays an important role in supporting Dean Elizabeth Langland’s priorities for New College. Vasko and his wife, Carolyn, have provided financial support to the NCUIRE (New College Undergraduate Inquiry and Research Experiences) program, and he has brought the first of what he hopes will be a long line of New College students into the fold as an intern with Terra Verde Services.

His involvement with the Dean’s Advisory Council dates back to 2002, when he and Carolyn came back to the Valley after a stint living in Boston. “My personal motivation for serving is to help the West campus in any way I can. I felt the Advisory Council presented a great way to stay in touch with the campus and give back,” he said.

“I am very grateful to Ed for the guidance he has provided New College and the support he has so generously given,” Langland said. “He is particularly effective because he embraces the liberal arts and sciences and recognizes their value in creating the leaders of the future, like himself.”

Through his participation with the advisory council, Vasko became acquainted with NCUIRE, which enables undergraduate students to gain experience working on research projects alongside New College faculty members and earning a stipend for doing so.

“We found our first intern through an NCUIRE event last spring and have since hired him ‘near full time’ while he finishes up his remaining semesters,” Vasko said. “We’re hoping to take on as many as 10 interns in the coming semesters because the process worked out so well. We hope the students get real-life experience to put on their resumes and help them out in this challenging job market.”

Vasko knows all about getting experience in the world of work while going to school. He was already working full-time in the IT industry when he started attending the West campus. “In fact, I had started my first company right before transferring to West and worked full-time and went to school full-time as well.”

Ed and Carolyn met while they were students at Glendale Community College. Ed transferred to ASU’s Tempe campus, but the drive from the West Valley – he was raised in Glendale just a couple of miles from the West campus – wasn’t a good match. “So Instead, I went to the West campus and fell in love with the small class sizes, access to professors and the quietness of the campus,” he said.

Some of the professors who were his favorites are still teaching in New College, including Tom Cutrer, Shari Collins-Chobanian and John “Shank” Gilkeson. “I pretty much consumed as many of their classes as I could,” Vasko said.

Meanwhile, Carolyn was also working toward a New College degree. She would receive her B.A. in political science in 1996.

The Vaskos now have two daughters, Caitlin and Emily. Ed and Carolyn enjoy watching them play volleyball and soccer, and the family likes to travel and visit museums.

Will Caitlin and Emily follow in their parents’ footsteps and go to school at the West campus? Mom and Dad would be quite happy if that happens. So perhaps that’s part of Ed Vasko’s motivation for being such a good friend to the campus and New College – so his daughters will have a thriving campus to attend when the time comes.