"Music is my Vehicle": UMD Alumna Creates New Scholarship to Pay it Forward

The annual $3000 Dr. Robert C. Ekstrom and Virginia D. Grossman Music Education / Choral Scholarship was first offered to a UMD student in 2021, but the root of the award was over half a century in the making.

A self-proclaimed humanitarian who uses “music [as her] vehicle,” alumna Virginia (Ginny) Grossman (Music Education ‘66) created the scholarship bearing both her name and her father’s name as a tribute to his work as well as her own in the field of music education. 

Her father, Dr. Robert C. Ekstrom, taught Music Education in Duluth Public Schools while Grossman was growing up, and his classroom extended to their home. Various singing groups would visit the Ekstrom house to practice with her father, and she’d play piano for them. Those interactions led her to pursue a bachelor’s degree in music education with a piano emphasis at UMD. Later, Dr. Ekstrom, after receiving his PhD, accepted a position with Chicago Public Schools, became national director of the American Union of Swedish Singers, directed other groups, and was appointed by the mayor of Chicago as director of music for the Chicago Civic Center. Various interactions subsequently created the opportunity for Grossman to travel to Europe with her dad, singing in concert choir tours of various countries.

When Grossman graduated from college, her father’s research went on to color her professional musical experiences. As an adult, Grossman attended a National Choral Directors Association conference, where she sat in on a clinic about boys’ changing voices. However, the information wasn’t new to her as it was based on her father’s research into how the male voice changes during adolescence. At the end of the clinic, she approached the teacher and conversed with them about the knowledge they shared. 

In fact, Ekstrom’s work continues to be taught and discussed, even on UMD’s campus. Dr. Richard Robbins (Music) regularly includes a unit on the changing male voice and references Ekstrom’s research. Grossman hopes to meet and converse with Robbins sometime when she returns to Duluth. 

While Ekstrom made a quality impression on people and research, Grossman’s individual experience is key to the scholarship as well. Although her father crafted a unique musical foundation for her to build from, Grossman still needed to do her part to fund her formal education. 

To help pay for tuition while she attended college, Grossman worked in the cafeteria on UMD’s campus, where she’d get a free meal each day. She also lived at home to save additional money. Nevertheless, even with a scholarship, she still had to take out loans. 

Aware that students continue to be in a similar situation to hers, Grossman decided to pay forward the tuition assistance she’d received by creating a scholarship, which also serves as an
extension of the genuine care Grossman exudes for students. 

After graduation, Grossman made her career teaching music in Wisconsin public schools. However, she didn’t want to simply teach music and hope it made an impact, so Grossman emphasized to her students: “Don’t just get through school.” She tried to make lessons engaging and enjoyable as she urged students to lead a rich life. 

Like her father, she also made time to meet the students where they were. When students would need to be evaluated, she’d offer to first listen to whatever was on their mind. That empathy and respect for their thoughts, feelings, and time seems to have made an impression, as many students have maintained connections with her long after they left her classroom.

Grossman, now retired, continues to be involved with musical happenings. She regularly attends the various music festivals in Milwaukee and remains an active member of the Milwaukee Symphony Chorus. 

It should not be a surprise, therefore, that she created this scholarship to help more students enter the field of music education with the hope that they will also be humanitarians and teachers and inspire others through music.

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