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 Learning About Public Health: Voyageur Style

Voyageurs, left to right: (front) Jenna Colaizy, Elizabeth Steffensen, Jennifer Graupmann, Brishelle Jacobs, Christine Hawkins; (back) Greg Dokken, Eric Bigalke, Vince Osborn, and Taylor Baggott. Photo by Brett Groehler
performers voyageurs
See a video clip
Master of Music Students
Sing their Way through Schools

Two centuries ago, voyageurs packed their canoes and paddled the waters of the Great Lakes region, portaging from waterway to waterway, trading furs and goods of all sorts.

In 2008-09, graduate students in music are Duluth’s new generation of voyageurs. They packed up UMD campus vans and portaged sets and costumes to elementary schools, trading loads of fun and something more valuable than furs: information for living healthy lives.

At each school, a ship unfolded—a clever and colorful contraption to carry the Pirates of the Carrot Bean. The Voyageurs donned hats and scarves to become pirates, extolling the virtues of eating not only carrots and beans but bananas (whose potassium will calm you down) and other foods loaded with nutrition, plus exercise and hygiene. After the 45-minute show, the pirates jumped ship to follow the students.

“One of my favorite parts was going into the classrooms to find out what clicked with the kids and reinforce it,” said master’s student Christine Hawkins, captain of the Carrot Bean. Hawkins is an opera student from Georgia who never thought of doing children’s theater before she came to Duluth.

“It’s been eye-opening for all of us to see how much music and theater can assist in learning,” she said. “I love it.”

Kids and teachers loved it, too. In the first year, the Voyageurs performed for more than a 6,000 K-5 students and 250 teachers in the Minnesota districts of Duluth, Proctor, Hermantown, Hibbing, and Bloomington, as well as in Maple, Wis.

Kathleen Neff, director of the UMD Fine Arts Academy, said, "Pirates of the Carrot Bean has received nothing but positive feedback and will continue to perform the show next year." Plans for future shows include adjustments to make it appropriate for Middle School and High School students. "It's an interactive process," said Neff. "Themes and messages of the new shows depend on focus group feedback. Tackling issues such as bullying and depression may be added to the messages about healthy choices."

“This is a different way to use graduate talent,” said Judith Kritzmire, professor and director of UMD graduate studies in music. Typically, when students perform in an opera or show, the script and score are in final form.

“For most of us Voyageurs, this was the first really interactive creative process we’ve been involved in,” said Jennifer Graupmann, who plays the Sea Monster. “With Pirates of the Carrot Bean, we were given a script at the end of August and were making changes up until our first shows in November. It was great.”

Graduate education at UMD
More than 800 UMD students are enrolled in graduate and professional programs, including about 550 in Graduate School programs based in Duluth. Others are in all-University programs with substantial UMD student and faculty participation, such as Integrated Biosciences and Water Resources Science. UMD also independently administers several graduate programs, such as a master's in advocacy and political leadership.

Graduate Council chair: Judith Kritzmire, professor of music.

Graupmann left a well-paying job in Minneapolis to enroll. The quality of UMD’s music program impressed her, the Voyageurs opportunity sounded exciting, and an assistantship made it possible.

A new partnership with Duluth health care organizations—SMDC Foundation, SMDC Health System and Duluth Children’s, and HealthPartners—provided funding for the Voyageurs’ assistantships and health benefits, which attracted talent from top music programs across the country. Duluth Public Schools have also played a critical role in creating the partnership by involving teachers, principals, and school leaders.

The idea came from UMD School of Fine Arts Dean Jack Bowman and Development Officer Rob Hofmann.

“It’s a win-win-win,” said Bowman. “It’s a win for the public schools and our community. It’s a win for our health care partners—here’s a way to spend on prevention rather than treatment. And it’s a win for our students and university—it has doubled the size of our master’s program in music.”

Learn more about the master of music program and graduate education at UMD at

Written by Gayla Marty, UM-TC with updates by Cheryl Reitan.

UMD home page editor, Cheryl Reitan,
NEW RELEASES, UMD media contact, Susan Latto,, 218-726-8830

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