Graduate student and alum Leo Brooks (BMus '96, MA '22) earns his second ULethbridge degree this fall. His decision to return to school was inspired by his desire to bring music education to more classrooms and make musical instruction a fundamental part of K-12 education. Leo will receive the School of Graduate Studies Medal of Merit and the Gold Medal of the Governor General during Spring 2023 Convocation.

I am so honoured and humbled to receive not only the Medal of Merit for my MA but also the Governor General’s Gold medal. These accolades were unexpected, but very gratefully received. It has been so encouraging to me to know that my work is resonating with such a diverse group of people. These awards have inspired me to keep moving forward with Whacky Wizards, the music education program I developed during my master’s degree.

During his studies, he celebrated several significant milestones related to his research. Leo took first place in the Agility Pitch Competition last spring, which earned him $2,000 in seed funding for his pitch, titled "Whacky Wizards Inc." This project formed the basis of his research for his master's degree. Leo discusses this research and his ULethbridge experience as he prepares for the next stage in his career.

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What was your research based on? What unique opportunities did you get by taking part in this research? What are your biggest takeaways from being involved in this research?

I created and tested an interactive online program to help elementary school teachers to introduce, increase and/or improve music instruction in their classrooms, particularly if they were not music specialists — having no previous experience with software development. It gave me the opportunity to turn something that existed only as an idea in my head into reality. I have now developed a commercial version of the program and started a subscription-based business centred around it.

After winning the pitch competition, Leo was able to secure additional funding of $80,000 from Mitacs to support his venture, turning Whacky Wizards into a business and continuing his research until late 2023.

I'm really very proud of what I've done with the program. For me, it's about this idea that there may be as many as 2 million elementary school kids in Canada that get very little to no music instruction over the course of a year. I just think that's a travesty. Music is so enriching in people's lives when they can experience it, and they can be part of it.

What is your most memorable ULethbridge experience?

Being able to participate and lead in the Global Drums ensemble, which plays traditional and contemporary percussion-based music from around the world. There is no other musical group like it in Canada, and they are truly a bright jewel in the University of Lethbridge's crown.

What is the most important lesson you learned during your time at ULethbridge?

Having done my studies and research in the thick of the COVID-19 pandemic, I would say that the most important thing I have learned is how creative and resilient people can get when there is a truly momentous obstacle in their path. You can either tremble before such a thing, or you can look for ways to overcome, it or at least adapt to it. I saw many instances of individuals and organizations at ULethbridge trying to make the best of a terrible situation, and it was inspiring.

Is there someone specific who had an important influence on your ULethbridge experience?

Marlo Steed was one of my thesis co-supervisors, and he was excellent in every way. He truly acted as a mentor, showing genuine love and generosity while guiding me on a path to success. Georg Boenn was my other thesis co-supervisor, and he has a kind of quiet, resolute power to him that I admire tremendously. He was also beside me every step of the journey. Lastly, Tanya Jackson, who works for ULethbridge counselling services, played an instrumental role in keeping my mental health in check and providing me with some light in the darkest times. I am so grateful for her, and that the university has such good supports for their students.

Did you receive scholarships and awards? If so, please tell us a bit about how they helped you throughout your studies.

As a 'mature' student, going back to university was a financial risk, because I had three children to support and a mortgage to pay while working towards my degree. It simply would not have been possible without the support of numerous scholarships and awards I was blessed to receive. These included: SSHRC Graduate Scholarship, ULethbridge Tuition Scholarship, ULethbridge Graduate Assistant Position and the Alberta Graduate Excellence Award.

What are your hopes/plans for the future?

I truly believe that music is a vital part of a child's education and development. I hope to continue to learn and help find solutions to facilitate music instruction for teachers and students in Canada and around the world in new, innovative, and creative ways.

What advice would you give to those about to begin their journey at ULethbridge?

Jump in with both feet. There are so many opportunities and things to get involved with, and there is such a strong sense of community here, take advantage of it. Nearly everyone I worked with at ULethbridge was so supportive and genuinely wanted to see me succeed — it's a great place to be.

Congratulations, Leo!

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