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Katie Stuwe: Music and the Military Create the Perfect Harmony for This UCSB Flutist

UCSB grad student Katie Stuwe holds a special gift: a framed flag given to her by her father on the occasion of his retirement from the Air Force in January 2011. The flag flew aboard B-52H aircraft on many missions. Photo credit: Patricia Marroquin

Cue the music “When You Wish Upon a Star.” Announcer: “Katie Stuwe, you’ve just earned your Master of Music in Flute Performance from UCSB. What are you going to do next?” Katie: “I’m going to U.S. Air Force Officer Training School!” OK, so this exchange did not take place. But what is true is that this talented winner of the 2010-11 UCSB Orchestral Soloist Competition – who will receive her master’s degree on Sunday at UCSB’s Graduate Division Commencement – has indeed been accepted into officer training school with the goal of becoming a Logistics Readiness Officer.

What would prompt a gifted musician to set her flute and formal gown aside to enroll in the military? The Stuwe family in 1995: Mom Barbara, dad John, Katie (bottom left) and sister Carolyn. Katie's dad had been pinned on to major.Growing up in a household with a 28-year Air Force Colonel and B-52 pilot for a father no doubt played a big role in her decision.

Air Force bases were the only neighborhoods Katie knew during childhood. She was born on a military base (the former Castle Air Force Base in Merced, Calif.) and has called four other Air Force bases in four more states home – the former Griffiss Air Force Base in Rome, N.Y.; Langley Air Force Base in Hampton, Va.; Minot AFB in Minot, N.D.; and Offutt AFB in Omaha, Neb.

Katie’s dad, who was a meteorologist before he joined the service, and mom, also a meteorologist, are not very musically inclined, she said. So “it’s a wonder that Carolyn (her older sister who is an elementary school music teacher) and I have both spent the majority of our lives making music.”

Katie started taking private piano lessons at the age of six, but after she was allowed to take up a new instrument in the 5th grade band program, she began playing the flute.

The months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks were difficult for the teenager as well as for her friends and family. Living on the North Dakota base meant increased security and long work hours for fathers and neighbors.

Top: Katie plays the Air Force Song on the flightline at her father's Change of Command ceremony in 2001. Bottom photo: The Stuwe family after her final Master Recital recently. “We baked cookies and brought refreshments out to the guys working on the flightline and the security officers at the gates,” Katie said. Her father’s deployments were stressful for Katie, then a high school freshman, and when he returned for good, he broke the news of the family’s next assignment: Offutt AFB in Omaha.

A prestigious music program at a public high school there “changed my life,” Katie said. She joined concert and jazz bands, performed in choruses and musicals, and served as head drum major in the marching band program. A flute professor she studied with privately urged Katie to apply to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to study with Music Professor Dr. Brooks de Wetter-Smith. She continued with music, athletic, and community activities there, and spent her junior year studying and performing in Vienna, Austria.

While studying in the master’s music program here at UC Santa Barbara, Katie has worked as a Financial & Administrative Assistant in the Office of the Executive Vice Chancellor. She has served as a Teaching Assistant in the music department, and has performed with the UCSB Women’s Chorus, UCSB Symphony Orchestra, and UCSB Contemporary Music Ensemble. The busy student also finds time to give back, working for the Santa Barbara Symphony Music Van outreach program and volunteering at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore in Goleta. She has managed to handle all of this while maintaining a 4.0 GPA in her degree program.

Although Katie will be trading her evening gown hangers for Air Force hangars, she has no plans to be a pilot like her dad. Upon graduation from the 12-week Officer Training School at Maxwell AFB in Montgomery, Ala., she will join the service as a 2nd Lieutenant working in Logistics Readiness, a field to which she was assigned. According to the Air Force website, “Preparing our Airmen is at the center of what Logistics Readiness Officers do” and they “essentially set the stage for any mission.”

We asked Katie some questions, and were quite surprised she had the time to answer them! Read on...

What lessons did you learn by traveling all over the nation and the world growing up?

Adaptability is probably the biggest one. Picking up and moving every couple of years teaches a child a lot of valuable lessons and life skills – perhaps most importantly, the ability to accept change. For military kids, adapting to a new school, a new state, a new house, and making new friends becomes second nature. It’s just part of the job. I didn’t fully realize how lucky I was to have these skills until I went to college with a lot of people who had lived in the same place with the same friends for 18 years. I found that they had a much harder time of adjusting, mostly just because they hadn’t had to do it before.

I am sometimes asked if I enjoyed being raised in a military family, and the answer is that I simply didn’t know anything else. I did love what I knew, though. I loved moving every couple of years, and living on military installations, and getting to see the country at a young age. When you are surrounded by the men and women in uniform and see on a daily basis the heroic things they are doing and the sacrifices they make, it also gives you a lot of perspective in life. Their selflessness reminds me to complain less, to be thankful more, and to really prioritize what is important.

What brought you to UCSB?

Katie with her mentor, Professor Jill FelberThe chance to study with Jill Felber.  Before applying to graduate music programs, I sat down with my undergraduate flute professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and picked his brain for guidance. The most important question I asked him was who, in his opinion, is the best flute teacher in the country. He did not hesitate at all in saying, “Jill Felber – she’s the best.” He spoke of her kind heart, warm personality, and ability to mentor any level of flute player and transform their talents to unimaginable heights. It wasn’t long before I decided to move 3,000 miles across the country to study with her.

Tell us a little about your master’s program. Did you have a mentor?

Jill has been everything I could have asked for in a mentor. As her teaching assistant, I admire her natural ease working with students, and I learn from her every day. She is without a doubt the best teacher I have ever had. Earlier this year, I nominated her for the campuswide Distinguished Teaching Award, and I think I was more excited than she was when we found out that she had been selected to receive the award! The highlights of my Master of Music program have been performing my two full solo recitals, winning the UCSB Orchestral Soloist Competition (view a YouTube video here), and of course, the many, many hours I have spent learning from Jill. Also, two of my favorite things about our music department are the diversity of its students and the interdisciplinary collaborations that take place. There are performers, conductors, composers, theorists, musicologists, and ethnomusicologists, and I’m so grateful to have had the chance to work with and learn from all of them.

What led you to make the decision to enter the military? How do you think your education at UCSB has prepared you for this?

Growing up as the daughter of an active-duty Air Force Colonel and pilot, I owe much of who I am to my father; his Air Force way of living taught me so much about character, personal responsibility, and the never-ending pursuit of excellence. To him, I also owe my love of country and a deep respect for the men and women who dedicate their lives in the service of others. I have been in a military community my entire life, always supporting and admiring those who wear the uniform, and gradually over the last couple of years, I began to feel a growing desire to serve, too.

After realistically considering all aspects of this decision, I chose to give it a shot and started working with a recruiter last fall. After months of forms, tests, workouts, and prayers, I was notified that I have been selected to attend Officer Training School! I can’t think of an organization that will do more to mold me into a better and stronger woman. The Air Force core values – “Integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all we do” – are also my personal core values, and I look forward to wearing a uniform that stands for something so much greater than myself.  

One of the best things I’ve taken advantage of at UCSB is the RecCen Personal Training Program. Back in the fall when I began the USAF application process, I decided to give the RecCen program a try to work on strength training and conditioning, and it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I feel so lucky that they assigned me with such an incredible trainer, Jake Schwartz. His encouragement and guidance were exactly the motivation I needed, and I am a stronger, more disciplined, and more empowered athlete because of him.  

Will you be able to use your musical talents in the Air Force?

Photo credit: Patricia MarroquinI will always be a musician at heart, and I hope that maybe someday I will get to perform in the Air Force.  One of my dream jobs has always been playing flute in the backup band for the USAF Tops in Blue; as my career progresses, and, if the opportunity arose, I’d love to have the chance to be a musician in uniform. But even if that opportunity doesn’t arrive any time soon, I know I will always find outside opportunities to keep performing and making music.

Do you consider your degree useful for what you plan to do in the future?

One of the most valuable aspects of my career in music has been the opportunities it has provided to learn about people and leadership. In musical ensembles, it is essential to have people who lead by example and who are committed to the excellence of the group. I’ve learned that excellence is about attitude, and deciding to make each day better than the last. Also, the most important lesson I have learned about leadership is that being a leader is not about having a title – it’s about confidence, common sense, compassion, and always having the courage to stand up for what is right. Lessons like these will be useful no matter where life takes me.

While in grad school at UCSB, what did you do to relax and have fun?

Photo credit: Patricia MarroquinMy favorite spot to spend free time is in Ellwood Bluffs down in Goleta. It is one of the most breathtakingly beautiful places I have ever been. I love to go there to watch the sunset, or for a run, or just with a book and a beach towel. Also, my roommate and I have made a regular routine of going to the movies; we also love Jersey Mike’s sub shop.

What has been your favorite place on campus and why?

I am so glad that I haven’t taken the beauty of this place for granted. I still look up at palm trees and the mountains every day and feel so lucky to live in paradise! I especially love driving up through Henley Gate, and I love watching the sunset from the Marine Biotechnology Lab. I love running along the bluffs and watching the dolphins swim by, and I love performing in Geiringer Hall. My favorite building on campus, though, is definitely the Kavli Institute – I would’ve majored in theoretical physics, too, if I could study in a building as pretty as that one.

Is there anything you wished you had done while you were here at UCSB?

I have a few things left on my bucket list – I'm checking one off this weekend by attending a concert at the Santa Barbara Bowl! Others include taking a trip out to the Channel Islands, seeing a movie at the drive-in theater, and eating one of those ice cream cookie sandwiches from IV Drip.

What are your short- and/or long-term goals for your future?

Something my dad always says is to aim for a life where I get excited to hear the alarm clock go off every morning. It sounds so simple, but I don't want to dread getting out of bed each day and have a life that isn't fulfilling. I have no idea where this life will take me, but that's the really exhilarating part. I am so excited to see where I go next. I think it's important to do something that rewards you, and we all are rewarded in different ways. I find that my greatest reward comes with service to others, so that’s what I’m striving to do for now. As long I live my life with integrity, happiness, and fulfillment, I think I’ll feel successful.

What advice do you have for current graduate students?

Photo credit: Patricia MarroquinA quote that has stuck close by is, "To those who much is given, much is required." It's actually a verse from the Bible, but I think it’s applicable to all of us fortunate enough to be in higher education. Having the wisdom and talent to be earning a master’s or doctoral degree is much to be applauded, but it is also a challenge to fully realize the potential we have to make an impact in our society and the world.  Also – take advantage of the free things! Free career services, free bus services, free bagels, free concerts, free chair massages. … I’m sure I only scraped the surface.

What has your education at UCSB meant for you?

I will always be proud to be a UCSB alumna. I was just 20 years old when I graduated with my undergraduate degree from UNC, and I think UCSB has been the perfect transitional place for me to spend a couple of years and grow more as a student, a musician, and as a person. Being at UCSB has allowed me to grow, but it has also encouraged and inspired me to grow.

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