Exceptional Alumni: FIU Music alum awarded Berkeley County Schools’ Teacher of the Year 2020


Our graduates are truly using their education to make a difference and are being rewarded for it! When asked about former student Michael Knepper, FIU School of Music faculty member and capstone advisor, Candice Davenport praised his high standards, diligent work ethic, and exclaimed that students like him make FIU great.

Knepper (’17) graduated from FIU’s School of Music’s online program with a Master of Science in music education and has since gone on to impact the lives of several high school students for about 21 years, currently educating the next generation of musicians in Inwood, West Virginia.

Knepper works at Musselman High in Berkeley County as the band director and music teacher. During Teachers’ Appreciation Week (May 4 – May 8), he was awarded the honor of Berkeley County Schools’ Teacher of the Year 2020 – becoming the second FIU alumni known to the College of Communication, Architecture + The Arts (CARTA), to have received this award, to date.

“I became more emotional and reflected on my entire journey as a teacher when the announcement of the 2020 Teacher of the Year recipient was made,” says Knepper.  “Many colleagues and friends asked me how the virtual ceremony was compared to how it was celebrated before the pandemic in an auditorium with a live audience. I felt the presence of my supporters, friends and students when we tuned into the Zoom ceremony; although I could not see their reactions. My family was by my computer screen to jump and hug me as I watched the beautiful slide show my school district created for me. Shortly after the announcement, my friends and colleagues organized a parade of cars at the end of my housing development to support me. Seeing the people I miss working with every day coming out to congratulate me was a moment I will treasure for the rest of my life.”

Knepper went on to praise our faculty and staff for the program curriculum. The online master’s program for music education is highly individualized and provides graduate students with opportunities to pursue advanced coursework and enhance their understanding of music education research, curricular theories, philosophy, psychology, policy and other areas while also exploring avenues in music history and theory.

“… It was the music faculty’s interpersonal style, time and communication that eased my self-consciousness about returning to school 15 years after receiving my bachelor’s,” adds Knepper. “I recall Professor Kelly challenging me to learn more approaches outside traditional large school-based ensembles. Galand, Kelly and other professors alike introduced me to a multitude of music curricula and cultures that re-shaped the framework for my courses. It was their teachings that provided me with the tools to offer music-making styles, which doubled the size of my instrumental program…”

Today, Knepper is the director of a respected music program in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area where more students of many backgrounds are considering musical careers or becoming semi-professionals in music. He credits Davenport’s “tough love” for improving his writing style and shepherding his ability to submit quality work.

“She communicated with me daily as I worked diligently on my capstone, offering feedback and support when needed. The expertise and knowledge I received from my FIU professors prepared me to be a 21st-century music educator and also helped me interest more students to join bands outside the twenty-percent norm.”

In celebratory fashion, Karen Fuller, director for the School of Music, and Candice Davenport met with Knepper on Zoom to congratulate him on his achievements.

“It’s students like you who make us great.” Davenport said to Knepper.

Knepper also created a thank you video for all those who have impacted his life thus far.

Great job Mr. Knepper! CARTA congratulates you on your continuous achievements and we are excited to see all the great ways you are going to influence the future of music through your students.

Learn more about the FIU School of Music’s fully online master’s program here.

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