Playing in Blue Band keeps engineering students in the groove

November 15, 2010

In a given week, Justin Ross spends 50 to 70 hours studying to become a mechanical engineer, 20 hours rehearsing for Blue Band and an additional 10 hours carrying out responsibilities as the band's president. That adds up to four days of nonstop activity.

How do students with two such time-consuming commitments -- an engineering course-load and Blue Band -- pull it off each week? Some say it's about time management. Some say it takes extreme dedication. Others say it requires working ahead -- but four members say that no matter how stressed they become juggling Blue Band and engineering, it's always worth it.

Few have more experience balancing both entities than Ross, a fifth-year student, sousaphone player and Blue Band president. And while he says many first-year students are hesitant to join Blue Band because of the time commitment, especially for engineering students, he has figured out how to make it work.

"I keep a very organized agenda mapping out all of my upcoming assignments and exams so that I can see well in advance what are challenging weeks and what are slower weeks," Ross said.

Out of 315 total band members, 63 are students in the College of Engineering.

Alto saxophone player Sarah Wascavage agrees that looking ahead is vital to finding success in both engineering work and Blue Band. Although she only is a sophomore and hasn't yet declared her major -- she hopes to pursue civil engineering -- Wascavage said she has already begun to practice organization between balancing 17 to 19 credits per semester and 12 or 13 hours of Blue Band practice a week.

"No matter how much you try to work ahead, there always comes a time when a lot of things pile up," Wascavage said. "It is going to be rough, but sometimes you have to just cram it all in, try to make the most of your time and stay up late a few nights."

Erika Lieberknecht uses similar study techniques as a senior aerospace engineering student and member of the Blue Band silk line -- a position she describes as "spinning the flag and making the field look pretty."

Lieberknecht, who also holds a part-time job, said every chance she gets to do school work, she does.

"I use every spare moment to work on homework, read a book assignment, go over equations or methods to solve a problem in my head to and from class. It sounds silly, but it really has helped me," she said.

Freshman trombonist Doug Komandt is already accustomed to hectic weeks after less than one college semester. In addition to 10 to 15 hours at band each week -- depending if there is a football game that weekend or not -- Komandt spends 15 to 20 hours doing schoolwork as he pursues the chemical engineering track.

"This includes things like writing lab reports, working through problem sets, preparing presentations and reviewing material so that when it is time for an exam, I am well prepared," Komandt said.

Komandt said both engineering and Blue Band require much more than just "showing up." They each require dedication and additional effort.

"Being a member of the Blue Band requires perfection, and all members realize this and work to achieve excellence. If one person is out of step or out of the line on the field, then this reflects poorly on the entire group," he said. "Similarly, an engineering student cannot expect to simply show up to class, do no additional work and then get A's in every course."

Despite the commitment and extra work it takes for these engineering students to participate in Blue Band, there’s an undisputed reason they devote so much of their time to balancing both: it's rewarding. For this reason, Ross believes it's not as rare for engineering students to double as Blue Band musicians as it used to be.

"The engineering major is not that uncommon these days in Blue Band because students are more open to balancing both the academic and extra-curricular side of activities," he said. And besides students' willingness, Ross said those who join Blue Band do so because of their musical passion, which can act as an escape from school.

"We use Blue Band as a way to get away from those stressful times in engineering, because even though it does require a lot of time, it involves a hobby that we all love to do and find a passion for, despite what our major of choice is," he said.

These students haven’t forgotten their passion and the reason they decided to join Blue Band in the first place. Lieberknecht remembers her first rewarding experience three years ago.

"My biggest reward was freshman year -- the first time I marched pregame was the whiteout versus Ohio State," she said. "I have never had such an awesome feeling as that first time."

  • Erika Lieberknecht, left, Sarah Wascavage, Doug Komandt and Justin Ross are four of 63 Blue Band members from the College of Engineering.

    IMAGE: Andy Colwell

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated November 18, 2010