This gift is music to the ears for grad students

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Students are singing praises for a new fellowship award.

Students are singing praises for a new fellowship award recently gifted to the University of Nebraska–Lincoln School of Music to support grad students studying vocal music education.

Right before the holidays, alumnus Tom Olson surprised his wife, Cynthia, by creating the Cynthia Olson Vocal Music Education Doctoral Fellowship with a gift of $100,000 to the University of Nebraska Foundation.

The gift creates a permanent endowment to forever provide annual tuition assistance to outstanding students in the doctoral music education program who are interested in careers in vocal and choral education.

Tom Olson said he wanted to make this special gift to honor Cynthia’s lifelong accomplishments as a musician and teacher.

John Richmond, director of the School of Music, appropriately heralded the gift during the university’s Chamber Music Singers’ holiday concert.

“This endowment will resonate across our profession and make a transformational difference in the ability of the School of Music to recruit world-class doctoral students to our vocal music education program,” he said.

The gift also supports the university’s current fundraising initiative, the Campaign for Nebraska: Unlimited Possibilities, and its priority to increase available student aid.

Cynthia Olson grew up in Lincoln and graduated from Lincoln High School. She attended the School of Music at UNL with a major in music and a passion for voice performance and teaching. While at the university, she won the audition for the highly coveted role of Nurse Nellie in the production of Rodgers’ and Hammerstein’s musical “South Pacific.”

Tom Olson, a business major and Air Force ROTC student, accepted a military appointment after graduation at Seward Air Force Base near Nashville, Tenn. The Olsons married 55 years ago at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Lincoln. Cynthia transferred her studies to the George Peabody College in Nashville, where she graduated and then taught at Smyrna (Tenn.) High School.

Upon the completion of Tom’s military service, the Olsons returned to Lisco, Neb., where he joined his father working at the Lisco State Bank and the Rush Creek Land and Live Stock Company.

Today, Olson owns the Lisco State Bank, as well as banks in 13 other communities across Nebraska, Wyoming and Colorado. He was the 1992 recipient of the University of Nebraska Builder Award, a 1991 University of Nebraska College of Business Administration Business Leadership Award and a 1982 University of Nebraska Alumni Achievement Award.

Cynthia’s musical life in Lisco included her performance in the Lisco Trip, her leadership as the song leader for the Synod of the Rocky Mountains (Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.) and many solo appearances across Lisco, Garden County and the entire region.

The Olsons have enjoyed supporting the University of Nebraska for more than 50 years, including support for the UNL College of Business Administration, Nebraska Student Life Complex, University of Nebraska Alumni Association and more.

The UNL School of Music offers a doctorate in music with a specialization in music education. The music education curriculum at UNL provides a breadth of learning opportunities that reinforce the rich traditions of school music and support for continuing innovations in the music teaching profession. The program provides students with advanced training, encompassing theoretical knowledge, research skills and practical applications to instructional settings.

The University of Nebraska Foundation is an independent, nonprofit organization raising private gifts to support the University of Nebraska for more than 75 years. In 2012 donors, through their gifts to the foundation, provided the university with $124 million for scholarships, medical and other research, academic programs, faculty and buildings. All foundation funds are donor designated. The foundation’s comprehensive fundraising campaign, the Campaign for Nebraska, has raised more than $1.2 billion for the university and concludes in 2014. For more information, visit

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