The Charger Blog

Music Professor Recognized for Teaching Excellence

Patrick Rivers, Ph.D., an ethnomusicologist and coordinator of the University’s music industry program, has been lauded by his students and colleagues for his dedication to innovative and engaging teaching. He is the sixth recipient of the University’s Bucknall Excellence in Teaching Award, which annually recognizes an exceptional faculty member.

July 26, 2021

By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications

Rivers Teaching 2021… concert
Patrick Rivers, Ph.D., and his students at a Groove Haven concert on campus earlier this year.

When Clark Smith ’19 was beginning his career as a Charger, he met Patrick Rivers, Ph.D., at orientation. Smith, who would go on to earn a degree in music industry from the University, was immediately impressed by his new professor’s ability to connect with students. He was excited that he and his classmates would have the opportunity to learn from an educator who could talk to them about everything from the latest releases from star rappers to hip-hop classics.

Rivers Teaching hip hop
Patrick Rivers, Ph.D., (left) at a hip-hop technology and production session.

“I saw someone who fostered such excitement and wonder in our eyes when he spoke about his new Hip Hop technology class and his years of DJing,” recalled Smith. “Dr. Rivers made everyone excited to learn and excited about their futures. What makes him an excellent professor is his ability to connect with students on an intimately personal level. It is rare to find an educator who doesn’t feel so far away from you in terms of interests and background.”

Clark is not alone in his praise of Dr. Rivers. An associate professor and coordinator of the University’s music industry program, Dr. Rivers was selected as the University’s William L. Bucknall Excellence in Teaching Award recipient for 2020-21.

“Dr. Rivers is a phenomenal teacher and counselor,” said Smith. “He is very deserving of this recognition.”

Award applicants were reviewed and recommended by a committee consisting of the dean of each college and Mary Isbell, Ph.D., an associate professor of English and the 2019-20 award recipient.

“This award is an acknowledgement that a selection of leaders on campus saw value in the energy and thought I put into teaching,” said Dr. Rivers. “I don’t take that for granted. However, it also an acknowledgement of what I accomplished as a teacher here. Since I don’t see myself retiring, it also means that I have continued to enrich my teaching practices, which I look forward to doing.”

Rivers DJ
Patrick Rivers, Ph.D., (right) enjoys sharing his passion for music with his students.
‘I appreciate the vibrancy and rich histories of the creative arts’

The award recognizes a faculty member for exemplary instruction in and out of the classroom, and for developing innovative curricula and transformational learning opportunities. It provides an honorarium of $15,000 and an additional $10,000 to support the recipient’s new teaching initiatives. It was established by longtime University benefactor William L. Bucknall Jr. ’63, ’65, ’08 Hon., a member of the University’s Board of Governors and a former board chair, and his daughters, Elise Bucknall and Kristin Loranger.

“Our students at the University are great,” said Dr. Rivers, who has taught at the University since 2014. “I cherish my time in the classroom with them and the numerous casual conversations about topics such as music, video games, and sports. In addition to that, my favorite part of teaching at the University is the opportunities I’ve been afforded to create new courses."

One of those courses was based on Dr. Rivers’s dissertation, "The Mad Science of Hip-Hop: History, Technology, and Poetics of Hip-Hop’s Music, 1975–1991.” He enjoys creating new opportunities for his students, crediting fellow educators with inspiring his own teaching. He also cites the iPod and iTunes as impactful to his role as an educator, as they enabled him to curate recordings for his courses while providing myriad opportunities for listening to music.

Dr. Rivers describes his teaching as “a culturally responsive process that is performative, intellectual, and multimedia-driven.” He endeavors to expand students’ experiences by introducing them to new ideas and content, viewing himself as an “experienced participant” rather than an expert.

Using a variety of media, he helps his students develop an understanding of research, theory, and history. As Dr. Rivers and his students analyze and discuss media together in the classroom, he challenges them to think critically. Incorporating his own experience in the classroom to teaching, he strives to ensure a positive experience for his students.

“I don’t conceal knowledge or proceed from a position of knowing every detail of a subject,” he explains. “But I do acknowledge my privilege of earning the opportunity to pursue a doctoral degree that allowed me to read about and listen to generations of musicians. I appreciate the vibrancy and rich histories of the creative arts. As such, I attempt to avoid the joyless dissection of music that was, at times, a feature of my education.”

Rivers 2019
Patrick Rivers, Ph.D., (far right) and his students at a rehearsal in 2019.
‘I loved his wide knowledge of the music’

A passionate ethnomusicologist, Dr. Rivers researches the objects and processes of recorded music and music’s impact on aesthetics and consumption. Focusing on the popular music practices of Black people in the Americas, he is particularly interested in the intersections of music, media, and technology.

Although Dr. Rivers does not position himself as the “expert” in the classroom, many of his students view him as such. For Smith, Dr. Rivers’s former student, his professor’s vast knowledge of music and the conversations it inspired were what he enjoyed the most about taking classes with Dr. Rivers.

“When I told him about any of the music I liked or asked him if he had heard of an artist or album, he absolutely knew it all,” said Smith. “Then he knew the history of the music, and he had vast literature on that history, on top of that.

“I loved his wide knowledge of the music,” he continued. “His casual and down-to-earth approach to discussing history, and his willingness to converse with us about anything we found relevant made him a favorite professor for me. I especially cherish the time we spent talking about Prince!”