New Math Professor Discovers Power, Therapy in Irish Harp Music

September 13, 2012 / by / 1 Comment

By Michael Ferraresi
GCU News Bureau

When she’s not teaching algebra in the new College of Arts and Sciences building, Shannon Schumann sometimes finds herself playing Irish harp at the bedside of terminally ill patients.

Those tranquil, private performances are actually part of Schumann’s internship with the International Harp Therapy Program – a yearlong program that prepares harpists to play the soothing string instrument and help listeners find peace.

Shannon Schumann, an assistant professor of mathematics who joined GCU in August, plays the Irish harp as a form of therapy for hospice patients. (Photo courtesy of Shannon Schumann)

The GCU assistant professor of mathematics also plays Irish flute in a local band, but – like teaching young people about the power of numbers – harp therapy is becoming her passion.

Schumann said the soothing sound of her traditional instrument helps stressed-out families find some relaxation in the midst of preparing for a loved one’s death.

“You put your arms around it and embrace the music,” said Schumann, who will complete her harp therapy internship through her work with Hospice of the Valley.

“It resonates and you feel it through your whole body,” Schumann said. “Harp is played in hospitals and therapeutic settings for that very reason.”

Schumann joined GCU in August after working for two years at University of Phoenix. She served as an associate dean and helped build an online math tutoring center. But working as an administrator made her miss teaching students directly in the classroom.

At GCU, she teaches two prerequisite algebra courses, including one section that begins at 7 a.m. So helping students connect math with their projected career paths in everything from chemistry to criminal justice can be a challenge.

Schumann has taught mathematics for about 20 years since earning her bachelor’s degree in math from University of Guam when she was stationed on the South Pacific island with the Navy.

She joined GCU after walking away from an interview impressed by the University’s plans for growing arts and sciences curriculum.

“Nothing about administration,” Schumann said about the focus of the interview. “Nothing about keeping retentions up. It was all about how best to teach students.”

Schumann published a piece of music titled “Seven Falls” in the fall edition of Folk Harp Journal. The piece is inspired by the serenity of Cheyenne Canyon near Colorado Springs, where she taught math for six years at University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.

Her Irish harp is the national instrument of Ireland. It’s a wire-strung instrument that stands about three feet high and is played by sitting down.

Schumann said she learned about the instrument from a friend and found herself fascinated by the mathematics of adjusting and tuning the levers to achieve different sounds.

Mark Wireman, assistant dean for CAS, said Schumann impressed him and other leaders with her teaching style during a classroom test-run during the interview process. He said Schumann has a knack for making math make sense to students by using props and taking classwork beyond the typical number-crunching of prerequisite courses.

CAS hired 11 new faculty this summer to keep pace with incoming students. Schumann was one of three mathematics faculty hired as part of that push, and she is already making an impact on students.

“She’s very approachable with students,” Wireman said. “A lot of students are in her office already, and it’s only the third week. That fits the GCU style.”

Contact Michael Ferraresi at 639.7030 or michael.ferraresi@gcu.edu.


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