When Megan Cooney was hired at St. Ambrose University in 2015, she was tasked with an exciting challenge: start a collegiate marching band program from scratch. “Every aspect of our program has been built by me. I designed the uniforms; we lined every field; we created every student body chant or cheer; my students and I built every instrument storage unit; we take every photo and video; we create every social media post, graphic and audio recording; I assembled every instrument; I built and towed every trailer; I carried every large purchase across campus,” she said. But Cooney wouldn’t have it any other way because teaching students the responsibility of helping to run the music program gives them real-world skills and a sense of ownership regardless of their majors.
In one of her “40 Under 40” nomination letters, a colleague wrote, “The success of the St. Ambrose athletic bands has been awe-inspiring, and the connections Megan has made with her students and high school students in the state of Iowa is nothing short of amazing.”
Every year, Cooney has added new components to the program, such as additional scholarships, new student leadership positions and new programs like the indoor marching arts ensembles. Although the pandemic stalled some of her plans, she has ambitious goals for the coming years. “Once we get through coronavirus, I want to get back on track with performance preparation, continue to strengthen our student leadership program, create additional part-time staffing positions and begin building our two new competitive WGI programs for indoor percussion and winter guard,” Cooney said.
She also manages to find time for community outreach. Cooney has presented clinics and recruited from area high schools, and she has collaborated with other universities that are interested in how she started St. Ambrose’s music program.