May 20, 2021

Jessica Pope
Communications and Media Relations Coordinator

Catherine Yara Named Graduate Assistant of the Year at VSU

VALDOSTA — Catherine Yara, a violinist from Ibagué, Tolima, Colombia, is Valdosta State University’s 2020-2021 Graduate Assistant of the Year.

Yara served as a graduate assistant in VSU’s Department of Music from Fall 2019 through Spring 2021. She served as a teacher, a recruiter, a mentor, a music library assistant, and more and worked with the Valdosta Symphony Orchestra, South Georgia String Project, and VSU’s String Ensemble and Opera Orchestra.

Yara graduated from VSU with a Master of Music Performance on May 8.

“I was tremendously excited when I was named Graduate Assistant of the Year,” she shared. “I was especially touched with all that my supervisors said about my work, and I could not be more grateful with them for giving me the opportunity to learn from them.”

Dr. Zhong Bei Lin, assistant professor of piano in VSU’s Department of Music, referenced Yara’s reliability, quality of work, initiative, professionalism, and uniqueness of contribution when nominating her for the distinguished honor. She described Yara as “dependable and organized” and a strong advocate for her native culture, which she freely shared “with those around her by writing musical arrangements of Colombian music that teachers and students in Valdosta would otherwise never be exposed to or even have the opportunity to hear, much less study and perform.”

Yara enjoyed working with students and student teachers in the South Georgia String Project, an after-school music program where community members ages 8 to adult can easily access low-cost stringed instrument instruction. She oversaw lesson planning, monitored the undergraduate student teachers and created an overarching pedagogical plan. When classes transitioned to a virtual platform during the pandemic, she created and edited a short movie to be used as a recruitment tool in area elementary schools.

Lin noted that the undergraduate student teachers who worked under Yara’s supervision benefitted from her professionalism and dependability and were always well prepared for each lesson they taught. She said Yara was thoughtful and caring when working with the younger undergraduate students and always willing to help them by providing supplemental lessons in violin technique, test prep, and navigating the challenges of college life.

Dr. Laurel Yu, assistant professor of viola at VSU, said that Yara was his go-to graduate assistant when teaching PERS 2390: Music in Film. He said her assistance was “essential in helping with attendance, grading, and organizing the synchronous sessions when classes were put online” during the global health crisis, and he shared that she was “notably generous with her time” and often met with students virtually whenever they needed tutoring or assistance.

Yara played violin for the VSU Opera Orchestra, and Dr. Kristin Pfeifer Yu, lecturer of violin and director of the South Georgia String Project, noted that she consistently performed at a high musical level and was always prepared and ready to play any solo a concertmaster — leader of the first violin section — might need to play.

During her time as a graduate student at VSU, Yara had the opportunity to attend the American String Teachers Association conference before COVID-19 lockdowns went into effect. She organized a fundraiser recital, performing Colombian and South American works in order to raise the funds needed to cover the expense of attending the conference.

Yara began studying music at the age of 5 at Liceo Musical Santa Cecilia in Ibagué, Tolima, Colombia. She was 6 years old when she joined the school’s Pre-Infantile Orchestra and 8 years old when she became concertmaster of the Children’s Symphony Orchestra.  

Yara came to VSU after studying music at Pontificia Unversidad Javeriana in Bogotá Colombia, where she performed with the orchestra and taught courses in ear training, violin, and music theory. She was invited to guest perform with the Colombia Symphony Orchestra in 2015.

Yara plans to pursue optional practical training that will allow her to temporarily remain in the United States for up to a year and work in her major field of study. Her goal is to pursue a doctorate in music education. She is the daughter of Cecilia Aponte and has a dog named Boshka.

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