Berklee Online's Cavalier Wins Education Award

BostInno names Berklee Online's Debbie Cavalier one of the city's most innovative educators.

December 17, 2013

In just over a decade, Berklee Online has gone from a prospect some regarded as dubious to a school that boasts thousands of students, has just announced its first degree program, and was recently named one of the city’s top innovators in education.

Earlier this month, BostInno named Debbie Cavalier, Berklee Online’s CEO and the college’s vice president of online education, one of its 50 on Fire pioneers.

The award acknowledges people who are “changing Boston for the better in ways which simply can’t be ignored,” the news site’s Caroline Lyle writes

The recognition is conferred to leaders in the fields of education, design, arts and entertainment, technology, media, marketing and advertising, healthcare and medicine, sports and fitness, and dining and retail. Overall, 50 winners were chosen from a pool of 2,000 nominees.

Cavalier shares this year’s education honors with Olin College, Bill Aulet of the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, Gordon Jones of the Harvard Innovation Lab, and Joi Ito of the MIT Media Lab. But she doesn’t see the accolade as belonging particularly to her.

“Although I’m the name on the certificate, I don’t see this as my award at all,” Cavalier said. "This award reflects the hard work and dedication of the entire Berklee Online staff and instructors, and the innovative and forward-thinking initiatives we've embarked on thanks to the support of president Roger H. Brown and our board.”

The award, she adds, “recognizes Berklee Online's unique tenure in online learning, the innovative new partnerships we formed this past year with Coursera, edX, Southern New Hampshire University, and the new online bachelor of professional studies degree programs launching this fall. It's an exciting time in the world of online learning and Berklee is leading the way. It's wonderful to see all of the hard work of everyone involved recognized in this way."

But being ahead of the curve in education trends is nothing new for Berklee, which started its first correspondence course in the 1960s. One of the instructors for those courses, Paul Schmeling, wrote the online school’s first offering in 2001, Music Theory 101. And one of the correspondence course’s students, David Mash, is now the college’s senior vice president for innovation and technology.

Cavalier is also the product of a Berklee education. After graduating in 1987 with a degree in music education, Cavalier became a public school music teacher north of Boston before taking a job writing music publications in Miami. She returned to Berklee in 1998 to work as the managing editor for Berklee Press and, later, a creator of Berklee Online.

“The online school was developed as a way to expand the reach of the college and to provide music education opportunities to a global base of musicians for whom coming to Boston is not an option,” she said, describing its students as highly motivated adult (over 30 years old) learners. “These are really engaged students. Some of them always dreamed of going to Berklee.”

Although Berklee Online has achieved notable success, the program has remained what Cavalier calls “a well-kept secret despite our efforts to get the word out.” Now—with Berklee Online being mentioned alongside MIT and Harvard— that appears to be changing.