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Hitting the right note: Honors student excels in music, education

Man standing in hallway, smiling

Buffalo Grove native Jake Hackl has followed in his older sister’s footsteps, combining music and education to make a difference in students’ lives.

The music education program at Illinois State can be rigorous and time-intensive, but junior Jake Hackl hasn’t let this challenge keep him from excelling in multiple areas. The music education and Honors student has a minor in Spanish and a perfect 4.0 GPA, an impressive feat. He is also the music director for Acafellaz, a student a cappella group, and co-president of the American Choral Directors Association. How does one person accomplish so much and stay as happy as Hackl?

“I rely on my friends for support,” he said. “We help each other. Finding that support network is the best way to go.”

Being a part of a small cohort in music education has been very helpful for Hackl. “We hold each other accountable and make sure we all study. Especially if I’m struggling, I make sure to study in a group or otherwise I could put it off.”

The former Honors student leader has had quality experiences outside of the classroom as well, serving as an Honors Peer Mentor in fall 2018. “As an education major, it was really fun to get to be an assistant teacher in a class,” Hackl said. “I was able to interact with a group of people I wouldn’t typically see and in my section, everyone was my age or older than me, so it taught me how to be in a leadership position among my peers.”

The experience proved helpful when Hackl moved into a leadership position within his student organizations. “I know how to better navigate a leadership role,” Hackl said. “I plan a rehearsal and practice things I’ll do one day as a teacher. We have a lot of fun practicing pop music, which is different than what we cover in our classes.”

Hackl’s favorite Honors Learning Experience to this point was his Honors Exploration that focused on race in youth literature where participants read and discussed the novel The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. “It was so, so interesting,” Hackl said. “It’s the only time I’ve been able to read a book for pleasure within a class. We were really invested and had great discussions.” The noncredit nature helped Hackl feel more comfortable taking risks. “It was really cool that without the pressure of a grade, learning was so much more enjoyable and I feel like I learned a lot more that I can retain for a long time.”

Hackl participated in another Honors Exploration focused on the music of the Holocaust. “The professor structured each week based on what we wanted to learn,” Hackl said. “The Holocaust was a topic I didn’t know much about, and I think it’s good to remind yourself sometimes about such a serious issue.”

Hackl has customized his learning in other ways as well. He completed an Honors Contract in one of his education courses. After being inspired by a teacher who came in as a guest speaker, Hackl decided he wanted to learn more from current high school teachers. His instructor helped connect him with teachers in the area. After conducting three interviews, Hackl compiled their recommendations into a file that he now has ready to refer back to on his first day of student teaching.

“I like Honors Contracts,” Hackl said. “It’s fun having this open-ended opportunity to be able to investigate something further in a class and with a teacher you like.” Hackl plans to delve into interdisciplinary learning next semester by completing an Honors Contract that connects Spanish linguists to a vocal piece.

Hackl has some advice for students looking to be well-rounded and successful at Illinois State. “Make the effort to put yourself out there at the beginning and find a community that you feel comfortable with,” Hackl said.

Time management is also critical to Hackl’s achievements. “I set early goals so things aren’t done right before they’re due. I’ve found for big projects, half the battle is getting started, so even spending just 10 minutes on it when it’s first assigned can help me to feel like I’m making progress.”

Hackl went on to say, “Build a good habit from the beginning of the semester. It’s understandable that we can get burned out towards the end, but if we start strong then we have some cushion later in the semester if things drop a bit.”

Ultimately, Hackl looks forward to teaching his own music students someday soon. Illinois State and the Honors Program have provided the accompaniment this vocalist needs to succeed in the classroom and beyond.