Dustin Ragland was a college music teacher in Oklahoma when he enrolled in the online Master of Music in Music Technology (MMT) – Studio Technology Emphasis program at Southern Utah University (SUU).
“The dean of the college of fine arts and design suggested that if I was going to teach music technology to pursue something directly related to that,” he said. “That was the impetus for going back.
“I love interdisciplinary-style studies and research, but it seemed like for the practicality of the graduate degree, it was the discipline I needed to focus on.”
The plan worked like a charm. After graduating in 2019, Ragland landed a position as brand manager for Ableton, a music technology company in Atlanta, where he now lives with his wife, Becca, and their children — Adah (7) and Dylan (3).
Although Ragland earned the degree to further his teaching career, the master’s degree program curriculum also applies to his current role.
“It’s at the intersection of education and music technology,” he said. “My current role is helping and supporting teachers.”
The online format worked out well for Ragland, who taught at the University of Central Oklahoma during the 12 months as an online student at SUU.
“Especially within the time frame of finishing the program in one year, doing it online makes it feasible,” he said. “My son was born at the beginning of the third semester. I was in the hospital doing quizzes, which wouldn’t have been possible otherwise.”
Ragland grew up in Oklahoma City. He was on a much different career trajectory before teaching music. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Ancient Near Eastern and Biblical Languages, Literatures and Linguistics from Oklahoma Baptist University in 2003.
“I went into college not knowing what I wanted to do,” he said. “Once I was there, I latched on to biblical languages.
“I wanted to become a professor focused on theology and biblical languages. I keep up with it as much as I can, but my career took a different turn. It was a way to stay involved with music.”
Serendipity played a role in Ragland choosing SUU. He and his wife visited Cedar City on a fifth-anniversary trip to Zion National Park. He previously enrolled in a master’s degree program not involving music at the University of Central Oklahoma.
“I remembered going to Cedar City,” he said. “It seemed a little off the map. I was looking at programs around sonic arts and more theoretical things, but they all required relocation. I was already in the role I wanted to be in, so I didn’t want to leave the job I had and go live off a stipend.
“The availability of SUU’s program being fully online was part of the deal. I was able to work a second teaching job to pay for it. Compared to other online options, it was vastly more affordable.”
Electronic Sequencing/Score for Picture was Ragland’s favorite course in the online Master of Music in Music Technology – Studio Technology Emphasis program curriculum.
“That’s home base for me,” he said. “I got to lean into a lot of specific things that I like.
“I also enjoyed the work in film scoring. I had done work like that professionally but having the space to be a little more focused on the project and collaborate with other people was a lot of fun.”
Bridging the Gap
Ragland had plenty of encouragement from his family and friends during his return to higher education. His wife also has a master’s degree.
“They were excited for me,” he said. “I got massive support from my wife. My capstone project presentation had a live event. I remember her coming with our daughter and newborn son. There were a lot of times when I worked all day, did family stuff, then did schoolwork. The program is very flexible.”
The experience of earning a master’s degree at SUU worked out well for Ragland, who now enjoys the best of both the music and teaching worlds.
“When I was applying for different academic jobs, the degree was a massive resource,” he said. “Being able to describe my graduate studies is a key to unlocking a conversation and trust with different educators.
“They know I care about the scholarship of music technology and the pedagogy of teaching and working with students as much as I care about the instrument-making side, which is what our company does. It helped me do what I wanted to do next better and have more opportunities.”
Ragland enjoys building electronics and musical instruments and hiking in his free time and is a freelance producer and recording engineer. He is happy his career path took an unexpected direction after earning a master’s degree.
“The most helpful thing about the program was the amount of emphasis around music theory and the way it’s applied — that was beneficial to me,” he said. “It helped me get my skills up where I needed them. I also got to learn from musicians who are different from me in different contexts.
“I was one of the handful of electronic experimental music people, mixed with people who do traditional orchestration or band work. It was a great cohort to have all these different perspectives in one place and bounce them off one another. I also enjoy learning. The program was an excuse to do that.”
Learn more about SUU’s online MMT – Studio Technology Emphasis program.