Music Scholarship to Honor Milt Olsson

By Marcia Goodrich | Published

Milt Olsson conducting the Keweenaw Symphony Orchestra
Milt Olsson conducting the Keweenaw Symphony Orchestra

No one can get a degree in music at Michigan Technological University. Nevertheless, hundreds of Tech students and alumni identify the University’s music program as a highlight of their college experience.


To support students such as these and recognize a major architect of the University’s musical program, the Department of Visual and Performing Arts has created the Milton Olsson Music Scholarship.


The Olsson Scholarship will be the first available to all Tech students involved in any of the University's music programs. Mu Beta Psi's John MacInnes Memorial Scholarship supports musicians playing in the Pep Band. The Hugh and Martha Winn Endowed Scholarship is designated for engineering students involved in the arts or music.


“I’m very honored and also very excited about this, because we really need scholarships,” says Olsson, former chair of the department. The longtime director of the Keweenaw Symphony Orchestra and the Michigan Tech Concert Choir, Olsson is retiring from Michigan Tech after 33 years devoted to education and the arts, music in particular.


“Tech gets some cream-of-the-crop musicians who take it very seriously,” says Olsson. “They do music for the love of it, not because it’s a degree requirement. Scholarships will allow us to attract and support these students who add so much to University life.”


A scholarship for student musicians will recognize their contributions, says Roger Held, the current chair of visual and performing arts.


“We have students who are very good musicians and put a tremendous amount of time and effort into their music,” says Held. “We want to help them by making college a little more affordable.”


Erin Kauppila graduated from Michigan Tech in 2004 with a degree in scientific and technical communication. She played trumpet in the Jazz Lab Band, the Wind Symphony, and the Keweenaw Symphony Orchestra and sang in the Concert Choir under Olsson’s direction. A music scholarship, she says, is a great idea.


“Anything that supports and encourages students participating in the arts is incredibly important,” she says. “At many schools, you have to be a music major or an accomplished musician to participate, but Tech is very accessible and welcoming for novices. I learned so much about music, I met a lot of amazing people from all across campus, and I had an absolutely wonderful time.”


It’s fitting that the first music scholarship is named after Olsson, says Kauppila. “He’s always available to students, and he encourages everyone involved in music,” she says. “Milt helped build the spirit of community that exists between the University and the surrounding area.”


Tony Locatelli minored in music and earned degrees in computer science and electrical engineering in 2005. He played in the Wind Symphony, sang in the Concert Choir, played piano in the R&D Big Band and Momentum Jazz, and immersed himself in musical theater, particularly the Tech productions of “Guys and Dolls” and “Cabaret.”


“It was fantastic, and Milt was very supportive,” says Locatelli. “It was a way for someone who is technical, like me, to stretch out and do some really fun stuff, exercise the other half of my brain.”


As for a scholarship, “I think it’s critical for students to be able to afford to participate in music,” says Locatelli. “The fact that Tech does so much for non-music majors is phenomenal, and it’s important for those of us who enjoyed the benefits of the program to give back and provide opportunities for current students.”


The Department of Visual and Performing Arts aims to raise an initial $25,000 to endow the Milton Olsson Music Scholarship. For information on how to contribute, contact the department at 906-487-2067 or

(Note: The photos of Olsson conducting are reproduced here courtesy of Bill Fink,

Michigan Technological University is a public research university, home to more than 7,000 students from 54 countries. Founded in 1885, the University offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, and social sciences. Our campus in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula overlooks the Keweenaw Waterway and is just a few miles from Lake Superior.