Carnegie Mellon University

School of Music

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Denis Colwell, Head of CMU School of Music

March 30, 2022

New Endowed Scholarship Will Honor Outgoing School of Music Head Denis Colwell

By Pam Wigley

Pam Wigley
  • College of Fine Arts
  • 412-268-1047
Dan Fernandez
  • School of Music

Denis Colwell, the Jack G. Buncher Head of the Carnegie Mellon University School of Music, will finish his term at the end of this academic year. His legacy and contributions to the school, however, will be honored in the future through the Denis Colwell Endowed Scholarship. Colwell, an associate professor who served as acting head in 2011 before being named head of the school in 2012, plans to take a year sabbatical before returning to CMU as a faculty member.

Colwell was named the Buncher chair in 2017, after having served five years as head of the school. A trumpet player, he completed his bachelor’s degree at Carnegie Mellon, studying under the legendary trumpeter Anthony L. Pasquarelli. He became assistant head of the school and, at the same time, served as music director of the CMU Wind Ensemble. He also directed and performed more than 1,400 concerts across the United States with Pittsburgh’s River City Brass Band.

The scholarship is being established by a group fundraising effort that is led by Carnegie Mellon alumnus and longtime donor Nick Vlahakis and his wife, Kimi. Vlahakis, a Pittsburgh native, earned his master’s degree in mechanical engineering. The Vlahakis family has endowed an engineering/science scholarship and named The Vlahakis Recording Studio in the School of Music. During his work with Riccardo Schulz on the studio, Vlahakis met Colwell and said he quickly recognized Colwell’s business acumen, organizational skills and genuine interest in people.

“He combines his music skills with business, technology and reading people,” Vlahakis said. “I’m excited to be the lead donor for this scholarship for Denis, whom I consider to be a friend and an exemplary person.”

He and Kimi will be encouraging others inside and outside of Carnegie Mellon to support the fund. A minimum of $50,000 must be secured in order to make this an endowed annual scholarship. To get there, the fund must reach its goal and, once endowed, will provide annual support in the form of an undergraduate School of Music scholarship in perpetuity. Click for more information on making a donation.

“I echo Nick’s words about Denis’ qualities as a human being,” said Mary Ellen Poole, dean of the College of Fine Arts. “What’s more, he made some extraordinary hires during his tenure as head, and that’s the most important legacy a leader can leave behind.”

“Denis has become a friend,” Vlahakis said. “As Denis and I worked together more closely on the funding of CMU’s studio, I saw for myself how he worked with others. He is always responsive and supportive, no matter what the subject or who needs his help.”

Colwell learned of the endowed scholarship in person from Vlahakis at the end of 2021 and was, according to Vlahakis, “touched and emotional” upon hearing the news.

“I am tremendously honored and deeply humbled to have this effort mounted, even more so since Nick and Kimi Vlahakis, for whom I have the greatest affection and respect, are the initiators,” Colwell said. “Their ongoing generosity toward CMU and the School of Music is nothing short of amazing and continues to inspire all of us. That I had the chance to get to know and work with them and others like them was one of the best parts of my tenure as head. This scholarship will benefit future CMU music students, making it the greatest gift I can think of. My sincerest thanks to Nick and Kimi, and all who may choose to support this effort.”