All posts by Donna Smith

SPC Offers Audio Production and Engineering Certificate

woman in blue shirt works behind a sound board doing audio production and engineering

For anyone who dreams of working in the music industry, whether it be recording the next big artist, running sound at a famed venue or heading out on tour with a band, St. Petersburg College’s new Audio Production and Engineering Certificate is truly the hot ticket. The program offers students the credentials to get a job in the music and entertainment field as sound engineers, studio technicians or digital audio workstation operators.

A solid foundation

The 24-credit certificate covers content such as Apple Mac foundations, studio recording techniques, acoustics, live sound and professional audio production. Students’ first semester of classes includes the Music Industry Recording Arts Orientation, a vital entry into the Audio Production and Engineering program, according to SPC Humanities and Fine Arts Chair Nathan Muehl. 

“This course is great because students can meet all of the faculty, get an overview of everything they’ll be learning and get guidance from our music faculty on planning their class schedules,” Muehl said. “They’ll also complete a small, collaborative creative project that gives them a taste of the career and helps them decide if it’s what they want to do.”

Hands-on Experience

Once a student completes the coursework for the certificate, they will take part in a 60-hour internship at St. Petersburg College’s live music venue, The Palladium, which hosts different types of acts weekly.

“This experience will give them a chance to work with not only the technology, but also with musical groups,” Muehl said. “Then they’ll have that experience on their resume when the begin their job searches.”

With this certificate in hand, students will be job ready, but since all credits earned can be used towards an Associate Degree in Music Industry and Recording Arts, students can keep going.

The program’s slots for Fall Term have begun to fill, but there is still room for more people to sign up. Anyone interested can fill out this survey, after which, they will receive a detailed custom plan for next steps, faculty resources and financial aid contacts.

Muehl said that there are many different types of job opportunities that this certificate will open up, including those on cruise ships, at concert venues or casinos, and of course, in recording studios.

“If you have a passion for music, music technology, live sound and concerts,” he said, “and if you like working with people and solving problems,” this career would be a great fit.”

A Drummer and a Scholar

Hernly and Poynter shake hands over a drum set in front of a crowd of thousands at Red Rocks Amphitheater

Some drummers hit the road in a van full of band mates in search of music stardom. Others, like St. Petersburg College Music Professor Dr. Pat Hernly, take a more academic approach. Recently, Hernly combined his academic studies and performance experience to publish a chapter in the Cambridge Companion to the Drum Kit.

Hernly co-authored the chapter with his former USF professor, Carlos Xavier Rodriguez, who is Associate Professor of Music Education at the University of Michigan. The Cambridge Companion highlights emerging scholarship on the drum kit, drummers and key debates related to the instrument and its players. The chapter, titled The Aesthetics of Timekeeping, discusses ways to help students evolve in their craft.

“We wanted to show instructors how they can help student drummers progress from just being functional drummers who just keep the beat, to actively developing them into more artistic music makers who can be creative and expressive through their timekeeping.”

An Early Start

Hernly, who had studied piano and bass from an early age, picked up the drums at age nine, when he chose the snare drum in an elementary school band. By age 11, he had a full drum kit, procured from the classifieds and strategically placed in a corner of the family basement.

“I come from a very musical family,” Hernly said. “I was really fortunate that I could play all I wanted to.”

Hernly said that as his abilities progressed on the drums, he found that he loved playing in front of an audience.

“I always loved to play live shows. I loved the energy of a live performance,” he said.

But instead of taking his talent on the road, he, influenced by his music teachers, took it to college.

“I was so inspired by my high school music teachers,” Hernly said. “Because of them, I wanted to become a K-12 music teacher. But once I got into college, my eyes opened to different avenues to explore in the music field.”

A Mulitfaceted Career

Hernly earned a master’s degree in Percussion Performance at Indiana University, then a Ph.D. in Music Education from the University of South Florida. Now a lead professor in St. Petersburg College’s Music Industry Recording Arts program, Hernly teaches music literature, commercial music, musical ensembles, music theory and percussion. He said that he has the best of all worlds.

“I love all the different ways that there are to do music,” he said. “That includes teaching, performing and doing research. Those three approaches are like three points on a triangle, and each one informs the others.”

Hernly, whose research has been published both nationally and internationally, has performed at many prestigious venues in the U.S. and abroad, including Lincoln Center, the Hollywood Bowl and Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires. He has toured Latin America and performed with a Latin pop star. He also has performed locally with The Spanish Lyric Theater, world music/Latin jazz ensemble Manigua, Afro Cuban artist Freddy Montes, flamenco troupe Somos, and the soul-funk-reggae band, The Hip Abduction.

Following the publication, Hernly presented on the topic at Association for Popular Music Education (APME) International conference for music education research and teaching concerning popular music, as well as via Zoom at a music education symposium at a university in Turkey.

From Inspired to Inspirational

This summer, Hernly will play the part of the inspirational instructor – literally – in August as he takes the stage with Matt Poynter, a former student whom Hernly connected with his former band, The Hip Abduction. Poynter, now the band’s drummer, and Hernly, who will play percussion, perform with the group at the iconic Colorado venue, Red Rocks Amphitheater.

“I’m really fortunate that we’re at a point in music education research where commercial and popular music are important research areas right now,” Hernly said. “I’m also incredibly fortunate that I get to do music and work with great students.”

SPC Prof Joins Art Board

a colorful floral mural adorns the side of a building under a blue, lightly cloudy sky
The Clearwater City Council recently appointed St. Petersburg College faculty member, Dr. Greg Byrd, to the City of Clearwater Public Art and Design Advisory Board. The Public Art & Design Advisory Board is responsible for overseeing the Public Art & Design Program and works with city staff to establish the criteria, policies and priorities of the program. Byrd said that even before the appointment, he has had several opportunities to serve the city. “I was involved in a workshop called “Healing Words: Poetry for Cancer Patients” at Morton Plan Hospital, giving discussions and poetry workshops, as well as judging essay and poetry contests,” Byrd said. “I was also very happy to be asked to compose and read a poem for the dedication of the SPC-Clearwater Community library.”
Headshot of Professor Gregory Byrd in a dark shirt and vest.
Dr. Greg Byrd
Byrd, who teaches writing, composition and literature, is a published author who has been nominated for a prestigious Pushcart Prize, and his poetry and prose have appeared widely, recently in Apalachee Review and forthcoming in Saw Palm. He is currently working on two World War I novels: Where Shadow Meets Water, about a pilot from Florida, and Long Train Home to Scarborough, about a reporter and a nurse. His poetry chapbook, The Name of the God Who Speaks, won the Robert Phillips Prize from Texas Review Press. He said that as a longtime Clearwater resident, he is honored by the appointment. “I hope that my experience in travel and teaching humanities will allow me to offer insight to the Board,” he said. “I want to connect the city to the talented professors and students in the arts, music and theatre programs at SPC who create art on a continual basis. I hope that anyone who has ideas for how to contribute to Clearwater’s public art will contact me so that I can convey those ideas to the rest of the board.”

Videography Students Get “Reel” World Experience

SPC VIdeography students shoot a scene

For more than a decade, students from St. Petersburg College’s Advanced Videography class have had the opportunity to network, pad their portfolios and gain some real-world experience, thanks to the college’s partnership with WEDU Public Media.

According to videography professor John Muehl, the students, who work in teams of three or four, pitch and put together six-minute segments for WEDU’s Arts Plus program. Not every group makes it in, but Muehl said the majority of SPC students have done so.

“Over the past five years, 85 percent of our students’ stories have aired, and half of those have gone national,” he said. “Tampa Bay is the 13th largest market in the US, with a potential audience of millions of people. Having something that they worked on actually air is a huge boon to their portfolios.”

Under the guidance of their professor and WEDU Producer Farah Vickery, students apply everything they’ve learned, including pitching ideas, preproduction, storyboarding, writing scripts and scheduling shoots. They then move into production, where they shoot interviews and footage, then enter the post-production editing process. When it’s all wrapped up, the story package goes to WEDU for feedback. WEDU Senior Vice President Jack Conely said the SPC submissions often get used outside of the Tampa Bay market.

“One of the perks of this collaboration is that our local segments are contributed to a common pot, and some of the stations that are in big media markets – we’re talking about Chicago and New York – pick them up,” Conely said. “To be able to walk away with a degree and an experience like having a segment seen nationally, that’s something else.”

SPC videography students conduct a shoot

Not only do they get seen, but one group even won a Suncoast Regional Emmy Award for a piece they did on Pinellas County’s Sanitation department. Others have been hired as freelancers by WEDU. Isaac Locke recently participated in the project and said he could see a career coming out of it.

“It pushed me to do my best, and I know that it’s going to roll the ball forward in many ways,” Locke said. 

You can watch Arts Plus segments here.

SPC Prof Wins Music Composition Grant

Two sheets of sheet music.

Dr. David Manson, a St. Petersburg College Music Professor and a founder of the college’s Music Industry and Recording Arts program, was recently named a recipient of a music composition grant from Creative Pinellas, a nonprofit arts organization dedicated to supporting local artists and nurturing a vibrant arts community in Pinellas County.

Creative Pinellas provides $5000 grants to local artists who have excelled in their practice, and Manson was the only recipient of a music composition grant.

David Manson directs orchestra

Manson, who teaches jazz studies and recording arts at SPC, is a composer, trombonist and producer. He has worked in many areas of music, including jazz, orchestral, world music, rock and chamber music. His bands include O Som Do Jazz, which features bossa nova and samba jazz, Helios Jazz Orchestra, which was voted Best Jazz Group – Best of the Bay by Tampa Bay Magazine, the Mobile Itinerant Funk Unit, a New Orleans-style street band featuring funk, jazz and world music, and Glorious Brass, a brass quintet.  

He also finds time to give back to the community. As the director of the nonprofit EMIT, he oversees the many workshops and concerts involving new music, jazz, world music interactive electronics, improvisational and interdisciplinary art forms. EMIT is also the presenter of the annual St. Petersburg Jazz Festival and the Recording Arts Program (RAP) with Boys & Girls Club students at the Royal Theater in Midtown.

“I view music education as an investment in our community for current and future audiences,” Manson said. “It also leads to wonderful collaborative projects with area artists.”

Manson said he plans to use the music composition grant for production of his compositions as well as to improve his branding.

“It’s an honor to receive the award, and it also gives me the means to document my music in a tangible form through recording.”

SPC Professor publishes short story

Book lying open on a table in front of a yellow wall.

St. Petersburg College Professor Gregory Byrd recently published a short story in the Winter 2021 issue of Baltimore Review.

Headshot of Professor Gregory Byrd in a dark shirt and vest.

Byrd, who teaches writing and humanities at SPC, spent time as a Fulbright Fellow in Albania in 2011, teaching creative writing. His story, Dita e Verës, is a tale of unimaginable grief juxtaposed with a festive setting at the annual Albanian celebration of spring by the same name.

“While I was there, my mother sent news that my cousin had been murdered in rural Nevada, her body buried in a shallow grave,” Byrd said. “About that time, we attended the Summer Day festival and it seemed ironic in a sort of T.S. Eliot way, that there would be a celebration of life while I was thinking of my cousin’s murder.”

Byrd has been nominated for a prestigious Pushcart Prize, and his poetry and prose have appeared widely, recently in Apalachee Review and forthcoming in Saw Palm. He is currently working on two World War I novels: Where Shadow Meets Water, about a pilot from Florida, and Long Train Home to Scarborough, about a reporter and a nurse. His poetry chapbook, The Name of the God Who Speaks, won the Robert Phillips Prize from Texas Review Press.  

CTE Month Spotlight: Reily Cruz

CTE Month Spotlight. Student pictured is Reily Cruz.

This profile is part of a series celebrating Career and Technical Education (CTE) Month at St. Petersburg College. Be sure to check out the full story to read more about the experiences of SPC students. To explore all of our degrees and credentials, visit

While in high school, Reily Cruz, 29, made plans to study for a career in aeronautical engineering. But after graduating and beginning studies towards that degree, he realized after only two semesters that it wasn’t his destiny. He was looking for his passion, and instead of finding it in science, he decided it lay in a different sort of engineering: music. In the fall of 2014, he heard about SPC’s Music Industry and Recording Arts (MIRA) program and attended an open house event.

“The college offered a degree in audio engineering, which lined up with what I decided to pursue in life: music production,” Cruz said. “Although aeronautical engineering offered financial security and other benefits, I couldn’t see myself being content with that career path years down the road. I believe that enrolling in the MIRA program over at SPC has been one of the best decisions I’ve made.”

The open house event left a good impression, and Cruz enrolled for classes in SPC’s MIRA program in the fall of 2015. Armed with only basic music knowledge, he started learning more about music production on a Digital Audio Workstation, and he began taking piano lessons to learn more about music theory.

“Other students had been playing music since grade school,” Cruz said. “I felt like I had to play catch-up. It was like learning a new language. Prior to the MIRA program, I would have to attempt to describe what I was hearing creatively in my head without having the proper level of musical jargon to explain ideas.”

Cruz said he was offered a wide variety of experiences throughout the program, many hands-on, which he says was integral to his learning.

“Providing students with a real-life experience in the field grants us a view into the world we’ll be soon head into,” he said. “I interned at the Palladium for a semester and got experience in a live setting. I was able to get studio experience at Creative World Recording, which is run by George Harris. I had a lot of fun and learned so much from him.”

Cruz graduated with an Associate in Science degree from the MIRA program with focus on production in 2019. Along the way, he earned the Audio Technology Certificate with a Production subplan. He recently produced his first record under the name Reily Ilo. He hopes to start his own record label. He said the credentials he earned at SPC have given him the knowledge and ability to start his career, along with the confidence to pursue his dreams.

“A lot of 17- and 18-year-olds get dropped the heavy question: ‘What do you want to do in life?’” he said. “A lot of us are overwhelmed by it because we are still experiencing the self-discovery process. MIRA provided me the confidence to venture off into the world and start my career.”

Set Design Award Goes to SPC Prof

set design

St. Petersburg College Theater Director Scott Cooper won the Best Set Design award at the 2020 Theater Tampa Bay Awards last week. Cooper’s winning design was for the set of Morningside, which was performed at Tampa’s Stageworks Theater in February.

Morningside is a play about a baby shower in Atlanta’s Morningside neighborhood, which brings nine multi-generational women together for a revealing afternoon.  Cooper, who has an MFA in set design and 25 years of experience, said it was important to understand those characters and make the set look like they belong in it.

“Morningside is a real place in the Suburbs of Georgia, so I did a lot of research to see how the homes really looked,” Cooper said. “First, I had to design the house and then decorate it for the party. The leading character is a bit of a snob who is very worried about appearances, so it would be tasteful and the best of everything. It had to be high end everything and perfectly placed – not tons of cheap stuff.”

Students were able to enhance their SPC theater education by helping Cooper build and paint this set and others for professional productions through SPC. Cooper said it’s a great opportunity for hands-on learning and lessons in professional behavior.

“These productions teach the facts of deadlines: you can’t ask for an extension—the show opens when it opens,” he said. “They also learn the collaborative process first-hand. Things change and opinions are asked – even from the students at times.”

The opportunity to work in a professional setting also makes students’ dreams seem attainable.

“There is a real professional theater world out there with jobs. You just have to get a foot in the door,” Cooper said. “Many have gone on to work for these theaters professionally, which is always great to see.”

This isn’t Cooper’s first nod for set design. This is his sixth win for Best Set Design with the Theater Tampa Bay Awards, and he has also taken home the Best Scenic Designer for Creative Loafing’s Best of the Bay awards four times. He has also been nominated twice for the Jefferson Award in Scenic Design in Chicago.

“Winning is great,” he said. “But honestly, I love being nominated. That just shows approval of your work by your peers. This win is pretty amazing, and it reminds me how lucky I am to do what I do professionally.”

SPC Grad Kaylee Stepkoski Publishes Books

Kaylee Stepkoski

St. Petersburg College graduate Kaylee Stepkoski was never a big reader, and she really didn’t like writing until, as a 16-year-old dual enrollment student at SPC’s Tarpon Springs Campus, she was given an assignment in her Composition I class to rewrite an essay into a story. She had so much fun doing that, she began to feel a desire to write something else. Last month, Stepkoski, now 19, published the second book in her science fiction adventure Ever series, Ever: The Return.

Stepkoski said that though she had been wanting to write something since that assignment, she didn’t know what to write about. Then, the idea for the book series came to her in a dream.

“I had this crazy dream where I was in a museum that was surrounded by military people because there was a being there who was not human,” she said. “I woke up knowing that this was it.”

Student support

Stepkoski began work on the first book, Ever, while still a 17-year-old student at SPC. She said her professors were very supportive, with science professors Kelli Stickrath and Mark Peebles offering advice for the science-fiction elements, and her creative writing professor, Ned Johnson, assisting with dialogue.

“My professors are awesome. They care, and they love their jobs,” she said. “Professor Johnson told me to not tell so much and to trust the reader. He helped my writing skyrocket to a whole new level.”

Her psychology professor, David Liebert, also read her work and offered encouragement.

“Dr. Liebert told me that I was doing a good job in portraying the psyche and emotions of characters,” Stepkoski said. “He was really great and helped push me to finish.”

“I saw potential and encouraged her, along with other faculty members,” said Liebert, who, along with Johnson, wrote blurbs to tout the second book. “But from my perspective, I see this as being solely her accomplishment.”

Kaylee Stepkoski

Stepkoski published Ever in the summer of 2019 at age 18. The book sold more than 200 pre-order copies in one day, and Ever: The Return came out came out in September 2020. After graduating from high school and SPC with her Associate Degree in May 2020, Stepkoski is taking a gap year before pursuing a bachelor’s in creative writing from the University of Tampa. After completing an internship with her publisher, Two Penny Publishing, she was offered a position there managing promotions.

“What’s great is that not only do I love writing, I like helping others get their stories out,” she said.

You can see descriptions of the Ever series and purchase books in either paperback or electronic formats at Two Penny’s website.  

Palladium to reopen Oct. 3

The Palladium reopens

In early March, St. Petersburg College‘s Palladium Theater was booked almost every day until the Fourth of July with local music, opera, recitals and other events. But by mid-March, the theater had to close its doors to the public for more than six months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That all ends this Saturday, when the venerable theater will open Hough Hall for the first of a series of performances this month.

Palladium Director Paul Wilborn said this is great news for many reasons.

“I love sitting in my theater hearing a great show, and we’ve been shut down so long,” Wilborn said. “If people can come out safely and enjoy something optimistic, it makes us all happier while going through this period.”

The Palladium shows, which will be on October 3, 10 and 17, will offer around 180 seats in the 831-seat Hall. People who buy tickets together will be seated as a group, and groups will be separated in a safe distance from other patrons. The 90-minute shows will not have intermission, and masks are required to enter or move about the building.

“These shows allow us to support our local artists,” Wilborn said. “We’ll have blues guitarists from Tampa, four local comedians as well as local jazz.”

Getting local artists back to work

Supporting local acts is a priority for Wilborn, who noted that, despite the greatly diminished number of seats available, the acts will receive the usual pay. While the Palladium doors were closed, he and his staff have worked to implement live streaming capability that will create a new revenue stream for the Palladium and allow performers to get back to work. In addition, the Palladium Creative Class, funded by a private donation, will pay local musicians and dancers to create work to be performed at the Palladium.

“These artists are like my extended family,” Wilborn said. “And I’ve been worried about them.”

Making the best of it

The theater has also used the down time to update the theater and its website.

“We’ve hired theater sound consultants to study the main hall to offer improvements that will take us through the next 10 years,” Wilborn said “We’ve also revamped our website, and we took all the recordings of our previous nightclub shows that featured live local bands and edited them down. WUSF is airing a monthly Palladium side-door show using these recordings. The station plugs the show regularly on air, so even though we haven’t been doing shows, we hope that is keeping the Palladium alive in people’s minds.”

palladium reopens

This Saturday, October 3, will feature Tampa blues guitarists Jose Ramirez and Anson Funderburgh. Tickets and information regarding the other October shows can be found on the Palladium’s website.

Wilborn believes that it is time, and, at least for now, audiences can enjoy live music and have a safe experience.

“Because Pinellas and St. Pete have been very diligent about masks and other measures to lower the rate of infection, numbers are at a safe enough place where we feel good about having a show.”