Portrait of Maria Runfola.

Maria Runfola

A musical legacy

Maria Runfola, an advocate of music education and professor for 50 years, retired from UB last year after a career that included contributing to award-winning toys for Fisher-Price, patents for a color-coded system for music notation, state policy work and groundbreaking research about the connection between reading and music.

She was the first to establish a link between music learning and emergent literacy. She also developed a preschool measurement test. Her publications include a recently expanded guide for teachers, “The Child Voice,” commissioned by the National Association for Music Educators.

Before joining the faculty in 1969, she taught music in public schools. As a professor, she was acting dean of the UB graduate school. She chaired the Department of Music before moving, in 1999, to GSE, becoming chair of the Department of Learning and Instruction and associate dean for academic affairs.

When I walk into a room of music educators, I see a flood of faces from my courses over the years.

She developed the music education program as she worked with the Fisher Price Endowed Early Childhood Research Center documenting infants’ and toddlers’ responses to music.

Her contributions to Fisher-Price toy design included a keyboard controller for a music video game and the “I Can Play” piano and guitar, with features like strum bars for strings, to segue to real instruments.

In retirement, Runfola will continue to study the impact of music and creative movement as predictors of school readiness, advocate for school music and teach graduate courses. She is working with the state education department to create tests for music students and teacher licensing.

She is gratified to see the modern recognition for music’s power to help children learn.

“Music educators did not realize the importance of music in pre-school,” she said. “It better prepares them for kindergarten readiness. It enhances their music achievement later on in life … It’s their first opportunity to learn a second language. They can express themselves without words. They can express their emotions, their feelings, their ideas.”

Portrait of Kathy Curtis.

Kathy Curtis

Kathy Curtis has retired after 52 years serving UB and GSE. Curtis started her UB career in the Foreign Student Office in the summer of 1968. In 1971, she joined the Intensive English Language Institute as the assistant director and later was promoted to associate director under the now retired former director, Stephen Dunnett. While working for the institute, she completed her bachelor’s degree in anthropology in 1973 and went on to complete her master’s in TESOL in 1979 from GSE. In 1981, the English Language Institute was transferred to the Graduate School of Education under then dean Hugh Petrie.

My proudest moments have simply been welcoming newly admitted international students to campus year after year.

She also enjoyed visits from ELI alumni returning to campus to share their stories of professional and personal success. The GSE community thanks Curtis for her peerless performance over the years and congratulates her on her retirement.