Dedicated and Talented Piano Professor Wins Distinguished Teaching Award

Donna Lee, DMA, has been teaching piano at Kent State University for 22 years. She not only prepares her students to fulfill their curricular requirements in piano performance but to understand the high level of dedication and work it takes to make a piece performance worthy through technical command, structural awareness, stylistic understanding and artistic expression. All of her preparation and passion led her to earn a 2021 Distinguished Teaching Award (DTA).

The DTA is sponsored by the Kent State University Alumni Association and is the highest teaching award a tenured or tenure-track professor can receive.

“I'm deeply honored to receive this award,” Lee said. “While I am fortunate to often hear from students who express their gratitude to me for their musical growth, being nominated and selected for this award has been especially meaningful.”

She leads by example, performing on and off campus frequently to provide opportunities for students to see her polished programs. Her passion for music is evident to her students and anyone else who has heard her play.

“I recognize the awe-inspiring power that music can have: the means it holds to trigger an emotion, a memory or an experience in an unsuspecting listener,” Lee said.

Her students shared their admiration and immense appreciation for Lee through nomination letters.

“She is the one who inspires me to greater musicianship and character, who gives me extra lessons even in the final hours of the day, who challenges me to accept new opportunities. She is the one who looks out for me like her own daughter, but also the one who pushes me with such intensity I almost break,” one of Lee’s students wrote.

“And I’m not the only one. Dr. Lee has been teaching at Kent State longer than I have even existed, and I know she has impacted countless undergraduate and graduate students alike,” the student said.

Another student shared their thoughts on Lee’s impact on Kent State.

“In April of 2021, at the height of the anti-Asian attacks occurring throughout the country, Dr. Lee rolled up her sleeves and organized what was the most impactful and well-attended social injustice rallies I had ever seen,” said a Kent State alumna who describes Lee as a close friend and mentor.

“She led the charge on campus in bringing together our campus’ Asian educators and student population in an incredibly moving demonstration filled with music, testimonies, and a call-to-action that an anti-Asian mentality would not be tolerated at Kent State University,” the student wrote.

The talented performer and educator, who began learning piano at age five, has grown to appreciate being part of the Kent State community over the years. It is clear from this award that the community values her talents in return.

“What has evolved for me in these 22 years, is realizing how important community is. When I began teaching, I was mainly focused on what went on within the walls of my studio, with lessons and long practice sessions,” Lee said. “I’ve grown to understand the importance of engagement, whether it’s in the school, university or community-at-large. It makes the award that much more meaningful to me coming from the overall university.”

She shares that while she began teaching younger children the art of piano, working with college students is her passion.

“It's very exciting to work with older kids who are already committed in their decision of pursuing a career in music, so that level of advanced teaching I gravitated towards,” Lee said.

Through hard work, dedication and inspiration to her students, Lee joins more than 150 teachers who have received the DTA since its inception in 1967. The professors were honored alongside the 2021 DTA finalists and other outstanding Kent State faculty at the University Teaching Council Conference on Oct. 22, 2021.

To learn more about the Distinguished Teaching Award and this years’ winners, visit

POSTED: Wednesday, February 9, 2022 10:14 PM
Updated: Friday, December 9, 2022 05:03 PM
Olivia Futo