June 10, 2021

Class of 2021: Mixing money and music is a pathway to success for graduating student

Bernice Cheung, a double-major in arts and commerce, sets sights on ethnomusicology PhD
Bernice Cheung

Think money and music can’t mix?

Business and arts are more alike than many people think, says Bernice Cheung, a double-major student in both the Bachelor of Music (Integrated Studies) and Bachelor of Commerce (Accounting) programs at the University of Calgary.

  • Photo above: Cheung at the piano inside the Rozsa CentrE at the University of Calgary, November 2018, after the University of Calgary World Music Ensemble Fall Concert.

“I employ creativity in my music performances and compositions, but I’ve also used creativity in problem solving for my commerce courses and accounting internships,” says Cheung, a 2021 graduate who begins a direct-entry PhD with accelerated master’s program in Toronto in September. “The accuracy and level of detail we find and require in music is also required in commerce.”

She’s developed a wide range of skills at UCalgary within the degree streams in the Faculty of Arts and Haskayne School of Business that will carry her toward her goals of obtaining the PhD and conducting her own ethnomusicological field research.

Ethnomusicology is basically the study of what music means to people. Cheung is drawn to it because music and the arts have always been a focus in her life. As a long-time piano teacher in Calgary, she has run her own studio business, integrating her love of music with the entrepreneurial lessons that she learned at Haskayne.

This year, she wrapped up her four-year teaching assistantship for Entrepreneurial Thinking (ENTI) 317, a course through which she has met hundreds of students. For her contributions to ENTI students, she received a Students’ Union Teaching Excellence Award which recognizes instructors and teaching assistants who have positively impacted their students.

Bernice Cheung at Fjaðrárgljúfur in August 2019

A trip to Iceland at Fjaðrárgljúfur in August 2019, the Cheung family’s last trip before COVID-19. It's a beautiful canyon that was included in Justin Bieber's "I'll Show You" music video.

“Entrepreneurship concepts that I’ve applied in my business include learning what my clients want, providing the right services to them and targeting solutions,” she says.

Giving back by volunteering

For Cheung, volunteering at UCalgary and within various programs at the Westside Calgary Chinese Alliance Church has allowed her to help other students as well as people in the broader community in Calgary.

“Giving back is very important to me, it’s a way to consider the bigger picture,” says Cheung. “My volunteer work both on and off campus have taught me that life is about more than just work, whether it’s academics or employment.”

Among her many volunteer experiences at UCalgary, she has been an executive member of the Hong Kong Students’ Association, the Accounting Students’ Association, and the Students’ Union (SU) Volunteer Tax Program.

“The level of satisfaction achieved from a good grade or paycheque cannot compare to that of helping other people,” says Cheung.

Travel opens new vistas for learning

Cheung has travelled widely around the globe, including visits in the past five years to Hong Kong and Macau, Taiwan, Korea, Portugal (for the Coimbra Piano Meeting 2018, supported by the Haskayne Student Experiences Fund Award), Mexico and Iceland.

Cheung wearing a music-themed pandemic mask during February this year, the month she spent three weeks in a quarantine hotel in Hong Kong. The photo was taken on one of her flights.

Cheung wearing a music-themed pandemic mask during February this year, the month she spent three weeks in a quarantine hotel in Hong Kong. The photo was taken on one of her flights.

Perhaps her most unique visit has been to Hong Kong, where she spent three weeks in a quarantine hotel during the pandemic and documented her experiences on YouTube. She was born in Hong Kong and her extended family still lives there, whom she moved in with after leaving the hotel. Cheung plans to return from Hong Kong to Calgary in July.

“Right now, it actually feels safer here in Hong Kong than in Canada,” says Cheung. “I honestly enjoyed my hotel quarantine. Even though I was physically separated from people, I was still connected to all my loved ones because I had lots of video calls with friends, family and students. I also got to just reflect and be quiet.”

And yes, she did listen to music.

She has deftly pivoted from accounting, which she had believed would bring her financial security, to ethnomusicology, which she loves for the heartfelt opportunities to connect with people and for new adventures.

“Dr. Rod Squance, PhD, opened my eyes to a whole other way of viewing music,” says Cheung. “He is the closest thing I have to a mentor at the university.”

Bernice Cheung and Rod Squance

Cheung with Faculty of Arts music instructor Dr. Rod Squance, PhD, at Rozsa Center at the University of Calgary in November 2019, after the University of Calgary World Music Ensemble Fall Concert.

Squance, division chair of the Music Department, senior instructor and ethnomusicologist in the Faculty of Arts, says Cheung is a tireless worker who has a bright future, given her combination of dedication, talent and intellect.

“She consistently goes above and beyond expectations to produce outstanding work,” he says. “The field of ethnomusicology requires scholars who are both excellent researchers and compassionate human beings, and Bernice exemplifies these.”

As an aspiring ethnomusicologist, she’s already hitting all the right notes.

UCalgary convocation

Congratulations, Class of 2021!

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