May 27, 2008

Presidential Scholar names Sac State
professor as most inspiring teacher

Photo:Junyao Peng and Richard Cionco. Junyao Peng and Richard Cionco.
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play mp3Hear from Junyao Peng and Richard Cionco (mp3)
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Laguna Creek High School graduate Junyao Peng will go to Washington, D.C. June 21 to receive the prestigious Presidential Scholar award, and she’s invited Sacramento State music professor Richard Cionco to share the spotlight.

The 18-year-old Peng, a resident of Elk Grove, is one of the 139 outstanding high school seniors in the U.S. who have demonstrated exceptional academic achievement and artistic excellence in their schools and communities.

Each honoree gets to choose a most inspiring and challenging instructor for a Teacher Recognition Award and Peng selected Cionco, who has been her piano instructor for eight years. Cionco has worked at Sacramento State 15 years and founded the University’s Piano Series of concerts featuring renowned musicians.

“He doesn’t force one specific method on his students,” Peng says. “He’s very inspiring and that’s what really got me more in love with the piano.”

“I’m greatly honored that Junyao thinks that highly of me,” Cionco says. “I’ve rarely been as excited about getting an award.”

Peng’s interest in the piano began when she was six and her family lived in China. “There used to be a piano shop near my house,” she says. “My parents would take me there and I fell in love with the piano after hitting all the keys.” She was also inspired by a kindergarten teacher who played piano for the class.

Her family moved to America when she was eight years old. A few years later, her mother heard of Cionco’s reputation as an instructor and contacted him about teaching Peng.

Cionco didn’t usually teach students that young, but quickly changed his mind. “I knew after about three notes that I needed to have her as a student,” he says. “It was very obvious from the onset she had an amazing talent.”

And a lot of determination.

Most of the Presidential Scholar students are selected from the 3,000 applicants based solely on academic criteria. Peng is one of just 20 arts students chosen from 144 finalists for the Advancement in the Arts youngARTS awards.

But Peng is more than a gifted pianist—she has participated in the Science Olympiad, Academic Decathlon, Mathletes, was a varsity tennis team member and class president her freshman, sophomore and junior years.

During the four-day recognition in Washington, D.C. the recipients will take part in a number of activities, such as a welcome reception and seminars. The awards will be presented June 23. That evening will feature performances by the arts students. Peng will play Ravel’s “Ondine” for an audience at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall.

Cionco knows the value of a positive teacher, citing his lessons from famed instructor Audrey Brown as an inspiration.

Listening to Peng, you realize Cionco is continuing that tradition. “I found out there are so many ways a piece can be played,” Peng says. “I really felt free and creative during our lessons.”

To learn more about Sacramento State’s Music Department, call (916) 278-5155. A high resolution photo is available at www.csus.edu/news/imagedownload/. For media assistance call Sacramento State’s Public Affairs office at (916) 278-6156.