Name: Jason McDonald
Title: Clerk of the Court
Court: Texas Eastern Bankruptcy Court
MSU Program: Master’s Degree in Judicial Administration
Graduation Date: 2016, Recognized at the 2016 Combined NCBC/FCCA Conference in Washington D.C.
How has your participation in the MSU program impacted your career?
Without the MSU JA program I would not be a Clerk of Court. The MSU JA program taught me all of the critical elements necessary for running a Clerk’s Office and how to be a successful unit executive. I am thankful every day that I decided to pursue a master’s degree in judicial administration at Michigan State University. I have a job I dreamed of having for many years - and it is due to MSU JA program.
What other benefits has the program brought into your life?
I have benefited professionally from a deeper understanding of the judiciary and its purpose. This deeper understanding helps me be a better court manager. I look to the values and principles of the judiciary on a daily basis for guidance in my decision making. My family and I have benefited personally from the program as well. I have been able to advance my career, I have the job I always wanted, and I am able to help provide a nice life for my family.
What was the time commitment for your program? How did you integrate that into your lifestyle?
I have three daughters and a very busy personal life. But I made sure to spend at least an hour or two per day on my education. I made it a high priority in my daily life. I logged in almost every day to review required readings and/or post assignments. And I always stayed aware of upcoming assignments and deadlines. On average I think I spent approximately 12 – 14 hours per week studying and completing assignments. Closer to the deadlines for a paper I would spend several hours writing and editing my assignments. I recall many times studying or writing a paper with a toddler on my lap. I did as much as I could do during the work week and utilized my weekends to keep up with my assignments and prepare for the upcoming week. This is how I approached each semester and I was able to complete the program within 2 years. It was challenging, but looking back, very much worth the time and effort I put into the program.
What format (or formats) did you use to complete your program? What did you like best about each one?
I completed my degree online. I enjoyed the online format because it gave me the flexibility to complete the program around my schedule. Anyone who has taken an online course knows the self-discipline required. You must log in often and keep up with your assignments without the classroom structure to keep you on track. I have two teenagers and a 5 year-old (the youngest was 2 years old when I started the MSU JA program). There were high demands on my time, so I enjoyed the flexibility of online learning.
What tips or ideas can you share about finding a work/life balance that is conducive to achieving success in this program?
Well, work/life balance is a challenge we all face. I think you must start with defining what is important to you. Our families and communities are important, our work is important, and getting the most out of our education is important. The best tip I can offer is to review the curriculum and deadlines for assignments as early as possible prior to the start of each course to see what is required and when assignments are due; then map out your school calendar around your personal and work calendar; make ample time for all areas of your life that are important to you; and discard any tasks that do not support what is important to you. I believe achieving a successful work/life balance is about having clearly defined priorities, understanding what and when, meeting commitments to support those priorities, and then developing a plan for success. The trick is to maintain the discipline to stick to the plan and not let unimportant and low priority distractions keep you from achieving the goals you have for your life.
Are there any last thoughts or maybe a piece of advice you'd like to share with us?
Take advantage of the excellent curriculum the MSU JA program has to offer. Put as much effort you can into learning and enjoy the process. The courts and effective judicial administration play such a vital role in our democracy. We need talented individuals as court leaders who have a deep understanding of our core mission and its importance to our communities. The MSU program provides that understanding and helps develop future court leaders. So my advice to anyone wanting to pursue a career in judicial administration, or wanting career advancement in the judiciary, is to seriously consider the MSU JA program at Michigan State University.
Do you have any ideas for getting the word out about the MSU JA Program?
Michigan State University offers an excellent court-specific education from a well-known university. This is a great selling point. The price is affordable compared to programs offered at other universities. And the program can be completed from anywhere and at your own pace, thanks to the internet.
I would continue to focus the message on what the program is about and how court professionals educated through the program have made an impact on our communities. Find creative and interesting ways to deliver that message. I think it will inspire an increased interest in the program if the marketing materials continue to focus on the benefits of the program and the positive impact graduates of the program have made in our communities.
The university is probably already doing some of these, but ones that come to mind are to consider an interactive “tour” or creative video of the program curriculum to post on the website highlighting the benefits and impact of the program. Increased presence at events and offering 2-4 hour courses to be delivered on-site at court locations and other events. Social media is also a go-to for marketing these days. The best way to promote anything is by word-of-mouth. Word-of-mouth recommendations have always been the most effective means of increasing interest. So I would say a satisfied student is the most effective way to get the word out. Just keep creating satisfied students, like me, who never miss an opportunity to sing the praises of the program and interest will continue to grow.