Every Student Brought Experiences to Our Classes and Group Projects That Enhanced Learning

Sometimes it takes a while to find a fulfilling career path, but, as Julia McDonald discovered, if you pay attention to the issues that arouse your curiosity, you’ll likely head in the right direction.

After five years as a civilian security specialist for the Department of the Navy, McDonald found herself drawn to learning more about the engagement and employee retention issues that had become a focus at her workplace. During her lunchtime walks, she listened to TED Talk podcasts that shed light on these issues—and she was so energized by what she heard that she decided to share them with her colleagues. With the approval of her supervisors, she organized regular lunchtime broadcasts in her office auditorium. “The talks generated a great deal of discussion,” she recalls. “Seeing this reaction was really exciting.”

Realizing that human capital management was a field she might like to pursue, McDonald began investigating educational programs. She chose the School’s graduate Certificate in Leadership in Human Resources Management. “I liked the UVA program for a number of reasons,” she says. “Since I wasn’t 100 percent sure that this would be a satisfying choice for me, I appreciated that it provided an overview of the field.” McDonald expects to complete the five-course certificate in three semesters.

An unexpected benefit for an online program was the opportunity to form personal relationships with her professors and fellow students. “I’ve met a number of my professors, and they have been eager to talk about career opportunities and offer advice,” she says.

McDonald has also found her classmates supportive and encouraging. “I was apprehensive that I would be the only person in my classes who was new to the field,” she says. “In fact, that was the rule—and every student brought experiences to our classes and group projects that enhanced learning.”

McDonald has already begun her transition at work. She recently moved to a position as training and career development coordinator.