Students talking to each other in front of posters

Michael D. Johnson

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Michael D. Johnson

Montville, NJ

Academic School




Michael D. Johnson is a member of Marist's online MPA Class of 2017. He received a BS from Marist College in Criminal Justice in 2013 and is currently a Paralegal at Dewey Pegno & Kramarsky LLP. In addition to the interview below, Michael has recently been featured in Marist's School of Management newsletter, where he discusses the release of his new book, From the Classroom to the Boardroom: Memoirs of a Student Leader.

Tell us about your work history before Marist, including years of experience, industry, companies, and positions. 

I worked in the retail industry throughout high school and college. I was also an active volunteer, serving as a member of the college's Student Government Association, and coordinated with organizations such as St. Jude Children's Research Hospital and Kiwanis International. After graduation, I continued my volunteer work in my hometown of Montville, New Jersey as a member of the Kiwanis Club, the Municipal Drug Awareness Council, and (as of 2015) a member of the Board of Education.

What are your career goals? 

I've always wanted to be a lawyer, an idea that was put into my head by my family the moment I started talking (and didn't stop). I earned my Paralegal certificate through Marist's pre-law program, at the same time as my Bachelor's degree, and plan on going to law school soon after completing the MPA program. My time with the Marist College Student Government Association helped me to find ways to integrate my experiences in both community and customer service into building a more transparent and proactive agency. I'd like to find a way to turn my passions for service, and working with people, into a career in the public sector.

Why did you choose to pursue your degree at Marist? 

While scouting colleges as a high school senior, Marist immediately stood out amongst the competition. It provided me with four, amazing years and an education that helped to not only shape my professional skillset but grow as an individual. When I decided to go to graduate school, Marist was always on my list, but I considered expanding my profile and explored other programs. Throughout my review, however, Marist consistently offered the best package. I couldn't pass up a competitive program, at a reasonable cost, with flexible hours that would allow me to not only to continue my work but my pursuit of a career.

Tell us about a project or course that was particularly meaningful to your professional development. 

I was sworn in as an elected member of the Montville Township Board of Education in January of 2015, right around the time I began my second semester with the MPA. Each of my courses thus far has served as a proving ground for policies and programs that I've wanted to explore in greater detail. I have been able to bounce a number of ideas off of my peers and professors, and their feedback has been a huge help in fleshing out these thoughts before I bring them to the boardroom.

How has a degree from Marist and your course work enhanced your career? 

Graduating from a school like Marist helps you to appreciate how small the world truly is. Marist has established a strong reputation, not only for academic excellence but for its commitment to service and the spirit of community as well. From my experience in the public sector, this reputation alone has proven to be a considerable asset. The benefit of a Marist education, however, extends well beyond its accolades. The courses in the MPA program are structured in such a way that all of the projects are driven by the specific policy interests and concerns of the students. Thus, course discussion is not only enriched by diversity in knowledge and experience amongst participants but the channeling of individual passions into a common interest.

What advice would you give to a student considering pursuing their master's degree at Marist? 

I would urge potential applicants to write down their current career goals and keep them close at hand when evaluating potential programs. The greatest benefit that I saw in Marist was the ability to pursue a graduate education without putting the rest of my life on hold. In offering courses through online and on-site formats (or a combination of the two) participants can develop a program that best fits their plan.

If you took an online class or had online learning as part of a regular course, tell us about your experiences – any tips or suggestions to pass along to future students? 

Having used iLearn in my undergraduate career, I entered the program with an understanding as to how it could be used to further course discussion but was initially cautious about relying on it so exclusively.

My experience with online learning in the MPA program has been a pleasant surprise. The program is structured in such a way, and the material is so engaging, that Marist has effectively cultivated a sense of community out of cyberspace. The discussions can be demanding, but are manageable if one adheres to the course reading schedule. For the best exchanges, however, I've found that a mix of personal experiences and anecdotes along with references to the texts helps to draw out a flow of personal thought that enriches the underlying material.

A proper balance between the coursework and your professional pursuits can be struck by recognizing opportunities to bridge the two. Yet another pleasant surprise has been just how well the themes and tactics relating to Public Administration have applied to organizational and administrative projects in my own office. Recently, my co-workers had a good laugh when I compared them to "street-level bureaucrats" during the launch of a team project.

Please feel free to provide additional comments. 
What makes Marist unique, and continues to draw me back to it, is its spirit of community. It's amazing how, even in an online environment, Marist can bring together a group of people so diverse, yet so alike, to build an atmosphere of collaboration and ingenuity. Although it takes some time to get used to the routine of checking back into the iLearn workspace and managing the various deadlines for assignments and discussion, the program is conducted in such a way that it all becomes second nature. Do not underestimate the inherent value that you bring to the program. Recognize the assignments as an opportunity to explore new issues or old passions, and seize upon the forums as an opportunity to flesh out your ideas.