In a recent interview with MALS Alumnus Jeff Leonard, Jeff discusses the personal impact he experienced through his MALS studies and how his creative approach was molded through the MALS program.
Please tell us what brought you to MALS? What was attractive about the degree?
The Assistant Dean of the College of Education, Dr. Anona Smith Williams, encouraged me to pursue my Master’s Degree while working for the NC Teaching Fellows Program.
I had never heard of the MALS program, but she thought that MALS would be a great fit for me. Shortly after, I took the time to look into the MALS program and speak with the Director. I was intrigued at the aspect of “creating my own degree” and the coursework could be tailored to fit my busy schedule. It was a perfect fit and soon I found myself in my very first MALS seminar with Dr. Keith Earnshaw.
Tell us about your MALS concentration. What was your concentration title? What significance did your concentration hold for you?
The title of my concentration was “Education and Global Consciousness”. My very first class featured a short video entitled “The Population Bomb” (here is a more recent version). The video was an eye-opener for me and laid the foundation for my coursework. I determined that in order to enact change, it must begin with education . . . particularly with our youth. We must teach them to not only be good citizens, but also good stewards of the environment. The significance of this issue is near and dear to my heart, but more so now that I have a child of my own.
What are you currently doing? We’d love to know about your professional, personal, or volunteer activities that you want to share.
I continue to work for NC State University, assisting in the administration of both a PhD program and Masters program within the College of Humanities & Social Sciences. Learning is a continual process of self examination, so I continue to seek opportunities to grow professionally.
In my personal life, I continue to write songs as a hobby. Recently, I was honored to win “Best Country Band in North Carolina” at the Carolina Music Awards. It was a huge surprise, following the release of my second album “Take Me Home”. Shortly after the win, Hurricane Florence hit our state and I was moved to create an on campus event to raise money for the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina. “Concert For Hunger” was conducted in the Talley Student Center and we raised enough money to provide over 850 meals for families in need. I decided to stop performing shortly after the event, in order to spend more time with family and focus on my songwriting. I am now preparing to release my third album late April/early May. All of my songs are available through iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, Amazon Music and most digital music platforms.
How does your MALS degree or experience enhance your work/life?
My MALS experience affected me in so many ways. Building upon my passion for music, I would have to say that one of the most influential courses I took during my studies was the MALS Seminar “The Creative Process” with Dr. Jonathan Kramer. Music has always been a part of my life, but this course inspired me to dig deeper into the relationship between my inspiration and my craft. I began to analyze in detail how music as a medium exists between the message which I aimed to deliver on stage. I soon began to hone in on practices which would affect my audiences both in sight and sound. Most importantly, I would use audience response to mold my creative process even further (particularly as it pertained to my song writing). It takes a great deal of work to get a song onto paper, relay it to the musicians in a manner that they understand (especially since I only sing and have long since put my trumpet down), establish a musical arrangement and deliver it onstage. But somehow I stand behind the microphone and deliver…watching people’s reactions and body language, listening to their comments, and noticing the tears in their eyes. That’s how I know my creative process is working for me, that I’ve done something right. It’s very rewarding.
What is your favorite memory from your time in MALS? This can be a personal anecdote, a favorite lecture/class/topic? Anything you want.
I will never forget the friendships that I made during my Creative Process course. However, my most enjoyable experience was with Dr. Bob Patterson in my “Global Sustainability” course. To this day, when someone asks me about my MALS degree my first thought goes directly to that classroom and the compassion that Dr. Patterson showed not only for the course subject, but for each and every one of us.
My favorite memory? It is standing in front of the Memorial Bell Tower, degree in hand, taking pictures with my family and knowing that I was the first to obtain a higher degree.