Veteran James MacDonald used a graduate certificate to enter the Executive MBA program

James MacDonald

In 25 years with the U.S. Navy, James MacDonald had been a helicopter aircraft commander and a flight instructor with top-secret clearance. He had led and mentored hundreds of personnel­­­­—and has the recognition to prove it.

But as he retired from a decorated career, he had to wonder: What’s next?

His undergraduate degree in finance felt like a fuzzy memory, and his master’s in strategic studies from Army War College didn’t feel all that applicable to the civilian world.

“I scheduled an appointment with the Office of Veterans & Military Resources and had a lengthy discussion about what DU offers for veterans,” MacDonald said, “and it turned out to be a hell of a lot.”

The breadth of programming was one thing—and MacDonald’s GI benefits took care of the cost of going back to school. As a fully funded Yellow Ribbon institution, the University of Denver covers tuition costs over the GI Bill cap. Daniels is routinely recognized as a top business school for veterans. Its faculty and staff have extensive experience working with them.

MacDonald was sold. He enrolled in the certificate in leadership program, and built an on-ramp for his future—even if he didn’t know exactly what that future would be.

“For me, a certificate was a warmup going to a full program and college life,” he said. “I was utilizing it to give me a good feel for what I could possibly do and how much effort it was going to take to do that.” Plus, he said, the certificate was a quick way to get an eye-catching, up-to-date qualification on his resume.

Daniels offers 14 different certificates, ranging from business analytics to corporate finance to real estate investment. Students can choose between 16-credit and 24-credit options. Both come with lifelong career support from Daniels Career Services, access to a powerful alumni network and lessons from experienced faculty.

MacDonald chose the leadership certificate, which included foundational courses in Leading Self, Leading Teams, Leading Organizations and Ethical Leadership. Students also have the option to tack on electives in subjects such as financial accounting, negotiations and marketing.

“It’s exactly what I was looking for coming out of the military” after 25 years, he said. “I wanted something that was going to force me to think about what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.”

Given MacDonald’s vast experience, Lowell Valencia-Miller, assistant dean of MBA programs, approached MacDonald about continuing his Daniels education in the Executive MBA (EMBA) program. Many credits from certificate programs can be applied to full graduate degrees.

MacDonald accepted the challenge. The flexible EMBA schedule still allowed him to spend time with his family. Plus, the 18-month curriculum felt like the perfect break to decompress from one career and get motivated to pursue another.

The program’s cohort model impressed MacDonald too. The demographic and professional diversity in his cohort have enhanced his classroom experience.

“I really appreciate the perspectives of what different people bring to the program,” he said. “And I also appreciate that they’ve pared down the program and the material so we’re getting what we need, not necessarily the scope of what the whole subject is.”

He still hasn’t pinpointed the next step of his career, but with a certificate and a degree from Daniels, MacDonald feels confident in his ability to take advantage of any opportunity he comes across.

“I really enjoy learning the material and expanding my knowledge on things that we’re studying,” he said. “It was a very nice transition to make into the business world.”

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A Daniels Graduate Certificate lets you quickly gain new skills and knowledge to advance or shift your career. Earn a valuable credential at your own speed or take the first steps toward a master’s degree at the Daniels College of Business.
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