Michael Ballard: Graduate of the M.A. in Communication & Leadership Studies Program, ’14

An interview with Michael Ballard, M.A. Communication & Leadership Studies (COML), ’14

Q: What is your occupation?
A: Lecturer of American Sign Language, World Languages and Cultures Department, Iowa State University

 Q: Why did you decided to return to school for a master’s degree?
A: It wasn’t until I returned to school after my first few years of marriage and my wife had given birth to our first child that I realized I wanted to be a university professor. With that realization, I learned that to gain tenure, I needed to have a doctorate degree. Those decisions in part led me to Gonzaga University. I quickly learned that Gonzaga University is more than a stepping stone in life.

Q: What was your deciding factor in choosing Gonzaga?
A: Shortly before I graduated from the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs, my wife and I knew we needed to move to Utah. The online program at Gonzaga University was appealing because we did not want to make a second major move across states so soon. That, coupled with Gonzaga’s moral imperative and focus on servant leadership drew me to applying to Gonzaga. In fact, Gonzaga University’s COML program was the only program I applied for.

Q: Talk about your decision process on why you thought the COML program would be the right fit for you.
A: As noted above, the servant leadership aspect held major appeal to me. In order for me to serve the Deaf community wherever I am at, I needed a better understanding of how I can serve both the Deaf and hearing communities. I needed a better grasp on what it means to build bridges over gaps that separated the two communities. In addition to the servant leadership aspect, a heavy emphasis on communication and culture was an influential draw for me.

Q: Was the online learning experience what you thought it would be?
A: To be honest, I was not sure exactly what I was getting into as far as what to expect. I tried to go in with a blank canvas, ready to do what I needed to do to achieve success. I think that when we hold expectations, we can be stuck to such expectation where we might miss the point. The COML is a master’s program, so I expected more challenges. However, because of my interest in communication and servant leadership, I found that I was more than happy to soak in all the readings and apply them to not only my work, but to my life. The intrinsic rewards are too innumerable to count.

In addition, my deafness has brought out another set of challenges in an online format. I typically use American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters in my educational endeavors (classroom, group meetings, lectures, one on one meetings with my instructors). With discussion boards online, I did not need ASL interpreters. However, many of the podcasts or introductory videos to each module needed to be transcribed. With the help from the Disability Access office on campus, I was able to tear down the audiological barriers of spoken language. Because I had the transcripts, I was able to apply the lectures to my readings and discussion board assignments. A big shout out and thank you to the Disability Access office for helping me succeed in my online classes. In addition, the Disability Access office provided ASL interpretation for my on-campus visits and my thesis defense! I am completely satisfied with the support I have received. I felt like my faculty truly cared about me to work with the Disability Access office.

Q: Talk about how the program has made an impact on your job, career, and personal life.
A: Once I completed the COML program, my teaching career took off. I was immediately offered a position at Iowa State University teaching ASL. I was already teaching ASL as an adjunct instructor at both Utah Valley University (Orem, Utah) and Brigham Young University (Provo, Utah). So that experience helped as well. More importantly, the type of education, training, learning, shared experiences Gonzaga’s COML program offers held considerable weight in my career in academia. In my personal life, the impact has not gone unnoticed. I find myself more willing to listen, to serve, to accept others as they are, to influence people and gain new friends.

In addition, I was recently accepted into the Doctor of Education in Leadership program at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. I look forward to learning and applying what I’ve learned at Gonzaga to my continued education.

Q: Do you see the world differently because of this program?
A: I do. To be candid, I have not since high school viewed the world in the lenses of “us versus them.” But, with each passing year, I have learned to carry a “we” and “you and I” worldview. What can we do together? How can we accomplish our goals, together? In what ways can we make life easier for others? This program was actually right up my alley in the sense that we all need allies to create a stronger human family.

Q: What was your experience with the faculty?
A: The COML faculty is amazing! I love Drs. Cunningham, Crandall, and Caputo. They have genuinely supported me throughout my career at Gonzaga. They have never treated me differently because of my deafness, in fact, they celebrated that with me. I felt I was treated equally with my peers, and for that, I am eternally grateful.

Q: What do you love about Gonzaga University?
A: I love that everyone cares about everyone! To have such an atmosphere, both on-campus and off, is so beneficial to one’s overall happiness and cannot be understated. Having a great basketball program helps too!

Q: A lot of our students say this experience has been transformational. Has the program transformed you and how so?
A: In the sense of employment opportunities, and opportunities to serve others, GU and the COML program definitely have played a part in my transformation. I believe I was already on the path of transformation when my children were born. The impact my wife and children have on my own education has been monumental.

Q: We talk about finding your “Inner Zag”—meaning students who are in the program have this moment when they feel a real connection with the program and the school. What is your “Inner Zag”?

A: When I think of “Inner Zag,” I think it is more than just a catch-phrase. I believe it means the inward ability to inspire others as a true servant for the human family, each and every one of us. The strength to ignite brilliant encouragement for others is paramount to finding our inner Zag. When I meet fellow Zags in the community, I cannot help but smile because I know they’re part of my Gonzaga family.

Learn more about the M.A. in Communication & Leadership Studies program.

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