In 2010, Dale Pazdra celebrated the 20th anniversary of his bachelor's degree by graduating from Barry University with a Master of Public Administration degree.
The director of human resources at the City of Coral Springs, Florida, also found another career.
"I had an instructor [Dr. Sandra Schrouder] in one of my final classes in the master's program who became a big fan of mine," Pazdra said. "She was quite insistent that I put my documentation forward right away and get in the classroom [to teach]. She really thought it was a place where I would do well and excel."
She was right.
Eight years later, Pazdra is going strong at his side gig as an adjunct professor at Barry. He teaches a variety of human resources courses, such as ADM 412: Quality & Productivity, ADM 464: Strategic Human Resources Administration and ADM 410: Recruitment and Selection.
"I had thought about teaching long-term but not immediately after I graduated with my master's," he said. "It happened rather quickly. I've really enjoyed it. It's not about the money; it's about the experience and the ability to share your knowledge."
The experience has been so enjoyable that Pazdra plans to eventually transition into a full-time leadership role in higher education.
"I had some goals going into my adult life," he said. "I wanted to be the best employee, the best boss, the best dad, the best husband and the best professor. I've done all of those things. I have no regrets, and I'm maintaining that status level."
Finding a Niche
Pazdra grew up in the Chicago area, near O'Hare Airport, and earned a Bachelor of Science in Management with an emphasis in Healthcare from Elmhurst College. He also took several psychology courses.
"I knew I wanted to work with issues involving people," he said. "I'm very much a people-focused person. I got into HR through my attention to detail and ability to handle and manipulate numbers. I started out in payroll, quickly moved into compensation and benefits and worked in every single area of HR. It was home. It was where I wanted to be. It was where I was meant to be."
However, instability, massive layoffs and constant travel convinced Pazdra to switch careers after almost nine years as director of employee services and senior human resources partner at a major private sector company.
"I basically took a step back to be an HR manager, start my life over and work five minutes from home," he said. "It was my first official job in the public sector. That was 12 years ago. To be honest, I never looked back. Within five years, I became a director again. Because I had the public sector experience and I wanted to have more options in the future, I chose to go for the Master of Public Administration."
However, the seed of a career in local government was planted way back when Pazdra started the bachelor's degree program.
"I was tested in the first semester to find out the industry I should end up in," he explained. "The results said I should go into local government, and I never listened to them until I was 40 years old.
"I was working for the office of the treasurer at the parks district in the city where I attended college. It never dawned on me that I was working in local government. Back then, I thought about annoying politicians when I thought about local government. It was a great life change for me."
Convenience led Pazdra to the MPA program at Barry University, but seeing real-life experience in action initially sparked his interest in teaching.
"I found the professors who had real-life experience resonated more with me," he said. "That kind of planted the seeds in my head that, 'I'm going to do this someday. I'm going to teach.' It makes a difference to have some life experience to tap into and make the class more interesting and more relevant."
Pazdra balanced school, work and home life to complete the MPA program. He and his wife, Pam, have two children, Grace (21) and Glory (16). His oldest daughter is now attending college in Florida. The ideal time for him to earn a master's degree was before his children became high school students.
"I'm now in my 31st year of working full-time," Pazdra said. "I had a lot of experience going into this program. I gained good knowledge and it reinvigorated me, my creativity and my capacity to research. If anything, it proved to me that there is so much information out there within our grasp.
"Whether you research things on your own or read books, the knowledge is there and waiting for you. You don't have to look far. There really is no excuse. Barry made it very convenient to do that and exposed me to more things."
Pazdra's favorite courses in the MPA curriculum were PUB 647 Public Law and Administration and PUB 545 Values and Ethics in Public Administration.
"The instructor for Public Law and Administration was an attorney from the public sector who was super sharp and a great storyteller," he said. "We also did a lot of research, a lot of digging and analysis. It was really challenging, and everybody in that class loved it.
"I liked Values and Ethics in Public Administration because it honed in on how much people falsely believe what they read and see on the news and in culture. It was a fun class and a very relevant, current-day combination of news, government and politics. It was very interesting."
Strong Support System
Pazdra got plenty of help from his friends, family, coworkers and professors throughout his return to higher education.
"I was one of the first in my family to get my master's degree," he said. "Maybe someday, I'll be the first one to get my doctorate. I think my family appreciated it. My kids were kind of small at the time. It was exciting.
"I graduated before my nephews and nieces with their master's degrees. They were very supportive, and it was a great opportunity. It wasn't like I'm expecting a promotion because of it, or someone said, 'You have to go do this right now.' I just made that decision on my own."
Several of Pazdra's coworkers at the City of Coral Springs enrolled in the MPA program at the same time he did, so they all shared the graduation stage.
"I'm a big advocate for walking @at graduation," he said. "I always have students in every class that I teach where I might be the last class on the train before they go to graduation. Barry did an amazing job with the ceremony -- better than my undergrad. It's nicely done, a great venue, very professional and very meaningful. I highly recommend all of my students go. I tell them it's their rite of passage."
Now that he has the perspective of a graduate and a professor at Barry University, Pazdra sees how valuable the MPA program can be for any student who is motivated to learn.
"I would tell them, 'Don't expect to become an expert at everything, but really be open to learning everything you can about whatever subject you get into,'" he said. "Looking for those meaningful things you can relate and take back to the workplace is really good.
"Most of the professors I have had -- and certainly in the classes I teach -- try to bring in that experience and application of how it works in the real world, not just the theory. I think Barry does that in a way that other schools don't."
Learn about the Barry University online MPA program.
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