Student Story

Online MSL Student

Hear from Current Online MSL Student, Savanna Sanders

In our most recent webinar, we had the pleasure of talking with a current online MSL student,  Savanna Sanders. She kindly joined us for a fun and informal conversation that nonetheless provided some great insights into the day-to-day life as a McGeorge online MSL student of Water and Environmental Law. Savanna now serves as a water resource planner with experience in state-wide water planning, water resource management, CEQA and NEPA compliance, regulatory compliance, and environmental fieldwork at Zanjero Inc., where she’s busy advising, managing, and solving the resource management issues faced by clients. 

Savanna chose to study at McGeorge School of Law because she knew that she wanted to specifically focus on water law and water resources. Though interested in law, she didn’t need to commit to a full JD degree to advance in her career. After identifying her goals, she discovered that this part-time online MSL program catered to working professionals and helped them manage work, life, and school. It was a perfect fit. Also, as a Sacramento resident, it was extremely important that she attended a localized school so she could build a professional network within the community. 

Online MSL Student Applies Knowledge in Real Time

Savanna only recently landed her role at a small water resources consulting firm here in Sacramento, Ca. Her new employers and mentors, meanwhile, have over 30 years of experience as lawyers, engineers, and planners, making the workplace a fantastic melting pot of legal, financial, technical, and engineering projects. The variety is exciting and comes with a steep learning curve, so she wanted to understand it deeper; McGeorge’s all-encompassing MSL in Water and Environmental Law was the ideal complement. 

Savanna says her schooling directly aligns with her day-to-day work, “so it’s almost funny because what I end up reading or listening to in my lectures is typically what my projects end up needing. I’m really learning and applying my knowledge in real-time.”

Due to the intensity of her job, she was advised to take 1 class per semester, which turned out to be a wise decision – at her previous job, which was less demanding, she was taking 2 per semester. “I’m really grateful that the MSL program has that flexibility to change with you as time goes on,” she says. McGeorge certainly takes flexibility seriously, from professors planning due dates that take students’ professional responsibilities into consideration, to the asynchronous course structure.

Becoming Part of the Change

Savanna is primarily interested in becoming a water resource specialist because she wants to deeply understand how water systems, management, and law work, especially in her home state of California. Living in this trend center for other Western states, she has witnessed first-hand how much work needs to be done (for example, the grueling droughts that have plagued the landscape). She hopes that, as she continues to improve her knowledge of this area, she can be part of the change.

“I feel this importance to be in my home state, and to do what I can to learn how we can help save such a vital resource. Water is life, and we should all develop a deeper respect and appreciation for it. The more that I get to know myself and to ask myself questions about what I want to do in my life and what I value, it becomes more and more clear to me that I need to focus on water and advocate for the environment,” she said.

She’s already looking for ways to impact the planet’s future in a positive way, something we’re so proud to hear about from our students. “Every day I learn something new. I like to think of it as another piece of the puzzle, and I’m putting it all together, and the MSL program was the starting piece. Every day at work I see how problems are solved, so I develop deeper perspectives. I look forward to building my career and ultimately focusing my life’s work in this area,” she said.

She currently works under a watermaster who is in charge of a basin down in Southern California. She is also currently in a Water Law class with a research project assignment. When she put these puzzle pieces together and chose that particular basin for her project, well, she basically got to be paid to do her homework! “It has allowed me to just gain so much more knowledge on what my work is going to be in my career. It’s been a really fun couple of months for me when my job relates to my schooling.” The rest of her coursework includes discussion posts designed to engage students in the Socratic Method, readings, quizzes, and the occasional paper. “I really enjoy this learning style.”

Manageable and So Fulfilling

Now, she feels that she can offer some of those deeper perspectives to other current or prospective students. “First, I would like to say that it’s okay and normal to feel nervous. This is a big life step, but it’s totally manageable and it’s so fulfilling,” she said. She advises accomplishing something related to school 6 days per week but taking one day off to decompress. “Especially if you’re working full time and taking two classes per semester, it will be necessary to build a strong weekly schedule and to break up tasks into small daily goals,” Sanders said.

Another tip? Reach out to your classmates. Savanna posted on the discussion board to say that she’d be studying at the library weekly, and invited any other local students to join her. “It can be hard to build connections when you’re in an online program, but it’s much more enjoyable when you can meet other students. And so I personally made some really, truly amazing friends in this program,” she said. Go to school functions, get on the email list, attend talks, communicate via discussion board posts, and use office hours to connect with professors. Basically, find your opportunities when and wherever you can!

“Honestly, I would say it has made my career. I knew it was going to elevate me to the next level, and I got my dream job as a current student. So don’t be afraid to try something that seems out of reach. Your education is something that can never be taken from you, and if you are passionate and want to go further in your understanding of law, environment, water, and government, you have nothing to lose by completing this program. It’s a stepping stone for career growth and employers want you because you have this degree.” She makes a good point. When you stop to think about it, “technically, you’re teaching yourself on the side, so your employers don’t have to. It’s a benefit for them that you’re providing yourself with an education.” We’re just happy to have an enthusiastic, hardworking, and passionate student like Savanna grace the McGeorge legacy.

McGeorge Student Interviews

McGeorge’s Online MSL is Helping Legal Professionals From Diverse Backgrounds

McGeorge Student InterviewsThe McGeorge Master of Science in Law online programs prepare professionals in various fields and positions to work in law or in roles that intersect with legal issues. The MSL provides students with the legal knowledge and skills required to enhance their current jobs without the need to practice law.

McGeorge offers two online Master of Science in Law degrees – Water and Environment Law and Government Law and Policy. These programs are meant for recent graduates and working professionals and are on a part-time schedule with asynchronous courses. The MSL programs are designed to be interactive so that you can engage on a weekly basis with faculty and your classmates. The flexible curriculum allows you to study on the schedule that works best for you.

Students who enroll in these degree programs are from diverse backgrounds and work in varied professions. McGeorge recently spoke with several students who started the MSL program a few weeks prior. The interview sessions provided considerable insight into why they chose the program and how they plan to leverage the degree in their careers.

 

Bret Gladfelty

Bret GladfeltyBret Gladfelty is enrolled in the MSL in Government Law and Policy. After receiving his BA in Finances from Santa Clara University, Bret worked for a nonprofit where he became interested in an advocacy role. He is currently working as a contract lobbyist with the Apex Group. His job regularly interacts with the California code and many facets of the law. He feels that the MSL degree would help him better understand the law. Bret’s primary motivation for applying to the MSL is to be a better advocate and lobbyist.

Another key reason Bret chose McGeorge was the convenience of the online courses. He often travels for work not only as a lobbyist, but also as the commercial pilot for the firm, and an in-person program would have been challenging to manage with his schedule. “Having that flexibility is key in order for me to take the course. Otherwise, I would definitely miss some classes.” He was also influenced by colleagues who had completed the MSL program and advised him that it was beneficial for their careers as lobbyists. Bret’s father also attended McGeorge and received a JD in the 1980s.

Looking into his future, Bret sees the MSL as beneficial in reassuring prospective clients of his legal knowledge and abilities while interacting with the California Legislature. “I believe just having that extra degree displays that you have the dedication to learn more about the law.”

 

Heidi Mekkelson

Legal Professionals - Heidi MekkelsonHeidi Mekkelson is an environmental consultant and managing director at ICF in San Francisco. She has 19 years of experience in California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) compliance. Heidi is enrolled in the MSL in Water and Environmental Law program.

Heidi manages the preparation of environmental impact analyses pursuant to CEQA, which requires any public agency with discretionary authority to approve a project to evaluate the potential environmental impacts of the project prior to approval. CEQA documents are often the subject of litigation, so lawyers thoroughly review the documents she prepares. She needs to be able to think like a lawyer and anticipate what they will want to see in her documents. “The MSL program teaches us how to interpret case law and statute, and how to apply legal analysis to our work, which are skills that are critical to my job.”

When she found McGeorge, she had been looking for a program that would expand her understanding of the law. Heidi chose the MSL at McGeorge for several reasons. “I loved the additional focus on water law. The subject of water resources has always been a favorite topic of mine. That extra layer was appealing.”

As a working professional with a full-time job and children, Heidi appreciates the program’s online format. “The asynchronous program is really the only option for me.” Although she is happy in her current position, Heidi is open to the possibilities the MSL degree will give her. “Whether it’s taking me to “next level” consultant status, improving the quality of the documents I prepare, or helping me pivot to a new career path, I know this program will do something great for my career.”

 

Jamaal Valentine

Legal Professionals - Jamaal ValentineJamaal Valentine holds a BA in Business Management and a Master of Business Administration, both degrees from the University of Phoenix. He served in the Air Force and is currently the Chief of the Contracting Office for the Department of Defense. In this role, Jamaal is responsible for buying goods and services that the government needs to operate using taxpayer dollars.

He feels that his MBA doesn’t help him in the Chief of the Contracting position because government contracting is unique. It doesn’t follow standard business practices. The MBA could not help him understand government operations. Although he receives regular training in his position, it hasn’t been particularly challenging.

Jamaal regularly works with judge advocate generals, which are basically government attorneys. There is a constant intersection with the law in his job. He feels that the Contract Law and Introduction to Legal Analysis courses are more structured than his on-the-job training. He joined the program because he is a life-long learner and to be a positive influence on his children.

“Now that I’m working with the California National Guard in a federal capacity, my hope is to be a better contracting officer and a better steward of the taxpayer dollars. Formal legal training will make it a reality.”

 

Nancy Beecher

Nancy BeecherNancy Beecher joined McGeorge’s MSL in Water and Environmental Law program. She has a Ph.D. from Indiana University in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. She is a Senior Environmental Biologist at Southern Nevada Water Authority, where she helps ensure water for over two million residents and forty million annual visitors. Her main focus is providing scientific and writing expertise for water rights processes and environmental compliance efforts to support large water development projects. A major part of this work is blending biological, hydrologic, geospatial, and legal information to inform smart land and water resource management. She’s worked in the water profession for 15 years and wanted to grow professionally.

Water development projects have to meet many environmental legal requirements, so Nancy’s work regularly intersects with the law. But as a scientist, she felt limited by her lack of understanding of the law. She enrolled in the MSL program because she wanted to expand her knowledge from a legal perspective. She wants to understand the legal landscape, the current law, and cases popping up around the country regarding water and the environment.

“As a scientist, I want to be able to integrate that into my science and analysis.” Nancy appreciates McGeorge’s focus on water law as well as environmental law. “A water law class available to a nonlawyer is great because it’s so hard to find.”  

Nancy spent hours online searching for the right program to teach her about the law pertaining to the environment and water. She also needed it to be flexible enough to keep up with her demanding job. And with a family in tow, she did not have the option of moving to get that education. “McGeorge was unique because they really focus the program on professionals. People who are applying the law on a regular basis, but who also have jobs and families.”

She was happy to find that the program has both introductory and advanced law courses. As someone with no formal legal education, she is grateful for the introductory courses. She is also very excited to delve into the advanced classes that pertain to her field. “You get the complete package of the education you want.” 

The caliber of her cohort has been a pleasant surprise. She enjoys the different fields of interest and professions that her classmates have. The online aspect makes it easier for them all to fit school into their professional lives. And she’s excited by how passionate they are about why they’re in the program.

Nancy’s biggest reservation was wondering how much she would get from an online program. She was pleased to find there would be a few live sessions to give her a chance to connect with her professors and classmates. And the professors are very accommodating to the students. They have “Zoom office hours” and make themselves very available at the student’s preference. She also enjoys the convenience of the recorded classes.

Nancy saw benefits from the MSL program early on as she was able to apply what she learned in her very first class to her job the next day. Finally, Nancy added, “It’s worth the money and time – if you apply yourself. If your intention is to get the most out of the program, it’s worth it.”

 

Celine Takatsuno

Celine Takatsuno is the founder of Gracepoint Inc., where she provides global advisory and strategy consulting services to emerging technology companies and social impact startups.

Professionally, Celine is a generalist. She knew she didn’t want to be a litigator, but she was fascinated by the practice of law. Her work often crosses into legal areas in industries from advertising and media to caregiving and healthcare. She collaborates with lawyers in many aspects, including contracts and policy interpretation. Her current focus is on the dynamics of personal data privacy.-. “Technology and business are moving faster than legislation and policy,” she says, “I’d like to help bridge that.” 

Celine chose the MSL program at McGeorge for several reasons. She was searching for grad school programs in law or policy. And McGeorge stood out from other programs. She liked the school’s location in Sacramento and near the Capitol. She was also impressed with the program being based in a law school compared to other programs that were not. Celine said, “It has a lot of focus on critical analysis, legal reasoning, and there’s a lot of rigor coming from a law school. Those are probably the top reasons I chose it.”

Because she spends a great deal of time traveling, Celine wanted a hybrid or an online program. She likes the convenience of the recorded classes. “It’s so easy to take school on the road. That is super helpful.” In addition, she prefers to learn in a more self-directed environment.

An unexpected advantage to the program is the diversity of the students. Celine expected everyone to be early in their careers, with similar academic backgrounds. But instead, she found a diverse group. “I love the fact that we have these really, really accomplished professionals. The caliber of students is very motivating.”  

Deborah Keen

Legal Professionals - Deborah Keen Deborah Keen has been a high school government and legal studies teacher for many years. She has a BA from the University of North Texas in political science and always considered law school. Apart from her teaching position, Deborah is also a contract curriculum writer for agencies such as the Texas State Bar and the Center for American and International Law. In 2020, she was awarded Teacher of The Year by The American Lawyers Alliance for her efforts to promote quality civics education. She is currently enrolled in the MSL for Government Law and Policy program.

Deborah has a family and a career, but she wants to continue her education. She looked for programs that allowed her to study the law without having to become a lawyer. She does not wish to represent clients. Instead, her plans for the MSL degree are to advocate for public education and work alongside nonprofits. She likes the flexibility of the online program because it allows her to continue her work in education.

McGeorge’s online program is an excellent fit to help Deborah increase her knowledge. She felt other programs lacked the public policy focus she was looking for, whereas each class in McGeorge’s course list looked interesting and relevant to her career. “The courses, cost, the length of the program; I was impressed with what they offered, and I liked the government law and policy focus.”

 

Varied Backgrounds and Professions Have a Few Things in Common

Although the students are in varied professions and are at different levels of their careers, they have one common trait. They are incredibly pleased with the convenience of the online MSL program as it provides a way to continue their education while maintaining their current jobs.

Each student enrolled in either MSL program has different plans for their future. However, they are confident that McGeorge was the right choice. And they are excited about their courses and the positive impact the degree will have on their future careers.

Students build marketable expertise with the guidance of expert faculty chosen for outstanding teaching as well as the depth of knowledge in government law, water resources, or environmental law. Courses emphasize real-world knowledge and the development of practical skills. The programs are convenient and are specifically designed for recent graduates and working professionals who need flexibility due to career, family, or other obligations, and who want to further their education and advance their career.

Start building your career today with McGeorge School of Law Online. For more information, contact us at graduatelaw@pacific.edu or 916.739.7019.

MSL Student

Learn from a Current MSL Student

MSL Student - Lazaro CardenasLazaro Cardenas (MSL ‘22) is the Chief for the newly created Health in All Policies/Racial and Health Equity Section in the Office of Health Equity at the California Department of Public Health. He chose McGeorge’s Master of Science in Law (MSL) program to get legal training that will advance his career in equity and public health without a JD degree.  

Lazaro spoke with us in a webinar about his decision. Before enrolling in the McGeorge program, Lazaro worked as a fellow and legislative aide for the California State Assembly and then as an environmental justice and tribal affairs specialist for the California Department of Toxic Substances Control. Lazaro recently served as a racial equity specialist in the California Department of Public Health where he was recently promoted to build and run a new section to advance health and racial equity in California State government. 

It had been six years since he earned his undergraduate degree, and he took stock of his experience and skillset. Lazaro said he considered pursuing a Master of Public Policy or Master of Public Administration degree, “but those options didn’t make sense for me.” 

Instead, Lazaro concluded the best strategy was to pursue a Master of Science and Law with a focus on government and health law. “With my work at state agencies, and especially my work on equity, having a legal framework and legal skills was what was missing,” he said. “I needed those skills to grow in my career.”

Flexibility, Reputation, and Professional Network

As an MSL student, you can choose to attend the McGeorge MSL program in person, online, or a combination of the two. Because Lazaro planned to continue working full time while pursuing his graduate degree, selecting a flexible program was a high priority. Lazaro attends a mix of online and on-campus courses, which provides the flexible school schedule he needs. Additionally, Lazaro told us, the program offers him the flexibility of taking coursework in health law plus other sectors of the law. 

Lazaro compared the experience of taking both in-person and online courses, saying the combination works well for him. “The asynchronous online courses gave me the flexibility I needed to continue my career path,” he said. “The course design and course portal make it clear what is required each week, making it easy to stay on track and be accountable.”

Working in the Sacramento area, Lazaro knew of McGeorge’s solid reputation and the school’s extensive network of professionals in the Sacramento area and beyond. The opportunity to tap into this network was a compelling reason that factored into his decision to pursue the MSL program. 

“For all these reasons,” he told us, “McGeorge made the most sense for me.” 

Lazaro said he is halfway through the program and already feels more equipped to engage with issues of compliance and change within organizations, especially within a legal framework. His health law coursework has direct and practical application to the real-world issues he sees in his work. “I feel very confident,” he said, “about how this program will drive my career forward.”

To hear more of our conversation with Lazaro and more details about the MSL program, listen to the webinar.

McGeorge’s Online MSL & LLM Programs 

McGeorge offers both in-person and online programs. The two fully online part-time Master of Science in Law programs are:

  • The MSL in Government Law & Policy is designed for local, state, and federal agency employees, and for lobbyists, legislative staff, and others who seek to enhance their skills in lawmaking, regulation, election law, and lobbying but who do not require a traditional law degree.
  • The MSL in Water & Environmental Law provides value to land-use planners, engineers, environmental consultants, and others who seek expertise in this continually-evolving field but who do not require a JD degree.
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Additionally, a fully online part-time LLM in Water & Environmental Law program is for attorneys, recent law school graduates, or foreign-educated legal professionals to develop depth of knowledge in a specialized area of environmental, water resources, regulatory compliance, and public agency law.

Students build marketable expertise with the guidance of expert faculty chosen for outstanding teaching as well as the depth of knowledge in government law, water resources, or environmental law. Courses emphasize real-world knowledge and the development of practical skills. The programs are convenient and are specifically designed for working professionals or students who need flexibility due to career, family, or other obligations, and who want to further their education and advance their career.

Start building your career today with McGeorge School of Law Online. For more information, contact us at graduatelaw@pacific.edu or 916.739.7019.