Leslie McGill gave a career in public relations the old college try.
“I really wasn’t cut out for it with my personality,” McGill said. “I’m not a typical public relations person. I’m not the kind of person that can walk in somewhere and work a room. It was a big mistake. I wasn’t cut out for it and had to figure something else out.”
So, McGill followed in her mother Caroline’s footsteps to explore a new career path in instructional design.
“When I was in the public relations industry, I thought, ‘Hey, she’s doing pretty well. She likes what she’s doing. I’ll go do it, too,'” McGill said. “She didn’t really push me one way or the other, but I did have a sounding board.”
Fortunately, McGill was offered the opportunity to become an apprentice instructional designer for Intelligent Decision Systems Incorporated (IDSI) in Pensacola, Florida — under one condition.
“I was hired with the understanding that I would go back and get my master’s degree, so it was a unique position to get both the formal education and the practical at-work application at the same time,” McGill said. “I was able to utilize my school in my job and my job in my school.”
Her alma mater, the University of West Florida, happened to offer the exact program she needed. McGill graduated with an online Master of Education in Instructional Design and Technology from UWF, the same degree her mother earned, in 2010. McGill has been at her job for nearly 10 years.
“After you get your degree and you’re actually in the workplace, it’s this mix of theory and academia and the more practical what you need to do for this particular job, on this particular project, for this particular customer,” McGill said. “So, getting the degree gives you that foundation you can jump from into the practical application, and you are more prepared.”
Online, Any Time
McGill thoroughly enjoyed the convenience of the online format during her time in the master’s program.
“Working full-time and being able to do the program in your spare time was obviously one of the advantages ,” she said. “I took one course in person, which further cemented how much I liked the online format. It makes it more convenient and easier.
“I don’t even have kids. I imagine it’s even more advantageous for people who have kids. Since I was working full-time, I usually worked on school evenings and weekends. I spent maybe 10 hours a week on school.”
The fact that McGill could immediately apply all of the information she was learning made the online master’s program even more engaging.
“Already being in the job definitely made it much easier,” she said. “I was fortunate that I was already in a role like that.”
She said her favorite courses in the program were the ones taught by Dr. Byron Havard.
“I really enjoyed all of his classes,” McGill said. “He was very good about bringing in that, ‘Here is how you can take this verbose academic theory and actually apply it. Now, you show me how you would actually apply it.'”
Working with the military is an aspect of McGill’s job that she enjoys most. She has a slew of family members who have served in the military, including her father Stan.
“My brother, all of my uncles and both my grandfathers have all been in the military,” she said. “Almost all of them were Air Force except for my brother. He went rogue and joined the Army.”
McGill is currently working on a project with the United States Department of Veterans Affairs.
“That is rewarding in itself,” she said. “Traditionally, our company is Department of Defense military clients. I come from a military family, so doing my part to train people up and get people what they need is what I like best.”
Even with her dad in the military, the family never left the southeastern U.S. while she was growing up. He did tours of duty in Korea and the Persian Gulf before he retired in Pensacola.
McGill graduated summa cum laude from UWF with a Bachelor of Arts in Communications and a minor in marketing application in 2006. She worked for the Pensacola Sports Association as public relations director for more than two years.
“I had to pick a major, and I really didn’t know what I wanted to do,” she said. “I took some communications classes, and I thought, ‘This is pretty cool.’ Then, I got out in the real world. Pensacola is a small town to try to be a PR person and there aren’t a whole lot of jobs to be had. The people who have them tend to stay in those jobs long-term.”
McGill is in a great place in her life. She loves her job and is engaged to be married to her fiance, Rick Wallace, in November. The couple also just bought a house together.
She also has a connection to UWF through her job.
“Our company has worked closely with [Instructional Workforce and Applied Technology Chair and Associate Professor] Dr. [Nancy] Hastings and doing stuff together with that department, so that helps the connection,” she said.
And while her situation with having the master’s degree was a job requirement, McGill is happy she was able to put the theory she learned in the program into immediate action to forge a new career in instructional design.
“Theory is nice, but you really have to do it to understand how that theory fits in,” she said. “Academics are really just the starting point. There’s so much more about it you have to learn by getting in it, getting a job in it and doing it.”
Learn more about the UWF online M.Ed. in Instructional Design and Technology program.
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