Earning a master's degree during a pandemic: alumna finds learning form of self-care

Jaime Counterman and young daughter
Jaime Counterman is pictured with her daughter, Olivia. Counterman enrolled in the MPA program in the spring semester.
Image credit - courtesy photo

Like many other adult students, Jaime Counterman had planned to start a master’s degree program several times but found excuses: a new job once, a new position in the same organization another time.

At the start of Grand Valley's spring semester, Counterman was determined not to let more excuses get in the way of earning a master’s degree in public administration.

Not even coping with a pandemic. Not even working full time for a health care organization. Not even having to facilitate remote learning for her school-aged daughter.

“I thought, ‘If you don’t start now, you won’t start,’” said Counterman, director of the Metro Health-University of Michigan Hospital Foundation. Counterman earned a bachelor’s degree in advertising and public relations from Grand Valley in 2005.

“I also thought if I can work from home, I can learn from home. I was not going to let this virus be a barrier to getting an advanced degree.”

In the weeks since, what Counterman has found when she opens her computer and logs into BlackBoard Collaborate for her evening class is a form of self-care.

“My coursework helps my state of mental health. I have always loved learning and a mantra of mine has been to choose what brings me comfort and joy. For me, this is it,” she said.

Not that it’s been a picnic, she said. Relearning how to function as a college student was challenging. “I had to google APA guidelines just to complete my first homework assignment,” Counterman said. 

Counterman continues to go into her Metro Health office to oversee the foundation’s work during this COVID-19 period. 

“We have pivoted from hosting large-scale events to serving the emergent and critical needs of the hospital and staff, including supply donations and meals for our front-line workers,” she said, adding the foundation contributed $180,000 in April to Metro Health employees experiencing hardships. 

The response from the community has been incredible, Counterman said, and she has learned volumes through this process. Counterman said Metro Health CEO Dr. Peter Hahn commented she has likely gained 10 years of leadership lessons in the past three months.

At home, Counterman’s husband returned to work full time, so their 6-year-old daughter Olivia needed child care and help completing her own remote learning. Doing homework with Olivia was fun, Counterman said. “I value setting a positive example of learning for her,” she said.

Through this semester, Counterman has found herself applying coursework to her work for the foundation.

“We talk a lot in class about how leadership makes decisions, and the foundation of public service. Now I’m able to bring these theories into practice and learn what’s behind the strategy of decision-making,” she said.

Counterman is glad she took this step and urges others to do the same, especially in a job market that will only get increasingly competitive.

“I was the first person in my immediate family to get a degree and I’ll be the first to earn a master’s degree. As a proud Laker For a Lifetime, this is the edge I bring to my career now and in the future: more than 15 years of experience coupled with an advanced degree,” she said.

Grand Valley offers more than 40 graduate degree programs; find more information at gvsu.edu/nextgrad



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