Jacob Woodbeck is a student in the online Master of Public Administration program at JSGS. (Photo: Submitted)
Jacob Woodbeck is a student in the online Master of Public Administration program at JSGS. (Photo: Submitted)

Rare work-life balance in pursuit of higher education

Jacob Woodbeck wanted to keep his job while earning a Master’s degree. The Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy (JSGS) provided that opportunity.

By Matt Olson for JSGS

Work-life balance is hard to find. Work-education balance can be even harder.

But for Jacob Woodbeck, the opportunity to keep working while adding to his resumé with a Master of Public Administration from JSGS was too good to pass up.

“As you start working and get used to a salary, it’s hard to go back to being a broke student,” Woodbeck joked. “The MPA really piqued my interest. In my investigations, I only saw two programs across Canada that did an online MPA, but the (JSGS program) seemed to offer the most flexibility, seemed the most catered towards working professionals.”

Originally from small-town Manitoba, Woodbeck — who identifies as Métis — currently works for Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada (CIRNAC) as an assistant negotiator. He earned his Bachelor of Arts (Honours) at the University of Winnipeg, with a double major in psychology and criminal justice.

When he finished that first degree, Woodbeck was already considering pursuing another. But he wasn’t feeling ready to jump right back into education — and he was able to turn a student work placement with Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (which split into Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada, and Indigenous Services Canada, in 2017) into a full-time job upon graduating.

Woodbeck said the most interesting parts of his undergrad revolved around social issues, behavioural science, and the law. As he puts it, pursuing public policy was his way of blending those topics together. 

“What I was really interested in, and I didn’t know how to tie it together at the time, was evidence-based policies backed on social sciences,” he said.

Woodbeck's work role has changed over the years, starting as a clerk before moving up to a program officer with Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) and eventually over to CIRNAC.

But through the course of his employment with both departments Woodbeck said he’s had the opportunity to visit and work with more than 30 First Nations in Manitoba and see the way public policy and federal programming played out in the community.

It was during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic that Woodbeck decided to pursue more education. He quickly decided against law, as his time working in the public sector made him appreciate the work-life balance he’d been able to achieve.  

He quickly became interested in the online MPA program at JSGS — not only because he could keep working in Manitoba as he studied, but because of what the program promised.  

“The University of Saskatchewan has real professionals who have come to teach, and the breadth of courses seemed more interesting for me,” Woodbeck said.  

As he’s done double duty working as an assistant negotiator and working towards his MPA, Woodbeck said it’s been an exciting experience to be able to take what he picks up in his online courses directly into the workplace.  

“It’s not years in the future where I think I’m going to apply this. I’m able to apply it right away,” Woodbeck said. “It’s really validating.”

Woodbeck began his MPA journey in 2021, and is set to graduate in the spring of 2024. He called the coursework for the MPA “tough,” but praised the faculty and instructors for being flexible and understanding and the program for being easily accessible through “asynchronous” courses while he held down a full-time job.  

Woodbeck’s return to school was driven by three factors: to give himself more training and security for future job prospects, to challenge himself academically, and to set himself up to work with the federal government in Ottawa someday.  

So far, his experience is checking all of the desired boxes.

“That’s where I want to go — I’d like to be a senior policy analyst or something down the line. I’m enjoying my work right now, so I’m not in any rush, but it is somewhere I want to be,” he said.  

For Woodbeck, earning his MPA will be something of a validation for the work and training he’s done. As the MPA is providing him skills to succeed in his current role and setting him up for future success, it’s also something that he can use to show he has the knowledge and experience to take on those public policy roles in the government. 

It might not be right away, but Woodbeck said the MPA has opened a number of doors for his career — and opened his eyes to new strategies in his current work.

“I know a lot of people in my position who might think, ‘well Jacob, why do you need this? You’re already in government.’ But for me, there’s a wide swath of things I’ve been learning within JSGS that I didn’t think too much about,” Woodbeck said. “It’s amazing. It’s been providing a lot of clarity to what might seem like chaos.”