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Mark Macdonald reflects on time at BYU–Hawaii and looks at the future as he leaves to earn his Ph.D

Mark Macdonald will move to San Diego, Calif. to pursue a doctorate degree.

As Alumni and Career Services Director Mark Macdonald prepares to leave BYU–Hawaii to pursue a doctorate in leadership studies at the University of San Diego in California, he described the growth he has seen both personally and professionally during his five years at BYUH. Colleagues and friends shared things they love about Macdonald, such as his sense of humor and his genuine love for people.

While Macdonald said he initially moved to Hawaii to work for LDS Philanthropies in November of 2013, the outgoing director of Alumni and Career Services and Steven Wheelwright, then president of BYUH, encouraged him to apply for the director position in Alumni and Career Services.

Macdonald said, “I applied, and then I was interviewed and offered the job. During the interviews was when I thought I could really like this job, there were things I could contribute, and things I could learn. I accepted the job.”

His legacy

“Part of what excites me the most is I’ve made individual contributions to the lives of the people I’ve managed, the people I’ve worked with, the students. I’ve established these really big programs that will last after I leave, such as the Asia Pacific Career Conference, Handshake, [and] the Ohana Network.”

Joe Plicka, associate professor of English, who has been neighbors with Macdonald for five years, shared Macdonald had grown into his job. “I haven’t been here long enough to know what was going on at the Career Center before Mark, but my impression is he has taken his job and his mandate to help students enter into the world and make connections so seriously. The number of initiatives he’s started since he’s been here, including Handshake and APCC, were grown from nothing. It’s amazing.”

One of Macdonald’s biggest accomplishments, explained Professor of Business Helena Hannonen, was creating the Asia Pacific Career Conference.

“The main thing he did is he stopped taking students to different countries and started bringing the employers here. I did a study with my students and they really love the Asia Pacific Career Conference. Several of them had interviews, got internships and job offers. That’s a huge thing.”

Hannonen said she admires Macdonald’s vision and he is “very creative. He looks for ways to do things better and in a different way. He is always reading. Sometimes I am afraid he will walk into a palm tree because he is reading. He is always reading or playing his ukulele.

“He is really funny. We laugh a lot. I like it because you can have an intellectual conversation with him and a dialogue. You can have different opinions and you can bounce ideas off of him and see how it can be done better.”

Hannonen continued, “When I was in college, President Spencer W. Kimball said the time will come when the members of our church will do work much better than Leonardo da Vinci’s, Shakespeare’s, and Beethoven’s. I thought nobody could do better than Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. There was one time I saw Mark and I thought, ‘Okay, he is one of those people President Kimball was talking about.’”

First impressions

Plicka said, “From the moment I met him, he struck me as a very curious person. He is one of the best examples I know of someone who is a lifelong learner. He is very humble, teachable, and ready to learn from anybody at any time. He will gather ideas from anybody. He’s not proud.”

Hannonen said when she first met Macdonald, “I told him off. He didn’t have the skill set I expected him to have, so I told him to get the training. He went and got the training. It turned out to be what we call in business his sweet spot.”

Hannonen said she has her students take the Meyers Brigg’s Type Indicator test. She said, “That’s what I told Mark he needed to go and get the training for. So, he did, and then he got the advanced training. “I was very direct with him when he started. He said okay, and he followed through and got somebody to do MBTI when he wasn’t qualified to do it. Then he went to the training and from there on he started doing it himself. It takes great humility to take feedback that isn’t always positive.”

One of the biggest changes Hannonen said she saw in Macdonald is, “He found himself. A lot of times when you graduate from school, you go and take jobs and you wonder what your purpose in life is and where you should be working. He had been in several jobs already, but not until he started to do Meyers Briggs and all these other instruments [that he] fell in love with organizational development.

“It was like he finally came home and said, ‘This is who I am. These are the types of things I want to do the rest of my life. I know I can make a difference for individuals and organizations.’ I think a lot of students spend a lot of time trying to figure out what they’re supposed to do. That’s where he was. He was trying to find his purpose in life. This is where he found it.”

What he learned

Macdonald said looking back on his time at BYUH has helped him realize how much he has grown and how much more he still has to learn.

“If I look back and compare the 2019 version of me and the 2014 version of me, there is some obvious growth and that’s exciting. I had never managed anybody before this job... so that has been something I have grown a lot in over these five years. Being a manager isn’t something I jumped right in to. I didn’t really lead, and now, five years later, I know more than I knew then how much I still have to grow. I am aware I still have a lot to go. I didn’t even know what I didn’t know at the beginning. That is part of how I have grown. At least now I know how incompetent I am. Earlier, didn’t even know what the field of competence looked like. I’ve done a lot of work in this job I wouldn’t have gotten in another management job, such as psychology, differences in personality, differences in communication propensity, differences of interest.”

Writer: Haeley van der Werf