Not everyone gets a standing ovation at a graduation ceremony. But when Josh Smedsrud went through the traditional hooding ceremony as the first recipient of North Central’s Master of Arts in Strategic Leadership (MASL), the audience stood to applaud both his achievement and also this milestone for the university.
Smedsrud’s journey included “the most aggressive academic effort” of his life, which enabled him to walk across the stage to claim his master’s degree just one year after earning his bachelor’s.
It was in the midst of a busy senior year while focusing on his senior music recital—the busiest season of his college career—that Smedsrud was encouraged to check into NCU’s 4+1 program. By taking a specific core of undergrad classes followed by a year of full-time graduate studies, 4+1 affords the chance to get a master’s degree sooner and with less expense.
Completing the bulk of his graduate program was intense, according to Smedsrud. But when people around him pointed out that the effort to complete the program so quickly might be out of reach, it only fired him up more to take the challenge. “I charted out all the work I would have to do and the hours it would take,” Smedsrud said of his process. And then he put the pedal to the floor and drove steady toward the finish line.
Smedsrud’s singular focus on his graduate studies was exceptional, yet one of the benefits of the MASL program at North Central is flexibility. Some students pursue the 4+ 1 path that Smedsrud took; others are blending their studies with careers and life, taking evening or online classes, with the potential to complete their degree in about 20 months.
Coming alive through learning
“I didn’t know much about a graduate degree,” Smedsrud confessed, and decided to try one class on for size. “I took a Spiritual Leadership course and it was like everything that made me come alive inside came together. Once I found out I really enjoyed the class I would read and re-read the books. I could not get my mind off of it.”
Smedsrud said he and classmates from the graduate program would continue the course-related conversation long after class was over, mulling over things they’d learned. He was hooked and made a firm decision to pursue his master’s degree.
As he continued, the rising level of challenge within his graduate studies stretched him. “Leadership Strategies and Change was one of the most challenging classes I’ve ever been a part of,” Smedsrud acknowledged. “We conducted a business audit and it was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done, but so rewarding and fulfilling.”
Ready for success in any area
Smedsrud is currently working as a full-time manager with a national coffee house chain. Additionally, he and his wife, Sofia, work together in her film and photography business, and long-term he has his sights set on a career in ministry or higher education. He remains grateful for the knowledge and experience he gained on the path to a master’s degree. “The MASL is a broad degree—it’s like the perfect blend of everything that will set you up for success in any area.”
The close interaction with professors (“The professors would give us their cell phone numbers!”) and spiritual development that accompanied his studies at both the undergraduate and graduate level were significant to Smedsrud. “You can get your master’s degree wherever,” he reflected. “But if you want a school that draws you closer to God as result of your education, then North Central is the place to get your master’s degree.”