Saturday, January 6, 2018

ISU Teaching Feedback

This seemed like as good a place as any to record some encouraging feedback received from my Financial Mathematics students from my 3rd semester teaching at ISU (18 A's/B's, 2 C's, 1 D):


Hi Professor McDonald, it's Maria Blair! Thanks again for all of your help this semester.


Hello Professor McDonald, this is Jack Jackson and I would like to know what my grade for the class was. Thanks again for being a great instructor. I appreciate all that you have done for us.



Thanks for a great semester. I really enjoyed this class and it was a great start to my actuarial career. Could you let me know my final exam score and final grade? Thanks!

Peyton Kelly 


Hello Mr. McDonald!

Thank you so much for the time and effort you put into teaching this class. It means a lot that you helped me have confidence in myself to try it again this semester. Thank you also for all of the actuarial job insight! It's great to hear about experiences in the job as well as the process that it takes to become an actuary.

Jordyn Bruce


Dear Mr. McDonald,

I just wanted to update you that I took Exam FM this morning, and I was successful in passing! 

I appreciate all that you did for us this semester. From patiently walking through concepts and problems to listening to our feedback, you did a great job teaching. I enjoyed your class a lot this semester, and it has certainly impacted the beginnings of my career as an actuary, so thank you!


Justin Garber

Friday, June 23, 2017

Library Board Interview

This afternoon I'm interviewed for a position on the Normal Public Library Board of Trustees. What are some questions they might ask?

Tell us about yourself.
- I moved to Normal in 1990 to attend ISU.
- After graduating I worked with State Farm for 19 years, eventually as the director of the tax department.
- I volunteered as the treasurer of our condo board for 13 years, developing a 20-year financial plan to replace roofing, driveway, upgrade pool, etc. with gradual fee increases rather than big lump sums.
- I also graduated from the Chamber of Commerce's leadership program and served as a volunteer in that program for ten years.
- Eight years ago I started a private math tutoring business, and left insurance four years ago to focus on it.
- I'm also a certified substitute teacher and a part-time professor of math at ISU.

What qualities would people say about you?
- Inclusive. Example in ISU class, or in building the leadership program.
- Upbeat.

Why do you want to be on the Board?
- Since moving out of the condos two years ago I've been looking for ways to volunteer in a leadership capacity in the community.
- It's a unique volunteer opportunity because the library is growing and that's the kind of organization I want to invest time in.
- At heart I'm a teacher. My father was a coach. Education is my calling.
- The library is progressive. I've watched it transform over the last eight years. 
- The leadership is strong. I've only known the Board a short time but I've seen the joy of the staff and been in management long enough to know that it starts at the top.

What unique strengths would you bring to the Board?
- High school educational connections - substitute teacher
- Supervisory experience - 25 employees from part time to management
- Presentations/facilitating
- Spent a lot of time on the adult floor

What are the top priorities for the library?
- Engaging the community. School-library card partnership, book drops, cafe
- Inspire literacy, learning across ages.
- Engage underserved populations
- Build a library

What are your weaknesses?
- I'm better at analyzing information deeply rather than quickly, so I tend to listen more than talk at a meeting when I see information for the first time.
- On the flip side, as a personal note, if I'm confident on a topic I need to resist the impulse to overtalk.

Will you be able to make the time commitment required?
- I have at least six partners available to help free up my evenings.

Would you accept this position if it meant your business could no longer work here?
- Yes. I'm aware of some alternative space, and a two-year commitment is a good length of time to experiment with other options.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Facts About Dad

Dad was president of the Greater Chicago Chapter of the Insurance Accounting and Statistical Association from 1972-1973.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Memorial Day

My last blog post came 4 days after a life-changing phone call: Mom's voice saying that she was too weak to get up the stairs of my childhood home. By midnight she had passed through the front door for the last time en route to the hospital; within four months her life was complete.

During that time her heart muscle slowly died but in a more important sense her heart did not. Mom was the quietest kind of tough. She endured continuous discomfort without complaint. On the day that the doctors said there was nothing more they could do to reverse her decline, realizing that her life was now measured in days and not weeks, she matter-of-factly said "I guess there's nothing left to do but just wait." Her composure was unsurprising, coming from a woman who once underwent a colonoscopy without anesthetic.

As the heart fails, so do the kidneys, releasing toxins that slowly ebb a person's clarity of mind. I remember the last of our lucid conversations together, nearly a year ago today. I sensed that this would be the final time we said good night to each other. We kissed, and I lingered an extra second in the doorway of the hospital room, making eye contact and waving with a smile.

Mom passed away as she'd hoped, at a wonderful hospice in Barrington (JourneyCare). It was absolutely fitting, a clear spring day with an open window and gentle breezes, the temperature nearing 70 degrees by 9am.

The world keeps turning, and my first year as the oldest McDonald has found me sifting through generations of mementos. From time to time I may post some of them here.

I'd been planning to dive into this project once the school year ended. While I haven't necessarily aspired to return to regular blogging, the last 15 months have been filled with significant events.

June 2016: Sold our Bloomingdale home.

July 2016: Debuted as Lumiere in Beauty and the Beast at Community Players Theatre, a show which broke records for attendance based on % seats-filled. Vacationed at the Outer Banks in North Carolina.

August 2016: My first day as Instructional Assistant Professor at Illinois State University. My first long-term substitute teaching assignment, for David Hallatt of Normal Community West High School.

September 2016: A new record for long-term substitute teaching, for Kate Lawrence of Normal Community High School (5 weeks).

November 2016: Began attending Board of Trustee meetings at the Normal Public Library.

January 2017: Selected to the Search Committee for ISU's Assistant Vice President of Finance and Planning.

May 2017: Completed my 2-year term as Chair of Leadership McLean County's Leadership Skills Committee. Selected to play Grimsby in Little Mermaid at Community Players Theatre. Jack proposed to Kate Willson. Invited to train as instructor for Dale Carnegie Institute.

"Life is short, have fun." How many people from 100 years ago are remembered for even a second today? Buildings and bloodlines eventually end. The goal of lasting personal significance is mostly futile, the prospect of eternal afterlife debatable. And yet there is great truth for me in the thankful celebration of today and the past. I believe that life will be longest and happiest by focusing on today rather than tomorrows.

This Memorial Day, I remember and thank God for my parents Jack and Judy, my grandparents Johnnie, Peg, Frank and Lue, my great uncle Joe and aunt Mae, and the generations of parents before them who sacrificed both here and abroad to provide this life. I intend to make the most of it.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

This Week's Peeks

Such a cute title demands explanation. This is a running list - a peek back, if you will - of significant events that have happened so far in 2016, as well as a subject-to-change peek ahead.


8th - Chaired "Leadership Day" for the McLean County Chamber of Commerce's program Leadership McLean County. The presenters exceeded my expectations (some risk as I'd never heard most of them speak before!) and the class gave upbeat reviews. I gave a 2-hour presentation on "Performing Under Pressure" and was subsequently invited by ISU to do the same for the leadership of their Administrative Technologies department.

15th - Wrote and recorded a Superman-themed voice over track for Darren Freidinger's American Ninja Warrior application.

22nd - The speaker I'd aligned to present on "Developing Others" for LMC had an emergency. Fortunately the topic is one of my personal passions, so I was able to put together a presentation overnight which got good reviews.

26th - Presented "Living and Working with Passion" with Lisa Hurley for the Chamber of Commerce's Next Professionals group of 30 or so young local employees.

28th - Met Rich Fatznytz, director of change management at State Farm, a well-connected guy.


5th - Unable to climb the stairs, Mom needs a hospital trip to correct swelling in her legs. I spend Friday through Sunday in Bloomingdale shuttling between the house and hospital. I discover the Elderworks resource hotline which connects me to Sunrise assisted living facility and begin determining options, including a facility tour.

11th - Recorded "Making of a Savior" voice over promotion for Vale Church's upcoming sermon series.


February 25: Serve as a guest leadership speaker for Illinois State University's Administrative Technologies Department.

March: Visit with a local church to consult on possible ways to improve "inreach" to their congregation.

Spring-summer: Repair front sidewalk, add gutters to front porch and garage, and thicken our front lawn grass.

May-July: Audition (and hopefully perform) for Beauty and the Beast.

2016 Goals Update

Dena and I have toyed with designing a new season to follow the end of the Christmas/holiday season, something to replace that sense of loss that happens when taking down the lights and realizing that spring is distant. 

Our working title is "Pre-Spring." So far we've leaned heavily into nature-scented candles. We've bought one decoration that's a sunburst, and another that's a yet-to-bloom tree, each festooned with sparkling white lights that preserve the holiday glow and remind us of the warmth to come.

We've yet to decide upon the beginning and ending dates of this season. Maybe it starts January 2 and ends as soon as we've had five consecutive 70 degree days. The possibilities are fun.

Meanwhile, it's time to check in on how this year's goals are going.

Physical Health

- Exercise/stretch 5+ days per week
- Body fat 14%
- Healthy knee
- Fruits/vegetables 5+ days per week
- Read 10 books

I've taken a fresh approach to knee health, discontinuing gym visits and replacing it with yoga (too much knee strain, promptly abandoned) and general stretching, though not 5+ days per week. The body fat and fruit/vegetables goals are met. I'm deep into the book "A New Earth" by Eckhart Tolle which prescribes a unique approach to personal peace by mentally detaching ourselves from our ego and negative emotions, viewing them as objects (and somewhat intrusive ones at that) rather than an integral part of our naturally happy selves.

Financial Health

- Improved tutoring records
- Set and meet a budget for 2016

Happy to say that my spreadsheet for tracking the tutoring business continues to run strong, so I can easily throw out figures like 32 students and 117 hours tutored so far this year. And in case the IRS is reading this, 152 miles traveled to and from the library. The budget still needs to be made.

Community Engagement

- Volunteer for a new organization

I'll pursue this one over the summer once school's out. I've been spending lots of time coordinating the leadership training program for the Chamber of Commerce, preparing a seminar on Performing Under Pressure for a group of 40+ leaders at ISU, and starting the early designs on a larger retreat to help people become more mindful (and thereby more peaceful).

Personal Character And Leadership

- Blog weekly
- Make 10 new acquaintances, including a mentoring relationship
- Arrive early/discipline

Whoo boy, I guess I did say weekly and not monthly didn't I? I've posted in two weeks out of seven, so there's more to be done here. Those new acquaintances are more likely to happen over the summer, although I have made at least two that I can think of.

Monday, January 18, 2016

A Peek Ahead for 2016

There are goals, and then there are anticipations - fun and unique happenings that are on the 2016 horizon. Here's a list of what I see coming with some likelihood... for now...

January: Visit with a local church to consult on possible ways to improve "inreach" to their congregation. And possibly provide some voice-over talent.

January: Speak with the Chamber of Commerce's Next Professionals group on the topic of "Igniting Your Passion"

January and February: Provide a 90-minute seminar "Living and Working with Passion" through Heartland Community College with Lisa Hurley. Also, continue to design options to expand this to at least a half-day seminar on related topics for self-improvement.

One or more times: Serve as a guest leadership speaker for Illinois State University's Administrative Technologies Department.

Spring-summer: Replace drafty windows, or some comparably-sized improvement on our 20-year home maintenance plan.

May-July: Audition (and hopefully perform) for Beauty and the Beast.