WMU Alumni @ Cooley: Mitchell Zajac

Posted on Wednesday, February 24, 2016

It appears to be a fairly common belief that engineering and law don’t necessarily align – the response I get when I explain my educational background, current profession, and status as a law student is generally along the lines of, “hmm…why?” Despite the obvious alignments of subject matter, such as patent law, business law, corporate law, and intellectual property, the real connection is much deeper. The real connection is about aligning ways of critical thinking.”

In 2014, an agreement was made that created an affiliation between Western Michigan University and the nation’s largest law school, the Thomas M. Cooley Law School. As a result, many WMU alumni pursuing a law degree a Cooley Law School found themselves “back” at WMU.

In this series, will feature some of those alumni who are now students of Western Michigan University Thomas M. Cooley Law School.

Mitch Zajac (BS, BA ’12; MS ’13)
JD Candidate 2018

The second installment comes from former Bronco Footballer Mitch Zajac, who received undergraduate degrees in German and Mechanical Engineering, and a Master’s of Science in Mechanical Engineering. Zajac is currently pursuing a law degree with the hopes of helping to shape public energy policy, and perhaps one day holding a position in office.

1. Why did you decide to attend WMU?
Coming out of high school, I had the opportunity to pursue academics and athletics at various institutions. As a high school football player, wrestler, and track athlete, I was faced with a decision. In deciding to attend WMU, I turned down opportunities to play football and wrestle at Harvard and Yale; and to wrestle on scholarship at Stanford. I chose to accept a football scholarship to WMU for one simple reason: Balance.

WMU offers a unique balance between competitive athletics and renowned academics. In my several visits to WMU I was taken aback by the people, the facilities, the vision, and the mission that WMU represented. WMU has ENDLESS opportunities, academically, athletically, and socially/developmentally. It was the place for me.

2. What did you study at WMU and why?

I completed my Bachelor of Arts in German, Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering – with a minor in Mathematics, and Masters of Science in Mechanical Engineering.

Simply stated, I like the understanding of how things work. From a young age, I was involved in many critical problem solving and technical development groups/activities. Engineering was the natural path. I continued on with my Masters at WMU because I shared a common interest and strength in a number of areas of graduate research, including thermal system design and noise, vibrations, and harmonics. In terms of my German degree, I began studying German in high school because I was drawn to the personality of the professor, the systematic structure of the language, and the rich history of the culture. That simply continued…for fun!

3. Were you active in any on-campus organizations, clubs, or teams?

I was a member of the football team. I played for four years in 50 games (a career record), made 34 starts, and was a game captain my senior year. On the team I was a member of the leadership council and led community service outreach projects for the team.

I was also an active member of the Lee Honors College (LHC), co-created and led the Peer Student Success team at the college (a student mentoring program originally aimed at helping students transition into college), a member of the LHC Dean’s Advisory Board, and the student coordinator for the university committee “21st century Millennial Student Initiative.”

Additionally, I was the leader of WMU Fellowship of Christian Athletes and led organizational outreach events, both in and out of state. I was also actively involved in engineering groups like Tau Beta Pi and several government grant development groups. I was busy!

4. When did you decide you wanted to pursue a law degree?
January of 2013, with an LSAT in February, and a start in May of the same year…

…It appears to be a fairly common belief that engineering and law don’t necessarily align – the response I get when I explain my educational background, current profession, and status as a law student is generally along the lines of, “hmm…why?” Despite the obvious alignments of subject matter, such as patent law, business law, corporate law, and intellectual property, the real connection is much deeper. The real connection is about aligning ways of critical thinking.

The subject matter of law aligns with all subjects because the law, in and of itself, is merely a system of rules which are enforced so as to govern social behavior. If we aim to connect law with any other subject, we see that there are laws governing the practice of engineering, of medicine, of aviation, and even innovation and creativity. Making these connections is elementary and does not get at the heart of any such alignment… …Each of us has set of short and long term goals. No matter what those goals are, we are in desperate need of opportunities to experience things and meet people that will impact our lives in such a way so as to push us along the path to achieving those goals.

For me those goals are centered on a deep want to impact the lives of others. My entire motivation for pursuing a law degree, on top of the engineering degrees, is just that. My focus on innovation that can impact the lives of people is just the beginning. I enrolled in law school in order to expand my ability to shape public energy policy, impact and serve others in an even greater capacity, and to truly help steer the ‘whys’ and the ‘hows’ of our nation’s energy programs. All of this experience has culminated to be the foundation for who I am today, and the passions I hope to pursue ‘tomorrow’.

5. What do you hope to do with your law degree?
I don’t have a specific plan when it comes to my degree, but I tend to think that my passion for innovation and for service will not fade. In some walk of life, I do hope to hold a position in office, but I’m not sure what, and I’m not sure when.

6. Why did you choose Cooley?
Again: Balance. At Cooley, we have the opportunity to get a top-notch education from professors who have REALLY practiced and have REAL experience.

7. When will you complete your studies?
My JD will be completed in April of 2018, and plan to complete my LLM in Corporate Law and Finance by April 2019.

8. As an alumnus of WMU, how do you feel about Cooley now being an affiliate of your alma mater?
I honestly believe that we are all products of the experiences we've had and the many people we have interacted with over the years of our lives. The impact that my time at Western has had on my life is indescribable…

…To be a good lawyer, one must be a critical thinker. They must possess the ability to think outside the box in a variety of situations. Does it make good sense to have every lawyer come from a specific undergraduate major? I would vote no. Expecting there to be an explicit prerequisite necessary to successfully study and practice law is without merit.

At Cooley, that sentiment could not be better represented. In my class alone, there are two engineers, five current and former service men and women, former college faculty, current legislative assistants, and more. The flexibility of classes to allow for traditional full-time day students, as well as students like myself, taking class part time, two nights a week, lends to the notion that Cooley is one of a kind. The faculty and staff have all practiced in the area of law that they teach. Programs, groups, and fraternities are in abundance at all five of Cooley’s current campus’s – again, another unique feature not seen at many other law schools.

My journey began with a unique combination of athletics and superior academics at WMU, and has continued into a first class, interactive legal education at Cooley. The end result of this journey is aimed at achieving a position that can be used to improve the lives of others.

The study of law at Cooley exemplifies passion, commitment, and dedication. This exciting alliance allows for that same passion to be shared on the campus at Western Michigan University, and then expanded by rightfully combining the study of law with a variety of disciplines across campus. The Western Michigan University Thomas M. Cooley Law School will positively impact the quality of undergraduate and graduate educations in all areas at WMU; from political science and IT to engineering and entrepreneurialism.

Archimedes once said, “Give me a place to stand, and a lever long enough, and I will move the world.” It’s clear to me that the foundation of the future rests in the quality education existing at both WMU and Cooley. The tool to be used to ensure future success is this exciting, new alliance. Separately, these are world-class institutions. Together, they will be world-changing.

9. What do you like to do in your spare time?
I’m currently a Program Manager at FCA in Auburn Hills, coach high school football, and teach a class at Trine University. I enjoy completing projects around the house, riding motorcycles, and working on and traveling with my jeep. I read when I can, and I’ll talk to anyone who has an appetite for a discussion.