Former MSU History Student and Recent Graduate Jacob Novak Lands Role with 54A District Court in Lansing  

By: Patti McDonald 

Jacob Novak, a recent Michigan State University graduate who earned a double Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science and History in three years, is already making a positive impact in the lives of others. Novak is now working as the domestic violence court administrative and pretrial compliance coordinator under the honorable Judge Cynthia Ward at the 54A District Court in Lansing.  

Novak works closely with people whose lives have been affected by domestic violence, both survivors and defendants. He is tasked with helping them navigate the legal system while connecting them with the resources they need to rebuild their lives.  

“Working in a court underneath the honorable Judge Cynthia Ward is something I am fortunate enough to have the opportunity to do,” Novak said. “To be able to play an impactful and meaningful role in combatting a societal issue while providing aid and assistance to survivors and providing a rehabilitative avenue for defendants is something I am blessed to be a part of.”  

Novak acknowledges that this work can be challenging, but he is also grateful for the opportunity to gain experience in the legal field and make a difference in the community.   

“A challenge associated with this position speaks to criminal law in general and it’s ensuring that you are approaching both defendants and survivors with a respectful attitude, you’re listening, you’re being empathetic, and you’re not letting your emotions guide your actions or behaviors,” he said.  

“It’s very important when you’re interacting with survivors that you’re there to support them and whatever decisions they feel are best, you’re not there to make decisions on their behalf, you’re there to empower them and their lives. As for defendants, you know, the last thing you want to do is come across as judgmental or condescending for their behavior and actions. There is a level of professionalism you must have, and you must keep in mind that you’re there to help rehabilitate these people.”  

Jacob has been working with the 54A District Court since August. He said he decided to take a gap year after graduation so he could diversify his experiences within the workforce and his current position is allowing him to do just that.  

“Despite having three years of legal experience, I’ve only had experience working in private firms. But, to now have that public experience in law, makes me a more well-rounded professional,” he said.   

He added that seeing the real-life impacts of his work has been gratifying, too.  

“It has been rewarding getting to see the tangible effects of the work I do. I get to speak with survivors and see how they overcome the hurdle of domestic violence while they progress and create a new life for themselves. Their identities are much more than just a ‘survivor,’ it’s John Doe who loves cooking, or Jane Smith who is now pursuing a personal interest in pottery. That is pretty powerful,” he said.   

“Alternatively, another fulfilling thing for me, has been seeing the progress of some of the defendants and seeing how they progress through their rehabilitative program and how they have begun conducting themselves in new manners while forging new aspirations, goals, and desires.”  

In addition to adjusting to his new role, Jacob has been applying to business and law schools across the country in hopes of attending in the fall.  

“I’ve applied to 15 different schools, and I am either pursuing a master’s in business administration or a juris doctor, but ultimately want to earn both degrees,” he said. “It is exciting but nerve-wracking since I have no idea where I will be in a few months. Now, it has come down to playing the waiting game to see where I get in.”  

Jacob has had quite the year. His undergraduate research was published in April, right before graduation.  His paper: “China’s Feminist Movement: He-Yin Zhen’s Embodiment of Genuine Feminism,” was published in the Crimson Historical Review. He originally wrote the paper for Dr. Yulian Wu’s seminar in Asian History.  

“Before I graduated, I submitted my research to the Crimson Historical Review,” Novak said. “It was a crazy time of year with graduation and everything but right before graduation I found out the Crimson Historical Review was considering publishing my paper.”  

Novak said getting his undergraduate research published is an accomplishment that he is proud of.  

“Going through the process of publishing your work can be daunting as an undergrad student but it is totally possible if you are dedicated to your research,” Novak said. “I did my own edits too and while that was time-consuming, it was so rewarding to see my name on my own publication.”  

Dr. Wu said that becoming a published author as an undergrad is quite the recognition and demonstrates a student’s passion for their research and the ability to work independently.  

“Jacob is an independent and self-motivated student,” Wu said. “He autonomously revised and submitted his paper, demonstrating a capacity for self-directed research. His paper demonstrated a strong ability to analyze primary/secondary sources and an exceptional writing skill to articulate complex ideas in a clear and engaging manner.” 

Novak said he is now working on writing a book that is closely related to his paper’s subject matter. 

“I don’t have the deadlines and structures that I would have in a classroom like I did for my paper, but I think having that flexibility and that freedom, ultimately is going to help me produce a fantastic final product that I will be very proud to stand on.” 

Photo Credit: Jacqueline Hawthorne