Alumni Q-and-A with Jackie Bernard
If given the option of selecting an alternate career path, Jackie Bernard would choose to continue practicing law. Yet, considering how effectively she manages her time, it is possible to imagine Bernard as a professional juggler.
In addition to her executive role as Blair County’s First Assistant District Attorney, Bernard works in private practice for Grappone Law Offices and supports numerous charitable and nonprofit organizations as a volunteer leader. All the while, her family remains the axis around which her world rotates.
A native of Northern Cambria, Pennsylvania (formerly Barnesboro), Bernard began her undergraduate studies at Penn State Altoona. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Political Science and completed the requirements for the Legal Environment of Business minor through the College of Business Administration, Department of Business Logistics, at the University Park campus in 1990.
Bernard earned her juris doctor from Duquesne University School of Law in 1993 and was admitted to practice law in the state of Pennsylvania in January 1994.
Bernard has been a prosecutor in the Blair County District Attorney’s office for nineteen years. In 2012, she received a prestigious appointment from the Pennsylvania General Assembly to serve on the ten-member Pennsylvania Task Force on Child Protection. The task force was empowered to thoroughly review state laws and procedures governing child protection and the reporting of child abuse.
Over the years, Bernard has received a wide array of awards for her professional achievements, leadership, and community service. These include the 2007 WISE Women of Blair County Tribute Award ( Business and Professional category) for leadership and excellence in promoting awareness of the significant role of women in economic growth and quality of life; 2010 ATHENA Award, presented by the Blair County Chamber of Commerce to individuals who strive toward the highest levels of professional accomplishment, devote time and energy to their community, and open paths for others to follow; and Northern Cambria Hall of Fame induction in 2012.
Most recently, Bernard was the recipient of the 2014 Vision of Hope Award, presented by the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape. The award is given annually to a Pennsylvanian in recognition of a sustained commitment to protecting children against sexual abuse and exploitation.
Bernard has supported numerous charitable and non-profit organizations with leadership, service, and philanthropy. These organizations include Blair County Crime Solvers; Operation Our Town; Child Death Review Team; Stop Violence Against Women; Home Nursing Agency; Blair County Respiratory Disease Society; Blair County Children, Youth & Family Services; United Way of Blair County; Hollidaysburg Women’s Club; and Altoona Sunrise Rotary.
Bernard also serves on judicial related boards in Blair County, including the Multidisciplinary Investigative Team Steering Committee, Criminal Justice Advisory Board, Specialty Court Management Team, Criminal Justice Efficiency Team, Mental Health Planning Committee, and Veteran's Court Planning Committee.
Bernard and her husband Gregory, a Pennsylvania state trooper, team-teach two classes at Saint Francis University in Loretto, Pennsylvania. Alternating on a yearly basis, the couple offers instruction on courses titled Sociological Perspectives on Policing and Criminal Investigations.
In a candid interview with IvyLink, Bernard reflects on a distinguished career defined by skill, compassion, and commitment to the highest ideals of jurisprudence.
Q: How does your career today compare to your professional aspirations when you were a Penn State Altoona student?
A: I knew I wanted to be a lawyer because I wanted to serve. Being a lawyer allows me to serve the public and make a positive impact. As a prosecutor, I am able to do the right thing for the right reasons whether that means trying a drug dealer before a jury or finding that there is not enough evidence to support a conviction and dismissing charges.
Q: What is your most effective method of dealing with the challenges and pressures that accompany your role as First Assistant District Attorney?
A: I work a lot; at least six days a week. I have a very supportive family. Anything I can do with them is a source of enjoyment: from sharing dinner together to attending sporting events. Whatever they have going on is important to me. I do read a lot. I am attracted to faith-based books and possess a strong interest in our faith and how we should treat other people. I also love a good character study novel. I like to walk with friends, enjoy family vacations, and particularly find purpose in many old things at flea markets!
Q: What is the most gratifying aspect of your profession?
A: Helping people. I get the most satisfaction from helping people who find themselves in a situation they did not choose to be in.
Q: When you are invited by schools and community organizations to be a guest speaker, is there one particular message that you always strive to deliver?
A: I always regard my audience as future potential jurors. I always encourage them to serve and to retain confidence in the judicial system because we have the best judicial system in the world. In fulfilling my responsibilities to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, it is equally important for me to advocate for the downtrodden and to protect the rights of everyone in the courtroom.
Q: What is one of the most valuable lessons that you learned as a Penn State student?
A: When I was in high school, I had visions of attending the University Park campus. What I eventually learned is that a small campus community like Penn State Altoona was a better environment for me. When I transferred to University Park, I was sad to leave. The message is that you never know what gem is hidden in the gift you’ve been given. You have to bloom where you’ve been planted.
Q: If you could change careers today, what occupation would you choose?
A: I don’t think I would change careers. I love what I do, and the people I work with. I once received a card from a little girl who used a different crayon for each letter of every word. She wrote, “Thank you for keeping him in jail.” What other professional experience would elicit a message like that? The cases that touch you most deeply are the cases that enable you to protect the community and help make a little girl feel safe.