After leaving the traditional college route, 23-year-old Joshua DeFour joined the Marine Corps as a combat journalist. Joshua describes himself as a “war tourist” and works officially as a U.S. Marine combat videographer, documenting everything from combat missions to humanitarian relief projects. Once he completes his degree with UWW and returns from active duty, Joshua plans to pursue graduate studies in film. His advisor: Karen Stevens. His concentration: Writing for the Media.
Every non-traditional age student has a story. What’s your story?
When I was in high school there seemed to be a rigid structure—or a fixed idea—of the “right way” to proceed through school. When I entered college though, I was given a freedom and control of my life that led me to realizing the typical college route just wasn’t for me. Student loans had forced me to take minimum wage jobs, working a lot of hours that pulled me away from accepting internships—and experience—in journalism, my major. So, I dropped out of my junior year to enlist in the Marine Corps as a combat journalist. This was my chance to gain much needed on-the-job experience in my field of interest, while also earning the money needed to continue my education without accruing loan debt. Once I had settled into my role in the Marines I started searching for a way to complete my journalism degree, and eventually chose UMass Amherst.
Why did you choose UMass Amherst UWW to complete your degree?
When I was searching for online degree programs, the most important factor was not making compromises in the quality of my education “just because it was an online program.” I trusted the University of Massachusetts Amherst as an institution, I knew they held a standard and I wanted to be pushed to achieve, rather than “just finish my degree.” I also wanted to learn beyond the books through a classroom experience that featured intelligent discussions, and an opportunity to meet interesting classmates from all around the world. On top of that, the unique UWW Prior Learning Portfolio program allowed me to gain credits for on-the-job experience that I had acquired since leaving the traditional route. In the end, UWW didn’t penalize me for pursuing an alternative route to my degree—they rewarded me for the work I had put in outside of school.
What is the best part about being a UWW student for you?
I really enjoy learning about everyone’s path to UWW, as all the unique life perspectives add a special twist to the courses that I don’t believe other schools could provide.
What has been your favorite class at UMass Amherst so far?
My favorite class was Introduction to Screenwriting. The class itself was very informative, taught by a professor who had accredited experience in the field and a wealth of knowledge to draw from. But by far the best part of the class was building a spec script through group editing and review. This was a unique aspect that only UWW could provide, as most of the students were actively working in the field and could provide an invaluable perspective that pushed me creatively. We offered advice and opinions for each other to truly perfect a better piece of writing.
If you’ve written a portfolio, what’s been the best part of that experience for you?
I was surprised by how invested I became in the other students’ life stories, reading into every tribulation and eventual triumph…it was an amazing experience to be able to share such a journey with a tight-knit group of classmates. The portfolio writing process of posting and critiquing each group member’s portfolio was also a unique and rewarding experience in itself. Each student gave forth their time and energy to help guide crucial writing decisions and narrative elements, so every portfolio was a wholly organic collaboration.
What have been the benefits of taking your courses online?
Taking my courses online has allowed me to balance a college class schedule with my chaotic military lifestyle. I started my first semester at UMass Amherst posting from a humanitarian relief project in Bangladesh, finished the same semester from an air station in Japan, and have completed two more semesters while deployed all across the war efforts in Afghanistan. There is literally no other way for me to earn a bachelor’s degree while still immersed in a full-time, international military journalism career!
How do you balance work, school, and other responsibilities?
It’s never easy! And there are definitely moments of compromise and many a sleepless night to get everything in order, but in the end you’re accomplishing your dreams…so the way I look at it, each sacrifice will pay off in wider dividends. Once all is said and done and I have that diploma, all the energy and investment put forth will have been worth it. With that motivation, I just keep my head down and push forward, keeping all the areas covered and leaving nothing neglected or unfinished.
What advice do you have for other students finishing their degrees?
There has to be a game plan that you keep yourself on from the very beginning of the semester. There are only so many hours in a day, and life can be an unforgiving mash of disasters and pratfalls when you’re wearing multiple hats and trying to accomplish a number of goals. Despite whatever ongoing emotions or outside events, though, you must maintain an underlying schedule that forces you to check all the boxes each week. Keep that dream of walking across a stage with a diploma in the forefront of every day, and draw from that inspiration to find the energy to push forward. Also, keep in mind: UWW classmates, in general, are rarely ever “just students.” Reminding yourself that everyone is struggling through similar situations can really maintain a kinship and provide support.
Can you tell us a little about your work in Afghanistan and the military?
I like to think of myself as somewhat of a war tourist, as my job is to travel around Afghanistan and capture all the efforts of our men and women in uniform so that the world can gain an intimate perspective on our service member’s work. From combat missions to humanitarian relief projects, I use my video camera, writing, and editing to broadcast stories on our internal military news outlet, the American Forces Network, while also providing video packages for civilian news outlets like CBS News and TIME. Quite simply, I am a U.S. Marine combat videographer, and I go wherever our military goes.
What are your plans for the future - professionally and personally?
This Spring I will be graduating from UMass Amherst with a degree in Writing for the Media, and combined with my Marine Corps portfolio of video stories and commercials, I will be applying to film graduate programs starting in the Fall. My active duty Marine contract ends March 2015, so my plan is to immediately transition into a film graduate program (hopefully in California!) and pursue a career in film directing and production.
Tell readers something cool about yourself that no one would guess about you?
I had some free time in between semesters and deployments and wanted to get into better shape, so I took up a random interest in martial arts. At first I was unsure of the physical toll, but it proved to be a great stress reliever and I stayed on in the program to earn a black belt from the Marine Corps combat fighting courses. A lot of Marines typically assume “the camera guy” can’t hold his own, so I like to keep ‘em honest!
Check out some of Joshua’s work!