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Spotlight: Meet Medill’s Director of Graduate Journalism

Storytelling has been Jon Marshall’s passion for a long time.

After graduating from Vassar College with a history degree, Marshall was a research assistant at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. But the urge to explore the world was overwhelming, so he left Harvard for Western Kenya, where he taught high school students. It was there that his passion to tell stories grew.

“I was living within a village with a local family in a mud hut without running water or electricity,” Marshall said. “I was teaching in a school where their only textbooks had been eaten by termites and ants. I felt a very strong desire to try to explain what I was observing there in Kenya to audiences and people in the United States. That is when I really became interested in pursuing journalism.”

Marshall, who graduated from the MSJ program at Medill in 1991, has stuck around. He worked as a freelance reporter at publications such as the Christian Science Monitor, The Atlantic and the Huffington Post, but in 2000 he rejoined the Medill family as a part-time graduate journalism professor. Marshall says teaching eventually took precedence over his reporting career.

“There is more of an adrenaline rush in daily journalism, and I loved getting the new stories every day and interviewing people from all sorts of backgrounds, from the powerful to the bizarre,” Marshall said. “But I find the teaching more consistently satisfying just because of the opportunity to work everyday with really inspiring and incredibly talented students. I really enjoy coming to work each day.”

Marshall became a full-time undergraduate lecturer in 2002 and emerged as a discussion leader and faculty adviser for incoming freshman. In fall 2014, he started his current position as Medill’s director of the graduate journalism program. 

Marshall’s focus as he takes the reins are refining the curriculum with the faculty and increasing awareness of the program’s advancements, such as the two-quarter Washington option, increased emphasis on infusion of digital and interactive skills and expansion of the fifth quarter global residency experience, Lund Grant funded student research opportunities and Medill trips to places such as Argentina, Nicaragua, South Africa, Pakistan and Germany.

“I think we have some incredible things going on in the MSJ program,” Marshall said. “And I am emailing the communications and admissions staffs constantly, letting them know what we are doing so when they are talking with prospective students we have a chance to tell our story really well. One of my priorities has been to let people know the things we are already doing, which I think are great.”

Medill’s graduate program is one of the best graduate journalism programs in the country, and Marshall ensures his team is constantly looking at media leaders and employers, Medill alumni and other top schools to hone the best practices for their students.

“I feel like I was handed something precious as director of the graduate program and I feel a tremendous responsibility to not only take care of that, but to help it to continue to grow and thrive,” Marshall said. “It’s a continuous process of gathering information about the journalism world, and I don’t think we are a faculty that sits still. All of our instructors are engaged, professionally [and] in terms of research, so we can stay not just up-to-date, but ahead of what our students need.”

Marshall met his wife, Laurie Goldstein, the same month he started his MSJ at Medill in what he calls one of the most fortunate months of his life. He now has three sons, and his family influences him to view his job more positively every day.

“My family inspires me every day,” Marshall said. “I look at them and see the amazing potential that they have, and it makes me optimistic about the world and helps guard me from cynicism. My family life really is what helps me to feel inspired every day about the world and its possibilities, and that connects very strongly with what I do at Medill.”

What Marshall misses most about taking on his new role? The connections he made teaching and advising students throughout their college journeys.

“I miss being in the classroom greatly,” Marshall said. “For this first year, I want to devote myself to doing and learning this job full-time particularly with an updated curriculum being implemented. But I hope next year, or in two years at the latest, to be back teaching at least part-time because that is something I really enjoy doing. The administrative position allows me to think long-term and plan and develop teams of faculty and staff to keep moving this school forward and come up with creative new ideas. It is just a new challenge.”