Inside the Journalism Major with Graduating Senior Joel Vazquez-Juarbe

Today we feature senior Joel Vazquez-Juarbe, a Journalism major with a concentration in Broadcast Journalism. He is currently an intern for The Today Show through NBC Universal and will be joining an ABC affiliate in South Carolina as a multimedia journalist after graduation. Joel serves as co-Editor-in-Chief of The Whit and a News Reporter for the Rowan Television Network. He discusses his experience as a transfer student, his journey to obtaining his internships and job opportunities, and his experience in general as a journalism student at Rowan. 

Why did you choose Rowan University?

I went to Atlantic Cape Community College and when the pandemic hit, I was getting ready to graduate from my community college and to move on to pursue a degree at a different university. The world went completely remote for a period of time and therefore, I was unsure of what was going to happen in regards to me choosing a university post community college. 

With that being said, Rowan was actually the only school I applied to. At the moment, it kind of felt like I was just supposed to attend Rowan … I applied and got accepted, and it ended up being one the best decisions I have ever made. 

What is your favorite part about Rowan?

When I initially got to Rowan it was very unfamiliar to me. I did not know anyone and what truly captivated me and got me intrigued by Rowan was the whirlwind of different opportunities and resources that are available to the students. 

There are so many different things that students can be a part of that will prepare them for their future endeavors. For example, for the Journalism major, they have Rowan Radio, The Whit, and the Rowan Television Network. When I got here I was just so eager to get involved regardless of the times we were in with the pandemic. I know a lot of clubs and organizations were put on hold or ran differently throughout the pandemic, but these clubs were still offered and available for students to participate in which was really awesome. Getting involved and meeting people really helped me work on my craft [broadcasting and talking in front of a camera], and I was given so many opportunities to work on this craft over the years before getting into the industry. 

One of the best things about Rowan is also the professors. They want to connect with their students and simply care about the success of their students. One of the professors, Dr. Candace Kelley, connected me with several other reporters that are working in the field that I aspire to work in one day. Her connecting me to them really allowed me to network and get advice from these individuals who are in the journalism industry. She took her job way beyond the classroom, and I was constantly learning about real life and not just reading from a textbook.

Joel Vazquez-Juarbe posing with The Whit newspapers.
Joel Vazquez-Juarbe posing with The Whit newspapers.

Can you describe some of your experiences as a student and what you have gotten out of studying at Rowan?

I came to Rowan at a very strange time [mid-pandemic] and one thing I definitely think I am going to take away from this experience is that things and experiences are all about what you make out of them. I could have gotten to Rowan and just gone to class and done my homework and kept my circle small, but if you really want to achieve your goals and get the most out of your experience, then you have to be willing to go the extra mile and branch out of your comfort zone. Rowan taught me that if I really wanted to become a reporter and make it in the news industry then I have to go out there and get it. 

What made you choose Journalism?

That is actually an interesting story. I did not always want to be a journalist. Originally, I wanted to be a veterinarian and I was pretty set on being a veterinarian. I ended up getting to community college and I realized I was terrible at math and science. During my time at Atlantic Cape Community, I took a basic writing class titled Journalism 101 just to fill some credits, and this class ended being a pleasant surprise and not at all what I expected.

The class was essentially like a journalism boot camp. I don’t think at the time that I took the class I truly liked journalism yet, but I liked how hard I had to work to get a good grade in the class. I had never worked that hard for any other class and I liked how it pushed me out of my comfort zone. Eventually I took Journalism 2 and I again had to work twice as hard to get a good grade in the class and the professor of that class just really inspired me. I graduated from community college with a General Studies degree and then I came to Rowan. When I saw how many credits I already had for Journalism, I decided to just continue with Journalism and see where it takes me. 

In high school I participated in theater and I always enjoyed being in front of the camera. Shortly after I got to Rowan I decided to join The Whit. I started off as a staff writer and wrote one or two pieces. I then realized I really wanted to pursue on-camera work and I started doing a segment called On the Boulevard. This was really just about life on campus and because we were mid-pandemic, there was very little going on. But this experience led me to eventually start working with the Rowan Television Network. I then became the Anchor for RTN News and I decided to combine the two [The Whit and RTN News] to make news packages. So I would make these packages and submit them to the Whit and then I would also send them to RTN News where they would share them on their YouTube channel. Eventually, I became the multimedia editor, which was very special to me.

Prior to Rowan I had liked journalism but when I got to Rowan I truly started to love journalism and the process of broadcast reporting. By the end of the 2021 spring semester, I decided I truly wanted to be a reporter and that was the profession I was going to pursue post undergrad. 

Joel Vazquez-Juarbe laughing while holding The Whit newspaper.

How has Rowan validated for you that you are in the right place?

I think Rowan has instilled in me that I am in the right place by the constant support I have received from my professors and my advisors. Like I have previously said, when I first came here I wanted to pursue Journalism and be behind the camera but the professors were constantly pushing me to my maximum potential and I have built relationships with mentors like Dr. Kelley, who has given me so much feedback and constructive criticism. 

I quickly learned that I was in an environment where I was constantly growing and learning. My professors have constantly expressed to me that I should believe in myself and my skills and be confident in my work. I think when I was around so many people that simply believed in me, it went a long way and continues to go a long way and reassures me that I am where I am supposed to be.

How have the professors at Rowan impacted you?

In high school I had so many interests. I was involved in theater, soccer, marching band and so many different hobbies. My teachers in high school knew I had these interests but I never sat down with them and discussed my options for my future and I was never pushed by any of them to pursue a specific major or field of study. Without the experiences I have had with my professors in college, I do not think I would have been able to develop my love for Journalism, yet alone been exposed to this field of study. 

When I went to my community college, my professor at the time, Professor Forrest, gave me a feel for truly understanding what it’s like for someone to push me and encourage me. When I came to Rowan I was a little nervous because I was concerned that no one was going to push me like Professor Forrest did. The professors here went above and beyond what I could have ever expected. It was a wonderful feeling knowing that my professors here have seen so much potential in me and continuously want to see me succeed. 

Joel Vazquez-Juarbe reading The Whit newspaper.

What are some challenges you face as a journalist and how has Rowan helped you overcome these challenges?

I think a big challenge journalist majors face is simply about confidence and in the delivery of a story. The professors worked with me constantly to help me build my confidence and to teach me how to express stories in different ways.

Another difficult challenge is interviewing students around campus. As a journalist it is common to go around campus with a microphone and camera to interview students. I have gotten some hard rejections by students and some fierce glares by doing this, but it is important to understand that this is all part of the journalistic process. I remember feeling really out of place when I first got here because of how the interview process went sometimes. After talking to my professors about it and participating in projects that required me to conduct interviews, I just became more and more comfortable with the process of journalism, and I was pushed to get over my fear of interviewing others and the possibility of receiving negative reactions. 

One of my biggest insecurities was probably my writing skills. I tend to write as if I am verbally communicating or taking part in conversation with another. The professors here have definitely taken the time to help me improve my writing but also other skills I will need to excel in the journalism industry.

What do you feel are your strengths?

I definitely think my biggest strengths are my personality and my dedication to chase after a story. Over the years I have seen myself blossom from this shy individual who did not want to ask anyone a singular question to the person I am now — I can walk up to a stranger and have a full conversation with them. I have grown into a person that will do anything to get a certain story or a quote from an individual. I also think it is so important to be personable as a journalist. In the field, you are constantly talking to strangers and different people and I think my ability to be personable with others is definitely a big strength of mine. 

Joel Vazquez-Juarbe smiling and pointing at The Whit newspaper.

What opportunities do you feel have been presented to you and why do you think these are important when building your resume? 

When I first got to Rowan I kind of felt like I was two years behind already. I felt pressured to get an internship as soon as possible. One of my professors sent me an application for a small publication called Follow South Jersey. They focus on news happening within the South Jersey area. I interviewed for the position of the Higher Education Intern and I got it. In this position I reported on the different schools in the area. 

Even though it was very beneficial to gain that experience, it was not what I wanted to do. The work consisted of me writing a weekly article on subject matter that I was not necessarily interested in; however, it was more so for the experience. The biggest thing I gained from this experience was the practice of adhering to deadlines and practicing time management. I learned how to balance school work with an internship and I was constantly meeting time requirements. 

I was able to get something on my resume by this experience. Then, another professor, Kathryn Quigley, sent me an application for the PHL17 Morning News TV station in Philadelphia. I really was not expecting anything and just decided to apply to see what could happen. I then got a call from the News Director at PHL17 and he said he wanted to interview me. We sat down and had our interview and it went great. I then became an intern there and the director said I had a great personality for this industry and it made me even more excited to be a part of their news team.

I worked there last semester and it was a pretty difficult adjustment. I lived an hour away from Philadelphia and my shifts started at 3 a.m. I would go to bed at like 6 p.m. and then wake up at 1 a.m. to get to my shift on time. It was such a great learning experience. My job consisted of writing scripts for the teleprompters, watching reporters give stories, and being behind the scenes in the control rooms.

This was such a good experience to add to my resume that I then applied to be an intern for NBC Universal for the third time. Yes, I applied to NBC Universal three times. The first time I applied I had zero internship experience and they denied me within 10 minutes. The second time I applied I just had Follow South Jersey on my resume and even though I did get further into the interview process, I still got denied. The third time I applied was after I had my experience with PHL17. I decided that if I got rejected again, I was not going to apply again. To my surprise, I got an email after I applied saying that NBC wanted to interview me and now I work for the Today Show. 

After recounting all of that and my journey to get to where I am today, I think Rowan has granted me so many different opportunities which may seem small at first, however, several baby steps is what got me to working at my dream job [The Today Show].

What keeps you motivated?

My family is what keeps me motivated. Neither of my parents went to college and not only do I want to make them proud, but I also want to make something of myself. I have a drive that I want to accomplish big things, I want to travel the world, I want to make a name for myself, and with these big aspirations of mine, I know it takes hard work and determination. I know if this is what I want to accomplish, then I am going to have to work at it. 

Joel Vazquez-Juarbe smiling.

What is it like being a first generation college student and how has Rowan helped you along this journey?

I have an older brother and he went to college too. My brother was able to vaguely help me with the process but honestly when I graduated high school, my advisor would talk to me about FAFSA and all these different applications I needed to complete and I had no idea what he was talking about. This is when I was really grateful that I decided to attend community college first. 

Even when I got to community college I felt lost. It was definitely difficult to navigate it at times. When I got to Rowan, everyone was just so willing to help. College at first was definitely uncharted territory for me, but Rowan does a very good job at promoting its resources to their students for whatever they need in order to succeed. 

Can you talk about The Whit?

Even though The Whit meets every Wednesday for production day, there is a lot of work that is put into The Whit that takes part on other days of the week. On Wednesdays we meet at 6 East High Street where we have our content meeting at 5 p.m. Basically myself and the other Co-Editor-in-Chief, Helena Perray, ask each editor what content they have prepared for the following week. 

One thing about The Whit that I do not think a lot of people are aware of is that we offer internship opportunities. During our weekly content meetings it gets a little crowded because we have all the editors and then each section has three interns. I like to make sure that the interns are getting involved because I learned from my personal experience that it is not only more interesting when you’re involved as an intern, but it is extremely beneficial to go through the motions and actually take part in the work.

Joel Vazquez-Juarbe smiling and posing.

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Story by: 
Natalie DePersia, junior public relations major

Photos by:
Ashley Craven, junior sports communication and media major

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