When Jessie Duffield attended Camp Wakeela for the first time, she likely had no idea what kind of doors it would open for her. A University of Mississippi School of Journalism and New Media class of 2020 graduate, Duffield said the experience opened her eyes to many things in the world that awaited her.
“It shaped me,” she said. “It made me want to go places I’ve never been and meet people I’ve never met at a very young age.”
Now, years later, as she gears up to take on an area managerial position at Amazon, she reflects on her time at the university, and how it helped her get there. After going to Camp Wakeela for seven years, Duffield knew she wanted a similar experience for her undergraduate education—somewhere new and different where her friends from home, in the Dominican Republic, wouldn’t go.
Her father attended the University of Georgia, so she knew she wanted the SEC experience many gravitate towards. Graduating from a small private high school, a class of only 24 students, she wanted to go somewhere big.
“I wanted to experience something big,” she said. “I wanted to experience something new, far, far, away from home.”
The University of Mississippi checked all the right boxes.
After arriving in Oxford to attend the university, Duffield had nothing but good things to say about the School of Journalism and New Media. A quick Google search for the best journalism schools is what brought her here, but the engaging and warm environment, along with her own passion for writing and storytelling is what compelled her to stay. She describes small classes with lively discussions and pathways to opportunities that would benefit her greatly in the future, like writing for Oxford Stories and The Daily Mississippian.
“Even though Ole Miss is a big school, the journalism [department] has very small classes,” she recalled fondly. “I was in a class once with 15 people, and the teacher knew my name. We were all engaging in class. It wasn’t like a big auditorium where you just sit and listen to a lecture. You actually do get involved.”
One of her favorite college moments happened in her Journalism 102 class the second semester of her freshman year. She describes taking her first journalism class and not knowing if she was good enough. Doubting her decisions, she embarked on the journey anyway, writing for Oxford Stories throughout the semester and seeing the fruits of her efforts in a big way.
“I actually got Journalist of the Year and the Go-Getter Award from Oxford Stories,” she said. “I would definitely say that was the most I had felt proud of myself at such an early stage in my career.”
She also credits that experience with giving her a lot of the confidence she had as a journalist thereafter.
“It helped me become more confident throughout all my classes after that,” she said. “Now I’m like, I know what I’m doing. I’ve got this—I can talk to people. I can make stories. I can write.”
As a writer, telling a story through photos was something new and exciting she enjoyed about her photojournalism class. She also gained knowledge about the ethics and importance of journalism and being a journalist in her media and ethics class.
Duffield not only left her mark on the university as a talented writer, but as a kind friend and roommate. Her roommate and friend of four years, Sophie Straub, described Duffield as fun, funny and outgoing.
“I first met Jessica on move-in day at Ole Miss,” Straub said. “The first thing I noticed about Jess was how much she shines – she’s fun, funny, outgoing, has dance parties around the room, but she’s also incredibly kind, down to earth, warm and has a huge heart.”
Staub also spoke highly of Duffield academically, specifically her passion for journalism and writing, which was evident even in their first year as friends.
“Throughout that year, I learned so much about Jess, one [thing] being her passion for her major Journalism,” she said. “She was always very dedicated to her classes on top of writing for our school newspaper. What I love about Jess’s writing is that her personality is so transparent through her words, there’s always a small hint of her somewhere.”
After graduating in the spring semester of 2020 with a major in print journalism and a minor in business, Duffield knew that whatever her next endeavor was, she wanted it to involve media. So, naturally, an area managerial position for Amazon was not on her radar. After being approached with the job offer on LinkedIn, she was hesitant to take it until she realized the ubiquitous nature of her studies. That is, her journalistic background was a great if not perfect fit for the job.
“Everything you learned as a journalist, [can be used] as an area manager,” a recruiter and fellow journalism major told her. “You have to have communication skills, multitask, work under pressure, you motivate others through words, you have to have problem solving skills.”
In other words, everything she learned as a journalism major, she felt she could use in this new career path.
Though she is happy with the position she has secured at Amazon and will begin within the next month, she expressed a desire to excel and eventually switch departments to work in social media and marketing for Amazon.
Duffield stressed the importance of getting back up when you’ve been knocked down. After graduating in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, she struggled to find work, applying to 20 jobs a day when she was searching. From that experience, she had powerful words to share with the School of Journalism and New Media about the importance of hard work and perseverance.
“Get up, but never give up,” she said. “Rejection doesn’t mean failure—there is something better for you out there.”