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Torchbearer Justin Crawford reflects on JEM-CCI experience, opportunities.

Justin Crawford on the set of ABC's Good Morning America. Image courtesy of Justin Crawford. For Torchbearer and recent alum Justin Crawford, an undergraduate program in Journalism and Electronic Media was about more than just a degree.

Throughout the past four years of packed semesters, summer internships, and extracurricular programs, he found time to work as a career advisor with the Center for Career Development, a student director helping new arrivals in the Ignite program, and as an anchor and producer across the Knoxville media market, scoring spots at NBC, FOX, and ESPN affiliates.

That perseverance and dedication to his craft led to not one, but two prestigious post-graduation internships. In May, Crawford set off for New York, where he is currently working as a Digital Talent Specialist at Cox Media Group, and a 2018 fellow at the International Radio and Television Society Foundation.

To say he has been working hard would be an understatement. And although it might look like a frantic push to build up an extensive work history in only four years, Crawford says he developed a plan a while ago, one inspired by his childhood in Japan.

In Japan, Crawford said, there would be one way in and out of the television field: hard news. Here, he was able to explore every facet of television production under one program. “One of the first things I learned as a freshman was that there are different types of journalism, whether it's sports, entertainment, hard news. When I realized that there were so many different areas, I knew I wanted to touch every single one while I was in school,” Crawford said.

Crawford’s approach has led him to internships at Entertainment Tonight, the Today Show, and most recently, Cox Media’s Digital Talent Program. Justin Crawford appears in a Snapchat advertisement for Cox Media Group's Digital Talent Program. Image courtesy of Justin Crawford.

“At the core of every one of my experiences, there were a few things I wanted to have come out of them,” he said. “I wanted to learn, I wanted to stay curious throughout all of my experiences, which is why I could never stay put. Every semester, I was jumping to a new internship or a new job, and I knew that college was the place to do that. I came here to work, to get as much experience as I could in eight semesters, to figure out what my next steps would be.”

He credits the faculty within the College of Communication and Information, and the JEM program overall, for supporting him and providing the tools and flexibility to adapt to any media environment.

“I knew coming into this major, and coming into this industry, flexibility is your best friend.”

 “From the second you start the first course, the second you start that first internship, you start realizing whether you want to do print, magazine, newspaper, broadcast, sports, video production.

The mentorship Crawford received in the college also helped. “I’ve become very close with the director of journalism, and my advisors, and the dean of our college. Having conversations with them about where my interests lie and how they could help me have been very beneficial.”

He credits Dr. Catherine Luther, Dr. Sam Swan, Dr. Maria Fontenot, Dr. Bob Legg, Robert Heller, Dr. Erin Whiteside, and Lisa Gary for being heavily involved in his professional development throughout the program, and the JEM alumni network for helping him find opportunity beyond the classroom.

“I would say that the educators in our school know that creative freedom is the best way for students to learn,” he said. “Our school as a whole allows you to navigate your own experiences.”