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Trust the Climb

I can only look at the experience I’ve had while a part of BrandJRNY as meant to be. After the first semester of my freshman year, I declared my major as Strategic Communications with an emphasis in Public Relations. The first class I took that went toward my major was an introductory strategic communications course with Dr. Rita Colistra, the Founder and Director of BrandJRNY.

That class set me up to be excited about the profession I would be entering when I left WVU. It was my first impression of the Reed College of Media and of Dr. C, who quite honestly scared the hell out of me. Most importantly, however, after attending that class, I knew I was where I was supposed to be.

That was in Fall 2018, and it wasn’t until a year later that I got to see Dr. Colistra again. She brought in her BrandJRNY Fall team looking to collaborate with my creative design and strategy class with Professor Erica Lindsay, the Reed College of Media’s Director of Marketing and Communications, and one of my favorite professors at WVU. BrandJRNY needed a logo for Point Pleasant, West Virginia. I was so excited to have the opportunity to do work for Dr. C again. I sent many drafts of designs to Professor Lindsay, met with her outside of class, and spent hours in my room trying to find my way around Adobe Illustrator. Keep in mind, I had only first started working with this program two months before this assignment. After a few weeks, I learned that my design was chosen by Point Pleasant's Community Branding Committee to be used as the City's official logo.

At this same point in the semester, I needed to decide what capstone I would take during my last semester at WVU. I hadn’t researched what classes were available to choose from, and there wasn’t much time left to decide. My coworker, Chelsea Harper, (AKA BrandJRNY legend and the current Digital Media Director) was in BrandJRNY, so I asked for her thoughts. Her transparency and encouragement was ultimately why I decided to email Dr. C to set up an interview. I will always remember calling my family after that interview to tell them that I made it in.

Now it’s May, and we are nearing the end of this insane marathon of a semester that no one could have been adequately prepared for. I now laugh thinking about meeting Adison, our Advertising Director, on the first day of class in January and having a mutual understanding that we were scared to death and didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into. I smile when I remember Hannah and I starting to collaborate and getting closer than I ever expected – I know that she is always going to be there to help, guide, and mentor me when I need it. I remember feeling so relieved to see Becca, our Social Media Director, walk into our class because I knew her from a previous class we took together. Hearing Adrianne, our extremely talented PR/Media Relations Director, laugh like I’ve never heard someone laugh before is something that will stick with me (seriously, it’s infectious). Being able to reflect on how I remember meeting my teammates and the relationship I share with each of them now is so special. My team members will be lifelong friends of mine because we all went on this journey together.


Last day of in-person class, March 12, 2020 | Photo credit: Carly Smith

My experience in BrandJRNY has been life-changing: the way I work, the way I speak, the way I deal with troubling times – I have changed for good. As I prepare to start the next chapter of my education through WVU's Digital Marketing Communications Program, I will remember the amazing Sam Stocksdale, BrandJRNY's Chief Strategist and Graduate Assistant, and how dedicated and hardworking she was, even when life wasn't being so kind. I honestly can say that I feel prepared to move forward in my professional career because of the work I did in this capstone. Although things were not as we'd originally planned, it happened this way for a reason. Not all students get the kind of experience that our team has gained by working in BrandJRNY, especially with the changing circumstances we've faced this semester. I can only hope that other professors expect as much out of their students as Dr. C expects out of hers. I am so grateful to Dr. Colistra for setting the bar high and believing that we could reach it.


My name is Jessann Thompson, and I am the creative director for BrandJRNY's Point Pleasant project. I'm a Martinsburg, WV-native, a soon-to-be 20-year-old college graduate, and FINALLY a Colistra Kid. Follow me so I can follow you and retweet your retweets :) – @jessannthompson



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Housed at the WVU Media Innovation Center, BrandJRNY is a community branding initiative that is a grant-funded collaboration between the American Electric Power Foundation and WVU Reed College of Media.

The Initiative was previously funded by the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation for our three pilot projects.

Original website designed by Mariah Elliott, under the direction of PI and Director Dr. Rita Colistra.

Photos and content may not be used without written permission by contacting brandjrny@gmail.com.

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