When it comes to the path of his academic career, recent graduate Marcus Johnson (M.F.A., Creative Writing, and M.A., Educational Leadership) considers himself a “wanderer.” In addition to his military service in the Army National Guard, Marcus has pursued graduate study in the seminary, in secondary education, creative writing, and most recently, higher education and student affairs. His decision to attend WMU provided even further opportunities, as Marcus has worked as an Assistant Director of the Writing Center, as a Student Services Coordinator for WMU Financial Aid, and has participated in the Prague Summer Program. Reflecting on his winding path, Marcus observes, “I think it still all plays into who I am right now… it shaped the professional I’ve become; it shaped the academic I think I’m becoming.” His patience and curiosity about a variety of career paths has certainly benefited him, for shortly after Marcus graduated in April 2013 with his Master’s degree in Educational Leadership, he was hired as an admissions counselor at Kalamazoo College.
In 2007, in the midst of completing an M.F.A. in Creative Writing at WMU, Marcus found his graduate program delayed when he was deployed to Camp Liberty in Iraq. Upon returning, Marcus contacted WMU’s Office of Military and Veterans’ Affairs (OMVA) and found a great level of support from the office’s new director, Tracey Quada. Marcus is effusive in his praise for the advocacy and resources of the office, stating that Quada and the OMVA itself made “Western a much more veteran-friendly campus, instituting policies and connecting veterans with resources that were meant to help them during their college experience. With the OMVA, I see in that office a much stronger initiative to engage with student vets and to help them.”
And he isn’t alone in his praise for the office; just last year, Military Times’ EDGE magazine named Western as one of the “Best for Vets” schools in the nation (one of only two schools from Michigan to make the list). The skills, determination, and experience that student veterans bring to college campuses make them an invaluable addition to university communities, and WMU is making a notable effort to smooth these students’ transitions back to academic life. Marcus says, “I’m starting to see that some of the services that we’re offering, they indicate and show that we are trying to become more aware of [their] needs, and we are trying to understand those different experiences, and how those experiences can impact the individual education of student veterans as well as how it impacts the overall university community.”
As a teacher and a writer in that university community, Marcus finds his military experience re-framing the ways he thinks about and approaches his academic work. Speaking about how his military training influenced his teaching preparation, Marcus recalls that “I approached tasks like teaching or writing or studying from a really practical, pragmatic approach, so I would sit down and read a piece of literature, and I would think, what’s the purpose? What’s it going to serve? How am I going to be able to use this tool? How can I use this resource? It’s also something that carries over into the way [...] I get students to think about writing, to think about research. I want them to start thinking about writing and research in very pragmatic terms, in very practical terms, so that it’s something they actually do for a purpose. Because I think that activity– any activity you do in life– there has to be a significant purpose to it, but especially for the time you invest in writing, just like the time I invested in the military, there has to be a significant purpose, there has to be a significant meaning.”
Part of that search for meaning has also unfolded in the pages of Marcus’s memoir. His experience in Iraq is the basis for his creative non-fiction work, Pogue, a book about the intersections of war, training, gender, and relationships from the perspective of a soldier who does not leave the military base. Planning to finish the book soon, Marcus will no doubt have a full and promising future as he moves forward with his new job, new writing projects, and hopefully, a continuing urge to wander and explore.