Sometimes in order to pursue your dream, there comes a sacrifice. In recent journalism grad Jamal Spencer’s case, this meant making the decision to leave Michigan State University early, back in 2009, to pursue his aspiration of becoming a sports reporter through a once in a lifetime offer.
People ask him, "Was it worth it?" Following his dream meant giving up undergraduate experiences and prolonging the process of earning a bachelor’s degree.
"It was incredibly difficult," said Spencer. "Only one man in my family had graduated from college and that was my father. So, attending MSU was a blessing and receiving my diploma was the goal, but as my academic career progressed I realized the importance of job experience and networking."
As a Detroit native, Spencer jumpstarted his career by working as a sideline reporter and production assistant for Fox Sports Detroit. After this, in spring 2011, he was able to finish a couple more credits toward his degree before taking off for his next job in Fargo, North Dakota where he later became Sports Director. Years after, he reached a point where he wished to move closer to home. Fortunately for him, the perfect opportunity arrived. Spencer packed his bags and moved back to his home state as the newest Sports Director at WZZM 13 in Grand Rapids.
“I was granted a few career opportunities that I felt I couldn't pass up and I promised my parents I'd return to get my degree, which I did in the fall of 2016,” said Spencer. "My parents joke that it was like getting drafted into pro sports after your junior year."
How it all started
Spencer said that his entire athletic background consisted of a strong passion for baseball. However, once he realized that he wasn’t going to grow up to be a major leaguer, he decided to drop his bat and pick up a career that still involved talking about them.
"My mother and I would visit my grandma often and she always watched the 6 p.m. news," said Spencer. "Sitting there quietly, I figured that if she’s giving these news anchors this much respect then this might be a career path worth following. I’m glad I did."
As the Sports Director of WZZM 13, Spencer is responsible for production, film and editing content daily for the local sportscast. He is also the anchor for the 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. sportscasts Monday through Friday. In addition, he takes the time to search for local stories that will appeal to the same target audience and engage them on a personal level through social platforms.
"I try to do as much as possible everyday." said Spencer. "I went back to MSU in 2016 and took two classes in East Lansing during the summer, then finished with another class in the fall, all while working my full-time job as Sports Director in Grand Rapids."
Forever a Spartan
Being a Spartan is more than just wearing green and white. Students and alumni take a pledge to remain passionate, devoted and have grit while earning their degree and using it to succeed in their fields. For Spencer, his undergraduate years at MSU were, without a doubt, the best years of his life thus far.
“It was amazing,” said Spencer. "The campus was changing and I made lifelong friends, many in the ComArtSci building. I lived in the Sparty’s on the first floor. My favorite JRN class was Ethics of Journalism taught by Manuel Chavez, who is a tremendous professor and made our class feel like a family for a semester.”
Spencer continued to discuss his highlights in ComArtSci. “The most helpful resource was without a doubt my professors. Geri Zeldes, Folu Ogundimu, Manuel Chavez, Bonnie Bucqueroux all cared about my well-being as well as my academic success. They stressed the importance of focus and L.A. Dickerson stressed the importance of internships, and both of mine led to jobs that got me to where I am today. The ComArtSci staff was by far the most helpful resource in helping me reach my goals.”