A Leap of Faith: Reflecting on My Time at JWU

Student Leah Ward '23 in front of her wall of designs

Looking back at my college career, I never would’ve imagined being where I am now. I survived a global pandemic and eight semesters of college at three different schools. When I graduated from high school, I thought I had my goals figured out. I was planning on going to school in New York, and Johnson & Wales wasn’t even on my radar at that point. I headed to New York to start college. Then, the pandemic happened. 

After that, I knew I didn’t want to go back to New York, but I didn’t know where to go or what I even wanted to do anymore. I felt lost, like many people during that time. I needed something to ground me. So, most of my 2020 consisted of baking and film photography. I had already previously been into photography, but during this time I began exploring the process of film photography with the spare time I had. Since this had become a major interest of mine, I started to think about what I may be able to do with it. I decided to look into Johnson & Wales because I knew people who had previously studied there. As I learned more about JWU, I saw all the majors JWU offered and instantly applied. It was a leap of faith on my end, but something felt right about my choice. 

Students posed together in a classroom in front of the whiteboard

In Fall 2020, I started my first semester at JWU as a sophomore in the Media & Communication program. Because the pandemic was still in full swing, all of my classes were online, and I lived at home during that semester. This was hard for me because at my previous institution, the required classes were different and didn’t transfer over, so I was taking all general education courses online.

This semester had me seriously considering transferring again. However, I made it through with the help of my advisor, Professor Wendy Wagner, who helped me transfer into JWU’s new Design Your Own Major program. She also planned out my next couple of semesters at JWU with me, which gave me hope for the rest of my college career. 

Students smiling while sitting and standing in JWU's gallery space

Spring 2021 was my first semester on campus, and I had a mix of in-person and online classes. It was an interesting semester with how quiet the campus was because only first-year and sophomore students had classes on campus. I ended up getting a student assistant job for the University Marketing department and it was the best job that I’ve had. I had a flexible schedule with my classes and was able to work on projects that interested me and allowed me to tell stories about the student experience.

At the start of my junior year, it was great to see the campus (and the world) start to come back to life. The highlight of the year was in the spring semester when I studied abroad in Italy at Florence University of the Arts. I got to take lots of interesting classes like Exploratory Photography, Italian Regional Cuisine, and Product Design. It was a life-changing experience that I also wrote about for JWU’s website!

Read: Top Questions about Studying Abroad in Italy with JWU

Four girls standing on a balcony in Italy with buildings behind them

Nine students standing together in front of a door

In Fall 2022, I was excited and nervous going into my senior year of college. My favorite class that I took was Design Team because I was able to meet and work with a lot of other seniors in the design program that I hadn’t previously met due to my circumstances. It was a busy year that flew by.

Now that I have graduated from Johnson & Wales, I look back on my time here and I am grateful for where I ended up. There have been some ups and downs but, I don’t think I would do it over any other way. 

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A group of students each holding up their design work

Leah Ward '23 standing next to her senior showcase design project display

Professor Deanna Marzocchi hugging student Leah Ward '23 on Commencement day