Military Visual Journalism program to host seminar, anniversary celebration in August

By Emily Kulkus

July 3, 2014

Chad McNeely had been a student in the Military Visual Journalism program at the Newhouse School for about a month when terrorists attacked the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

The Syracuse University campus, like much of the world, was engrossed in the events of 9/11. Students, faculty and staff experienced shock, horror, grief and then an overwhelming urge to want to help. Ground Zero, after all, was only a few hours from campus.

But for the students in the MVJ program at the Newhouse School, the events struck a different chord: one of confusion, disbelief and a sense of helpless paralysis. For these students—all of whom are active-duty military while in the MVJ program—the situation was unique. They were active military, yes, but their orders at the time meant they were college students, too.

Chad McNeely

“When a war breaks out and you’re in college and you’re not going to be a part of it, it was difficult for us to make sense of,” says McNeely, who retired from the Navy last year and now works for Nikon. “We didn’t know if our orders (to stay at Newhouse) would be canceled or if we would be called back to our units…it was a very, very confusing time.”

It was also what made McNeely’s experience at Newhouse more memorable. He and his classmates—like most of the other MVJ classes during the program’s 50-year-history—became very close. The soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines rely on one another to get through the intense, yearlong program. And once they make it to graduation, many remain lifelong friends.

“There’s nothing that’s happened in my career since 2001, even Nikon now, that isn’t directly attached to my experience at Syracuse,” he says.

That’s why McNeely was one of the first to register for the upcoming Military Visual Journalism educational seminar Aug. 15 and 16. Titled “Managing Your Digital Arsenal,” the seminar includes speakers, instructional sessions, a panel discussion and a dinner celebrating 50 years of the program. It’s also a great opportunity for alumni to reunite in Syracuse.

"We have some well-known professionals who are experts  in their fields coming to speak, we have Newhouse professors offering workshops, and there will be a wonderful homecoming dinner on Saturday night," says Nancy Austin, deputy director of the MVJ program, who has been organizing much of the weekend. "This event will be an opportunity for our graduates to reconnect with each other and we can all celebrate the 50-year relationship together. 

For the last two years because of federal budget cuts, only the Navy has sent people to participate in the MVJ program at Newhouse. McNeely says he hopes the seminar in August helps illustrate what a strong and important program it is for all branches.

“I have never forgotten where I come from,” says McNeely, who served as the personal photographer for three secretaries of defense as well as the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. “I always promote the program and hope the (Department of Defense) understands how valuable it is.”

McNeely says he is most looking forward to the seminar’s educational programming. If it was just a reunion, he says, he probably wouldn’t come only because he travels a lot for work. The speakers and sessions, however, made it a no-brainer.

“These are my best friends in the world. These are our peers, these are the people who mean the most to us,” he says. “I can’t imagine where my life would be without it."