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Army vet IMC student never backs down from a challenge

Ryan Wagner’s path has been far from traditional – college, L.A. film internship, U.S. Army, more college, broadcast media career – but that is par for the course for someone who seeks out and attacks challenges with the gusto of a fighter in the ring.

Ryan Wagner

“It has been a consistent 20-year journey onward and upward,” said Wager, a current student in the M.S. Integrated Marketing Communications program. “For me, every role, every company, every location – you name it, they all have their challenges. I never saw challenges as barriers to success. I saw them as opportunities to learn. I still do. If I’m not facing a challenge, I’ll find one. That’s all part of the fun.”

Writing, too, has been part of the fun. As a grade school kid, Wagner was creative and a natural storyteller. He had sports broadcaster dreams – dreams of working for NFL Films or SportsCenter. When it came time to look at colleges, his sights were set on Syracuse, the University of Southern California and other big names until he discovered the television and digital media production program at Ferris State University in Michigan.

“Ferris State is a great hands-on TV production school,” Wagner said. “When I went to visit the campus with my dad, I was hooked. It was a great school for me in a nice quiet town. From that point, I’ve been focused on being in and leading the behind-the-scenes element of media development and story creation.”

Upon earning his bachelor’s degree, Wagner headed to L.A. for an internship with Emmett/Furla Films. A small interaction turned big one day while he was working his side job at Barnes and Noble. It was September 11, 2002, exactly one year after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. A customer saw the flag emblem on Wagner’s name badge and scoffed, “You all wear flags but what have you done?” For Wagner, whose family is heavily represented in the military, this struck a chord.

“Every once in a while, my dad would mention that he wished he would have served. Because of his age, he just missed out on the Vietnam War, and I’m glad he did,” Wager recalled. ”I always had those elements in the back of my mind, though. Then, of course, 9/11 hit and everything changed. I didn’t go right away; it took some time to make that final decision. But that customer interaction was it. To this day it remains one of the best decisions I ever made. It was the right time for me.”

Wagner served just over four years in the U.S. Army from 2004 to 2008, working as a broadcast journalist and public affairs officer who deployed multiple times to both Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2004, he also took courses through the Defense Information School (DINFOS). Sixteen years later, he discovered the WVU-DINFOS partnership.

Through the partnership, graduates can transfer up to six credits – two courses – earned through DINFOS into the online Integrated Marketing Communications master’s degree program, decreasing the number of courses, money and time necessary for degree completion. Wagner became a student in the inaugural DINFOS cohort, which launched in May 2021 and includes 19 other DINFOS students who are progressing through the program together.

“When I saw the information on the DINFOS and WVU partnership, I literally jumped on it,” Wagner said. “I emailed the WVU team, they got right back to me, and everything was moving. It checked every single box that I had on my list. One of those boxes, honestly, was reputation. That was big for me. It’s the West Virginia University Reed College of Media – one of the top schools in the country. I was excited about that. Still am!”  

WVU’s IMC master’s degree program is a “learn it today, use it tomorrow” model, where students learn from professionally experienced faculty and work on applicable, real-world projects. This and the cohort of DINFOS peers have been invaluable to Wagner, who said that the interactions with faculty and classmates have been incredibly beneficial to his growth.

Wagner is on schedule to graduate with his second master’s degree – he already has an MBA from Columbia Southern University – in May 2022, and he recently accepted a position as manager of operations and creative production for John Deere. His career has included roles with NBA Entertainment, Sinclair Broadcast Group and most recently as executive producer, television station manager and studio director for the City of Charlotte. His ultimate goal is to teach at the collegiate level, but he’s in no hurry to get there.

“I’ve had a great opportunity to connect with some amazing leaders in higher ed over the years and the feedback has been fairly consistent – keep learning,” Wagner said. “I want to teach at the collegiate level. Even with that long-term goal, I try not to focus too much on that far down the road. If I keep my eyes on that, I’ll miss being a part of the best things happening right now in front of me, the things I can control.”

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