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New Student Feature: Meet Jacqueline Leeker

New Student Feature with Jacqueline Leeker, M.S. IMC

Meet Jacqueline Leeker, Deputy Director, Public Affairs for the U.S. Forces Korea. She’s currently located in Pyeongtaek, South Korea and will be starting the M.S. Integrated Marketing Communications program in the DINFOS cohort this Spring semester!

Why did you choose to pursue a WVU Marketing Communications graduate degree?

As someone who has been in the public affairs and crisis communication field going on 14 years, I was really struggling to find a program that was flexible to my schedule. I work a lot more than 40 hours a week, and am on call nights and weekends. Being in South Korea, makes it difficult to participate in classes as most occur in the middle of the night. West Virginia University has a great relationship with the Department of Defense and specifically Defense Information School. WVU's program accepted professional military communication training towards the degree, and have been incredibly supportive of the additional demands and need for a flexible work schedule.

What are your interests outside of Marketing Communications?

I am really passionate about leadership and mentorship. People are influential leaders at every level. Working for the Department of Defense, one of the largest employers in the world, can often feel bureaucratic and complex.

Two things set us apart, our determination to always do better and the diversity of our team. I think about the mix of people – our military, our civilians, (being in Korea) our Korean Nationals, our contractors, and our international teammates. If you added all our years of experience together, just in our building, it would be at least 5,000 years. Those experiences are incredibly varied, but at the core you’ll find a deep devotion to democracy, selfless service and sacrifice.

Simon Sinek’s voice is always in the back of my mind with the quote, “Leadership is not a license to do less. Leadership is a responsibility to do more.” Our teams and people deserve the best, so I work really hard to try to continuously learn, ask questions, and try new things.

I absolutely love to travel. COVID of course put a huge limit on the ability to travel internationally. I still have Australia, New Zealand, and Singapore on my bucket list, but it's given me a chance to see what an incredibly gorgeous country South Korea is. If you're not familiar with South Korea's beauty, I recommend doing a quick google image search of: Jeju Island, Nami Island, Seoraksan National Park, Gyeongju and Busan. Traveling compliments my love of photography. I think i'm happiest on an early morning in nature with a coffee and long exposure shot waiting to come in. A moment to pause and take it all in.

I've also been volunteering, fostering, and serving on executive boards for dog rescues for more than 10 years. It's a beautiful way to have your heart broken but then faith restored, and also make friends for life from all backgrounds, who have the biggest hearts.

What are you most looking forward to throughout your studies?

I can't wait to hear about new ideas, and perspectives, and challenge previous ways of thinking or doing things. I worry that if I get too far away from education, from inspiration, from new ways of thinking, that I'm not challenging myself, and that I’ll become stagnate and out of the loop.

How do you hope your degree will advance your career after graduation?

Ever since I was younger, my dad and I have had discussions about education vs. experience in the workplace. Without experience, a degree shows someone that you can commit to longterm projects, work with teams, and you have the motivation and dedication to improve yourself. I'll hire for entry level positions and interns, applicants who are just out of college in a heartbeat, because they demonstrate those characteristics.

I'll also hire based on experience alone, some positions in the communication field are technical and require certifications and the skillsets are complex. As a hiring professional, I would take the experience over the education.

A great balance is education with experience, to put theories and ideas into practice. They compliment each other. I have an expectation of myself in a leadership position to have both the experience but the education to compliment that experience. Im fearful of falling behind my peers, and of not staying up to date on an ever-changing and demanding communication field. I hope this degree will help me stay relevant, continue to build a really great network of peers, and be inspired by colleagues and professors.

What are your New Year’s Resolutions?

I’m an avid reader and I'm a little worried that between the news, media reports for work, and school work, that I will not want to read for fun. If I don't want to reach, I’ll listen to one audio book a month.

In the past six months, my recommendations would be:

  • The Open Hearted Way to Open Adoption by Lori Holden- I'm a birth mom and have an amazing open relationship with my daughter, her parents, and our families. This book gives some really beautiful insight on experiences and recommendations from all points of view.
  • Atomic Habits by James Clear- A book on habit formation, and tools on how to change habits
  • The Storyteller by Dave Grohl - I had no idea Dave Grohl was from Northern Virginia! What I consider one of my hometowns (grew up in a Navy family). He is a great storyteller! You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll hear about Nirvana, being a parent, the Foo fighters, and music is intermixed beautifully
  • A River in Darkness by Brian Nishii - Memoir and harrowing true story of a life and escape from North Korea. I still have a hard time comprehending just how strong the human spirit can be.
  • The 2020 Commission Report of the North Korean Nuclear Attacks Against The United States *A Speculative Novel* by Jeffrey Lewis - This is written from the point of view as if a Nuclear Attack has occurred, and a commission is reviewing what happened. Let's just say the authors know their stuff.
  • Green Lights by Matthew McConaughey - I've kept journals all my life and love how he looked back on his own journals to tell stories, sharing unconventional wisdom and hard learned lessons about living with greater satisfaction. How to hurt people less. How to get hurt less. How to have more fun. Yellow and red lights in life... eventually turn green.

My current books:

  • No Cure for being Human by Kate Bowler- diagnosed with Stage 4 Cancer, she wrote a blog about how doctors encouraged her to create a bucket list. She was tired, she was sick. She created the opposite.. a list of all the places she had been, the people she loved, the things she was grateful for. Life is beautiful and terrible, full of hope and despair, there's no cure for being human.
  • Rethink Creativity by Monica Kang - stories, strategies, and thought-provoking questions to help change routines, be innovative, creative, have fun and really lead a team, to create spaces for them to feel safe and authentic... you'd be amazed what a team like that can accomplish! She's got a couple podcasts that are really fun to listen to as well!

Oh! My second resolution is to keep going to therapy. Suicide in society, and suicide rates in the military, it's all overwhelming, it's devastating, that loss stays with you forever. When overwhelmed by large societal concerns I ask myself.. ok what part do I play in this? What do I contribute to? What can I change? Especially in the military, and I think in our society, behavioral health and therapy is for people in crisis, but what if we made it as regular as an annual exam? If everyone goes, it's not taboo.

I'm in a good place in my life, but I can always learn better coping mechanisms, it helps to have a sounding board and outside perspective, an opportunity to address personal struggles, personal trauma, to improve upon relationships - even if they're already good!

WVU offers tele-therapy options for students, it's amazing! I tell everyone about it. I tell everyone I’m in therapy once a week. I want to normalize it, not make it taboo, learn new tools for myself, and I want others to have those tools available to them before they reach a crisis point.

Reading and therapy, those sound like good goals for the year!

Connect with Jacqueline

I love to write about leadership on LinkedIn

My instagram is pretty much a Korea travel blog at this point:  @jleeker421

If anyone is interested in the amazing stories of the missions of our service members and teammates in South Korea:

If anyone has any questions about the amazing communication career opportunities worldwide with the DoD as a civilian, or just want to reach out and connect about any of the topics I mentioned, my WVU e-mail is

Interested in growing your career with a master's degree in Data, Digital or Integrated Marketing Communications? Request more information today!

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