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Instructor inspires students

Published: Sunday, April 14, 2013

Updated: Sunday, April 14, 2013 21:04


After passing numerous advertisements hanging in the hall, one stumbles into a room on the fifth floor of Warf-Pickel Hall.

The walls are gold with a speckled overlay of pale yellow that looks as if it was applied with a sponge.

Immediately upon entering the room, one is confronted by the Leo Burnett quote that dominates the wall opposite the door. The quote speaks to the importance of creativity in advertising and reads: I am one who believes that one of the greatest dangers of advertising is not that of misleading people, but that of boring them to death.

This office belongs to DJ Jessee, an ETSU alumna who, after spending about 20 years as a professional advertising copywriter, returned to her alma mater to teach. Since returning, Jessee has been thoroughly involved in the ever-evolving mass communication curriculum.

Jessee spent most of her childhood moving from place to place with her family.

“I am basically an army brat,” Jessee said. “I had the opportunity back in the ‘50s and ‘60s to get to live in a variety of different places in this country and overseas.”

When her father retired from the army, her family moved back to Tennessee.

“My father had a huge family — 13 brothers and sisters,” Jessee said. “My mother, on the other hand, only had her mother living in France, and her mother was and still is a very independent woman living on her own. So, it just made sense for us to come here [Tennessee]. My mother wanted me raised as an American.”

Moving from place to place gave Jessee a unique perception of the world, one that by and large was not present in Tennessee at the time her father retired and the family moved to Tennessee.

“I lived in a very cosmopolitan, vibrant area of the military, and when we moved back here in the mid-60s, this was somewhat of a shock. My mother, to this day, speaks with a pretty heavy accent. And so, we, my mother and I, were always considered outsiders.”

Jessee knew from her experience living in several areas of the world that life was much more eclectic than Tennessee.

Her experiences allowed her to gain a global perception of the world at an early age, and she has spent most of her life ever since trying to communicate that global perception of the world at the local level.

“I can truly say that it was hurtful when you were the kid at school being the odd man out, obviously,” Jessee said, “but I also had wonderful opportunities to talk to my classmates and to show them a different world than most of them had ever contemplated. And I enjoyed that position. It’s funny, but I still have a remnant of that little girl who is constantly trying to show people that, ‘Wow, that’s a really interesting perspective, but that’s not the only one on the face of the Earth.’”

Jessee’s parents thought that getting a college education was very important. However, her family’s middle-class status meant that traveling out of the state for college was out of the question.

“My mother was very excited that we had moved to a community that had a college,” Jessee said. “And she was very supportive of my coming [to ETSU].”

Jessee has always loved to write; however, she was oblivious to the variety of careers she could pursue with the intent to write for a living.

Her mother helped her  discover the plethora of writing opportunities she could pursue.

She came to ETSU in pursuit of a bachelor’s degree in journalism. After she discovered that she did not enjoy merely reporting the facts, she took classes in psychology and broadcasting before graduating in 1979.

“While I was here in journalism, and fell in love with journalism, I recognized that I had a propensity to not just cover the facts of the story, but I wanted to editorialize and embellish,” Jessee said. “And journalism is just too confining for me.”

While involved in broadcasting at ETSU, she discovered her love for writing advertising copy, which gave her the initial thought that she could be an advertising copywriter. However, it was not until later that she was given the chance to pursue her dream of being a copywriter.

Jessee had worked for Watson’s Department store from the age of 16. She was given the opportunity to meet the family that owns the store.

“When I graduated [with my bachelor’s degree], I wrote him and went down to Knoxville and had a lunch with him,” Jessee said. “And his wife happened to be the chief copywriter for Lavidge and Associates, which at that time was one of the largest advertising agencies in the Southeast. It was through that connection … that I got my first job as a copywriter.”

Jessee worked at Lavidge and Associates from 1979-1985, first working directly with the chief copywriter and then moving to a broadcast-oriented position at the firm. She partnered with her then-husband in 1985 to create the Roberts and Russell advertising firm, where she worked as chief copywriter from 1985-1986.

After divorcing her husband, Jessee moved back to Johnson City and started looking for work.

She could not find a job, so she decided to start her own business in 1987, where she worked as creative director, personnel manager and account manager.

She sold her business in 1999 and started teaching advertising courses at ETSU.

“I had sold my company on June 1, and on June 15, I get a phone call from Jack [Mooney] saying that the professor in charge of the advertising courses had taken a better offer … at Appalachian State,” Jessee said. “And at that point in time, there was just one professor for all of the [advertising] classes, and that there was nobody [at ETSU] to teach the classes in the fall.”

Jessee has been working for the university ever since and has had a great impact on many students.

“DJ is an amazing person and teacher,” said Matt Stacy, one of Jessee’s current students. “She has always been willing to make the extra effort to help me with anything that I need and constantly encourages me to push myself.”

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