While growing up outside of Minneapolis, Minnesota, indications that Kelsey Dornfeld’s future would lead to military service were non-existent. Even though she had a grandfather who fought during World War II, she didn’t have much exposure to the military throughout her childhood, and she says most of her hobbies and interests were what most would consider typical for a young girl. “I grew up in Bloomington and had an average childhood. I was a ‘girly-girl,’” says Dornfeld, who is currently serving as a communications strategy and operations chief in the U.S. Marine Corps. “I did dance, theater, choir and tennis. I wasn’t really interested in the gym and stuff like that.”

In her junior year of high school, she started to look at what her post-graduation options were, and military service became more appealing. She says she wanted to pursue higher education, but the cost was prohibitive. An older sibling went through college the traditional route, and she witnessed their struggle with money throughout those years. She says she didn’t want to experience that struggle herself and started looking at the military as a more viable option. “I knew I wanted to help people, and I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to pay for college on my own,” says Dornfeld, a military-connected student at S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. “Out of all the branches, I thought the Marines would give me the best preparation and training.” She is currently in the second semester of the Military Visual Journalism program (MVJ) at Newhouse, a 10-month program that trains mass communications specialists from across the Department of Defense.

Acceptance to the year-long program is notoriously competitive, the service members selected to attend the program are typically some of the top performers in their respective military branches. While it’s a challenging program, it is also considered prestigious due to the invaluable education graduates walk away with after two semesters at Newhouse. “I didn’t think I was that good of a photographer coming here, but after doing more photography shoots, and working with my professors, I’ve definitely become more confident in my skills,” says Dornfeld. She recalls having struggled with imposter syndrome before coming to Syracuse, but last semester she participated in the Alexia Fall Workshop at Newhouse, and the experience of working with the caliber of coaches helped guide her through her photo story, “Finding His Voice.” Dornfeld says the program has been rewarding so far, if for no other reason than to focus on topics or subjects she wouldn’t normally have the opportunity to write about, or photograph, in the military.