Jeff Gilbert: A Journey to Purpose

By Shelby McGuire

When Jeff Gilbert began as professor of Journalism at Cedarville University in 2009, he wasn’t just beginning a new era in his career, he was coming home. After a 22-year career in print journalism, Gilbert accepted an opportunity to return to his alma mater and give back to his community.

When he accepted the position at Cedarville, he didn’t know that this transition would be more than a new job. From that point, he would begin a new chapter of his life where all of his passions would come together to fulfill his life’s purpose. Over the last 11 years, his family has grown closer, his faith has strengthened and his work has impacted those around him.

Gilbert graduated from Cedarville in 1987 with a degree in Broadcasting and a focus in Journalism. In college, his initial interest was in radio, and he originally intended to pursue a radio career. But he was quickly disenchanted by the technical aspects of radio. He realized that he was more inclined to writing and reporting and began to envision a career in journalism.

In his senior year, Gilbert decided to explore this new idea. He reached out to a connection he had at the Springfield News-Sun newspaper hoping to gain experience in sports reporting. He was offered a clerical job for the paper where he took call-ins from local high school football and basketball games to record the scores and highlights.

After a few months of spending his Friday and Saturday nights in an office answering phones, he was sent to a soccer game to cover the story. Gilbert sat in the press box watching the two schools battle a tied score for most of the game. Near the end of the game, one team had finally scored a goal to break the tie. Now they only needed to hold their opponents for a few more moments to secure the win when the opposing team shot straight for the goal. But a scrappy defender saved the shot, and just like that the game was over, and Gilbert had the lead for his story. Another thing he had was a solidified direction for his career.

After graduation Gilbert accepted a job as a sports reporter in Strasburg, Virginia. He worked there for nine years, and during that time, he and his wife had three daughters. In his last three years in Strasburg, he was promoted to the position of sports editor. As the sports editor, he worked as a manager of content and a mentor to writers. He enjoyed this role, but eventually, it was time for a change.

A page designer position opened at The Roanoke Times, a larger paper in Virginia, and Gilbert welcomed the opportunity to expand his skillset. He worked night shifts on the sports section designing pages, planning sections, and editing content for a few years. The Roanoke Times covered several exciting sports cultures from Virginia college sports, to NASCAR racing. He was then promoted to assistant sports editor, and then eventually head sports editor where he oversaw the Roanoke Times sports pages for four years.

Meanwhile, in 2008, Cedarville University was organizing an advisory board in preparation to offer a journalism program. The university asked Gilbert to be a member on the advisory board, and the board met to discuss course material and class offerings for the program. After the board meeting, he returned home without giving it a second thought — until he came across a job posting for the position online a few months later. He realized that with his experience, he fit the requirements for the position.

Now he was interested. He inquired about the position and applied. Over the next few months, he went through the interview process and was offered the job. With three teenage daughters at home and a whole life and career in Virginia, it was a difficult decision for Gilbert to accept the job. But he took the leap and accepted the opportunity to move closer to family and use his experience and gifts to mentor students.

Gilbert learned early in his reporting career that he had a heart for mentoring others and teaching skills. The classroom is a good fit for him, and he says that he enjoys working with his students and teaching them to be better writers and reporters. Maddy Mosher, senior Journalism major, says, “He has turned me into a good writer. I understand the way a news story works and how to be a good and ethical journalist because of him. I succeeded in my internship this summer because of him.” She also describes him as “relaxed and approachable … I enjoy his personality — he’s kind and funny and wants you to do well.”

Along with mentoring in the classroom, he also coaches high school golf and junior high basketball. In 2009, Gilbert not only began his career as a professor, but he also got involved in freelance reporting for the Springfield News-Sun and Dayton Daily News on high school sporting events. Gilbert says that this has been the biggest blessing of all in a way, because he is able to give back to the community where he grew up and found his love for storytelling. He said, “I grew up here. Sports has been something I’ve always been passionate about and storytelling is my biggest passion … and I get to give back to my past. Even if people read my stories and don’t know my name, I don’t care, it means a lot to me.”

Gilbert has also served on several overseas missions trips both through Cedarville and Grace Baptist church. Missions was something that he always had a heart for, but never had the opportunity and calling to go until moving to Cedarville.

Gilbert said he is thankful for all of the opportunities that God has brought together in his life: “All the things I ever wanted to do, I get to do all at the same time.”

Shelby McGuire is a junior Professional Writing & Information Design major and arts & entertainment news co-editor for Cedars. She enjoys working out as well as feeding her caffeine addiction pretending that she has her life together.

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