TaQuinda Johnson on the Role of Asking ‘Why’ in Your Career

March 2024
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TaQuinda Johnson is an integrated communications and marketing practitioner who specializes in nonprofit, educational, faith-based and lifestyle sectors.

She currently serves as assistant director of communications for Oakland University, where her wide-ranging role includes coordinating and analyzing enrollment marketing and communication campaigns, and creating messaging for the Rochester, Mich.-based school.

Johnson previously worked as a social media specialist at her alma mater, Eastern Michigan University, where she continues as a guest lecturer. 

An active PRSA member, Johnson is this year’s Detroit Chapter president.

Here, she talks with Editor-in-Chief John Elsasser about her start in the profession, the importance of DEI, and the role of asking ‘Why’ in your career.

You graduated from Eastern Michigan University with a degree in public relations. Did you arrive on campus with that in mind as a career?

Actually, it wasn’t something I was thinking about pursuing at first. I went to Eastern Michigan originally as a secondary vocal music teacher and then switched to secondary English. It was during this time that I started providing public relations voluntarily for a Christian entertainment production company. 

I enjoyed it so much and knew it was my calling. I immediately changed my major.  

What initially inspired you to serve as a volunteer leader within PRSA?

I always say that I am a product of PRSA. I was a member of PRSSA at Eastern Michigan University. Through PRSSA, I received an inside look into the many benefits and what it’s truly like to get involved with PRSA. 

You are the first Black woman to serve as the Detroit Chapter’s president. What does this distinction mean for you?

According to statistics, 7% of PR and communications professionals are Black. Representation matters, and I am honored to stand in this position to lead the charge. 

I stand on the shoulders of many before me who have sacrificed and endured so much for the betterment of not just our profession but also our culture.

Being in this role is not about me, but it’s about being the catalyst for change we desire to see within our profession. It’s about showing others who look just like me that they, too, can achieve their goals and be the change they desire to see. 

I often say to the team here in Detroit that we may not control what’s happening outside Detroit, but change begins in our own backyard. 

Who have been some of your leadership role models within PRSA?

My two role models within PRSA would be [longtime professors at Eastern Michigan University] Lolita Cummings, APR, and the late Melissa Motschall. They served as my mentors and advisors at EMU. They introduced me to PRSA as a student and continued to be pillars in my journey as a professional. 

What are some of the broader communications-related topics that you’re discussing at the Detroit Chapter in these early months of 2024?

This year, some of the topics that are at the forefront for the Detroit Chapter have been the use of AI within our profession, the effect on the profession, and the change we want to see when it comes to DEI and mental health within the profession, to name a few. 

You are the assistant director of communications at Oakland University in Oakland County, Mich. What are some of your responsibilities in that role? Is there a typical day for you?

I am responsible for the communications and marketing efforts to prospective and transfer students. Each line of communication — from publications to the development and execution of the social media efforts for the Department of Admissions — rests in my care.  

I always say that no day is the same at OU!

How do you collaborate with other departments within the university to ensure cohesive communication efforts?

From an admissions standpoint, we have monthly meetings with the various departments regarding their recruitment efforts and how we can assist. 

Out of these meetings, we conduct academic visit days and send out various communications to prospective students on their behalf. This ensures that the messaging is cohesive. 

You have a master’s in integrated marketing and communications from Eastern Michigan University. Why did you decide to pursue an advanced degree? 

I always had a desire to go after an advanced degree. I was drawn to the integrated marketing and communications program at EMU because the program catered to the working professional. I always desired to elevate my skills in public relations and this program was the perfect fit for me. 

Working in a higher-education environment, what advice do you have to share with communications students and the next generation of PR professionals?

For those who are interested in going into higher education, I would recommend that you have a passion for it and truly realize the bigger picture. Our profession can be selfless; it’s so important for us as professionals to remember our “Why.” 

When obstacles come your way and work gets hard, always remember your “Why.” Why did you go into the profession? Who is relying on you to answer the call to this profession? Someone’s passion or calling is connected to your answer and to your “Why.”

What advice would you go back and tell yourself as a student?

Give yourself a little grace. Enjoy the ride and always keep your “Why” in the forefront. 

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