Teresa Johnson

Teresa Johnson

Program Manager, Implementation & Engagement, National Multiple Sclerosis Society
San Diego, CA
B.A. Political Science, Mass Communications, 2013

"Be fearless and be relentless in your own pursuit of happiness. Don’t be afraid to be or feel different, and don’t follow a path just because someone else thinks you should. Focus on your own journey and make sure you know what it means to you to measure success and happiness, and only pay close attention to that."

Q&A with Teresa:

Describe your current educational or professional pursuits.

When I started with the National MS Society almost five years ago, I remember feeling extremely proud and excited, but also a little surprised. After all, I had gone to college to be in the broadcast world as a political correspondent and had all the intentions of making that my lifelong career. But, if there’s anything I’ve learned in and since college, you can’t always expect your original plan to stay the same, especially when you made that plan at 18. It’s a funny thing to make decisions that completely change your life trajectory without really realizing it, but that’s exactly what happened when I decided to divert from that path and go into nonprofit work. This started me on the most challenging and rewarding journey yet, working with and supporting people living with multiple sclerosis.

My current career is a perfect mix of things I enjoy and excel at, while offering me ways to continuously improve and evolve. My role allows me to flex my organizational and creative skills coordinating logistics and planning educational events, while fostering relationships within the healthcare community and managing a portfolio of stakeholders in the MS community. Most recently, I’ve had the privilege of being nominated and appointed to several national work teams dedicated to creating meaningful content and education to be implemented by healthcare partners across the country at the benefit of those living with MS. I’ve always believed that to whom much is given, much is required; for the future, I can only hope to always be in a position to continue giving and improving the lives of those around me.

How did your USD experience influence your career path?

The University of South Dakota has been an institution in my family all my life and influenced my development even before I stepped on campus as a student. USD shaped and educated my grandfather, both parents, and numerous aunts, uncles and cousins, who in turn instilled those same strong values and determinations in me throughout childhood and into my young adult years.

What I further learned while studying at USD and as a Mickelson Scholar, was the mindset of not only doing well but also, and perhaps more importantly, doing good. Because of my chosen majors, many of my classes incorporated a community service aspect. Whether I was creating a multi-platform news story about a local hero, passing a “bill” to support small business in a legislative class, or joining the Spanish tutor program, I was encouraged by the stellar USD professors to recognize problems and be a part of the solution. With each decision I’ve made since graduating, personally or professionally, I try to live that mentality, which I believe directly relates to the organization I’ve chosen to work for and the levels of success I’ve earned in my life so far. I am eternally grateful to those professors, the knowledge gained, and the university for those priceless experiences.

Tell us about your proudest achievement.

My proudest achievement is not one solitary moment or activity I can define, but more a state of being. It may sound cliché, but I am most proud of the place I’m in both professionally and personally. After graduating college and some of the best years of my life, I knew I wanted to keep that momentum and energy going to explore the world and put my USD education to work, so I moved out of my comfort zone to Nashville, TN and officially began my career in nonprofit public service.

Flash forward five years and, as one of the youngest on my team, I’ve been promoted numerous times, developed critical healthcare related programming, advocated at both the state and national levels for people with all levels of disabilities, and landed in southern California, directly impacting thousands of lives affected by MS daily. Most simply this means, every day, I can do work that supports and honors my mother, aunt, and everyone else figuring out what it means to live with multiple sclerosis, and that is certainly something I am proud of.

What was your USD experience like? Were you involved in any campus organizations or activities?

My time at the University of South Dakota was hugely and positively formative, largely due to my campus involvement. Always ready for new experiences and challenges, I immediately immersed myself in a variety of organizations and groups, many of which I maintained involvement with for all four years. For me, my collegiate growth not only happened in class, but also in those many moments between. I learned teamwork during my time on Coyote News, refined my leadership skills in the Golden Key and Order of Omega honor societies, and expanded my network studying abroad in five countries through ISA and the Farber Fund. I explored the value of diverse opinions and thought with the Political Science League and International Studies group, further developed patience and grace as a tutor, and became more organized and assertive planning recruitment and events in Greek Life with Alpha Phi.

Each organization I was involved with instilled a commitment to leading through service, which culminated in being presented the Elizabeth Lias Outstanding Senior award through the Political Science Department, an honor I was humbled to receive as I graduated. There are so many additional life lessons and positive experiences I’ve garnered through campus involvement and I’m grateful to have attended a university that offered me so many options to grow and succeed.

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