Ball State First Lady Jennifer Mearns reminded students to keep an open mind during her talk Thursday night. 

“As a society, we try to plan too much,” she told students. “I think it’s really important to be open-minded, to see where things lead you. Get that first job, don’t worry what it is. … Get a job, because you need to live, and make the most of that job.”

Mearns has first-hand experience in that area.

After graduating from Bryant College in Rhode Island, Mearns moved to New York City, and was denied the first job she applied for with a racing company due to lack of experience in the field. 

She started working at an insurance agency, volunteering on the side with the local road runners club and networking with the people she met.

“Really, I pushed my way in,” she said. “One day I got a call from somebody and they said, ‘There’s a job open at Madison Square Garden.’”

Mearns got the job as a public relations assistant while learning about the industry from the director. She would ask for extra work in order to gain the necessary skills.

“Be a sponge,” Mearns said. “Don’t just do your job. Once [you've done your job], go and find out what other people are doing. Get to know them, get to know how they got into their job, and get to know what skills you need to acquire in order to be prepared in one of those roles.

“Those first couple years in your career are to learn as much as you can. You work really hard and you try to take on more than you’re supposed to take on, and you look for new opportunities.”

That’s what Mearns did: She took the opportunity to network with everyone who passed through “the bowels of the Garden.” She worked with the public relations staff of every act who passed through the arena.

This led to her next job: Traveling with the Men’s International Professional Tennis Council, currently the ATP Tour, as the media liaison.

Her job included getting advance stories in place, working with local public relations staff, giving all the updated player information and scheduling post-match press conferences. She traveled across the globe, sometimes running events where people spoke very little English.

Mearns left the public relations industry in 1997, after learning she was pregnant with twins. In 2003, she started her own business, JPM Consulting Services, a virtual company that deals in recruiting for businesses. The job’s flexibility works well with her husband’s, she said.

The transition to recruiting was easy because the skills she learned in public relations are transferable to many fields.

“No matter what you’re doing, it’s important to communicate,” Mearns said.

Carli Hines, a sophomore public relations major who attended Mearns’ lecture, said keeping an open mind was the most important takeaway.

“You can’t expect to get the highest-paying job right out of college,” Hines said. “You need to be willing to get a lower-paying job and get experience first.”

Mearns’ lecture was part of the Department of Journalism’s Professional in Residence series, which brings experts to campus to teach students about insights and opportunities that await them after graduation. 

The Ball State chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America, PRSSA, also helped organize the lecture.

“Bringing in professionals allows student to get that experience as well as learn what hard skills they need to work to improve while in school, like writing," said Derek Heim, a junior public relations major and the vice president of PRSSA. "We bring in professionals to give students the information we don’t necessarily get in the classroom.” 

Heim said it “just made sense to ask the first lady of the university to speak about her experience” after hearing about Mearns’ professional background.

After the lecture, Mearns summarized the advice she would give to a student of any major. 

“It’s OK to not know what you’re going to do,” she said. “It’s OK if the first job you get isn’t exactly what you want. And keep pushing to get where you want to go.” 

Contact Alexandra Smith with comments at ajsmith@bsu.edu