Alumni Spotlight: Melanie Pace Johnson, '90, President and CEO of Collaborative for Children
It’s not too difficult to imagine Melanie Johnson as a cheerleader. She’s tall, poised, and has a broad and welcoming smile. And as busy as she is, she greets us warmly and puts her schedule on hold to talk with us about her Auburn experience as a student, and what she has been doing since she left the Plains.
Originally from Tuskegee, Alabama, Johnson graduated from Auburn in 1990 with a degree in International Trade – French. Her Auburn experience immersed her in many of the things she was most passionate about, including cheerleading (later turned AU Singer), business, and French.
“I decided to attend Auburn ironically as a cheerleader who went to Auburn University for cheerleading camp each summer. I thought the level of spirit engagement that I found at Auburn University was insurmountable. I mean, it’s absolutely incomparable to anything that I had ever experienced as a cheerleader. I saw people wearing orange and blue t-shirts who were cheering on teams when teams weren't even playing,” Johnson mused.
Even though she was conflicted about giving it up, Johnson hung up her cheerleading pom-poms and joined the AU Singers her freshman year.
“I absolutely loved performing on stage,” Johnson said of her four years as an AU Singer. “I have some amazing memories.”
With her passion for performance satiated as an AU Singer, Johnson delved into the business side of her interests.
“I always felt that I had a business acumen, and I knew didn’t want to necessarily just work in trade domestically. I loved the idea of working in international trade, incorporating some of my interests of travel, learning about other people, and just being a global citizen,” Johnson said.
After graduation, Johnson began working for a freight forwarding company named Daher, which traded with France. Johnson was able to use her language skills and what she learned in international trade by preparing documentation for shipping items overseas.
After working at Daher for a few years, she and her husband decided to start a family and, according to Johnson, had “two of the most amazing creatures who had ever walked the planet earth.”
When Johnson began volunteering in their sons’ schools, she noticed some deficiencies that she felt compelled to address. “I saw a lot of things that I was so intrigued by and wanted to do more of. And I saw some gaps, some things that I wanted to improve upon. So I ended up going back to school and getting a doctorate in education, and the rest was history.”
Johnson is now president and CEO of Collaborative for Children – an agency in Houston, Texas, that provides direct services to improve the quality of early childhood education through childcare centers throughout the 13-county region. The nonprofit’s mission includes working with parents, educators, and local leaders to ensure children are ready to succeed throughout school and in the long term.
Although Johnson doesn’t work in international trade anymore, she says that her foundation in liberal arts has served her well, and she actively encourages others to pursue a similar degree – especially when it comes to learning another language.
“If you only speak the language of one group of people, or one community, it only affords you the opportunities in that one group, in that one segment. But learning the culture as well as the language of other people gives you the opportunity to not only have more job availability and those kinds of financial opportunities, but to know more people and to understand your value in other communities that might not be valued in the one that you currently exist.”
Johnson said that language is still vital to her current work.
“Collaborative for Children works to get early learners to embrace their home language as well as the language of that school, which can be a different language, especially here in Texas. There are a lot of second-language learners.”
In response to being asked what kind of advice she would give current students at Auburn, she said, “I would give the same advice I gave to my sons – major in liberal arts. You will have a plethora of opportunities to reinvent yourself and to continuously build upon that foundation. So, to those hesitating to major in liberal arts or to attend Auburn, I would suggest that you eradicate your fears, walk out on faith and enjoy that Auburn experience because it’s very welcoming and you learn so much – you grow so much – because you get to understand the bigger world at large.”
Written by Vicky Santos | director, news & media services | College of Liberal Arts | Auburn University
Video by Brandon Etheredge | director, multimedia services | College of Liberal Arts | Auburn University
Last Updated: September 10, 2019