Published on Feb. 8, 2023
It was the fall semester of 2020. The height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Upon stepping into the makeshift media room to record her first ever podcast in the Center for Academic Success & Excellence (CASE), MU senior Janae Taylor, a sophomore at the time, didn’t realize what was in store for her. A simple microphone would change the trajectory of her career path. Through her drive for success and guidance from CASE, she found her crowd, her voice, and even herself.
At the beginning of her college education, Janae struggled with trying to navigate being a Black woman at a predominantly white institution (PWI). In the interest of finding community at MU, Janae accepted a position as a marketing intern for CASE under the direction of Fallon Smith, former CASE marketing director. This opportunity and relationship with Smith would change Janae’s life for the better, eventually leading Janae to achieve a prominent role at Lids.
Throughout her CASE internship, with Smith mentoring her, Janae was given the opportunity for full creative control while being able to explore social media management, marketing, and podcasting. Along with this, Janae was also able to explore networking opportunities and grow interpersonal relationships with other scholars and interns. However, one of the most noteworthy relationships built within this internship was with Smith.
“Fallon is like a working mom,” Janae said. “That’s what I like to call her, but she’s a working mom for all of us [interns]. I know everyone has their own relationship with her. I would say she’s like a second mom, or like my auntie or something, but I would say Fallon is someone I can consider family at this point. We are extremely close. She’s been there for me a lot, and not only for career status and educational purposes, but for personal reasons, too.”
Though transitioning to a PWI as a Black woman proved to be challenging, it was nothing Janae wasn’t willing to conquer.
“She was hesitant at first, struggled early on, then quickly made it her own and didn’t need much of my assistance,” Smith said. “I really believe she found her confidence and her voice through the podcast. Those two years behind the mic I witnessed a growth that didn’t just permeate through the podcast but translated into her becoming a leader in everything she does.”
Janae sometimes felt like not having attended a HBCU meant she was missing something from Black culture, though Janae urges other underrepresented minority students to “try and find your crowd,” with people that understand your upbringing and how you view the world. As a Black woman, Janae advises other students to “make yourself known” in a crowd, get to know your professors, sit in the front of the class and when you see an opportunity — take it. This advice proves to be successful, as Janae has made her mark on her community and through her work opportunities.
Born and raised in St. Louis, Mo., Janae grew up as a middle child, often looking up to her older sibling while being an ideal role model for her younger sibling. The Taylor family was raised in the world of sports, and according to Janae’s father, Johnny Taylor, this background has taught Janae important life lessons. Taylor claims that Janae’s social adaptability has helped her decide what career path to pursue, which is marketing and social media. Also described by her father as his little “firecracker,” Janae has always put her best foot forward.
“As a parent you try to instill in kids a good work ethic, so they try to do better than you in different ways,” Taylor said. “It could be personally, professionally and things like that. But she’s impressed me because everything that she’s set out to do, she’s achieved.”
When applying for colleges, Janae was torn between the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and the University of Texas. Being one of three children in the family, Janae’s finances were a factor in her college decision, and the George C. Brooks Scholarship was the deciding component in coming to MU.
The Brooks Scholarship has helped Janae and the entire Taylor family. Janae’s father made it a point to have his children go to college without the added stress of paying off years of loans, and this scholarship aided in that endeavor. Along with this, to eliminate other financial burdens, Janae took it upon herself to become an RA to have housing costs completely covered.
When getting to college, Janae had a wide variety of interests. Janae always knew she wanted to pursue journalism, however, narrowing down which path she wanted to take proved difficult. At first, Janae wanted to pursue sports broadcasting, but then she made the decision to switch her emphasis from broadcast to social media with a business minor.
Delving into the specifics of her business minor, finance, accounting and statistics, allowed her to realize her true passion for management and marketing.
At the end of her junior year, Janae landed a highly competitive internship with Lids during summer 2022 in Indianapolis. Janae describes the internship as an “unexpected surprise,” filled with building relationships in a work environment where she could do what she does best: Being creative. Throughout her internship, Janae and her fellow interns were tasked with creating a brand new hat concept. The winning team would have their dream hat become a reality by having it sold in Lids’ stores.
Janae and her group of interns immediately got to work on creating a hat that Lids has never seen before. Thinking about what she would want in a hat, Janae thought of a product that offered textured hair protection. This idea spring-boarded her team’s inspiration for “Elevate,” the brand name of hats designed with a poly-satin lining for textured hair, corduroy cashmere fabric, a leather under brim and a leather buckle.
She and her group presented the pitch to Lids marketing coordinators. Through her first major internship, Janae led her group to create the Lids brand’s first hat made for textured hair which is set to release this year.
Her success throughout both CASE and Lids has led Janae to landing a full-time marketing coordinator position for Lids the minute she graduates from MU. Janae’s accomplishments have not only motivated her to continue working hard, but she has also become an inspiration to Smith.
“Janae has inspired and motivated many of my interns with her work ethic and her grind – they truly look up to her,” Smith said. “But she’s also inspired me in many ways. Our relationship is truly unique and special to me. She trusts me. She knows I will listen and never judge. The bond we share motivates me to do my best to form similar bonds and trust with my other interns. But most importantly – Janae’s successes are a constant reminder and prime example of why I do what I do. I’m inspired to never stop.”
Janae is graduating MU having found her power and voice through the bonds she creates with others and herself. Janae’s father has a lasting message for her, echoing the sentiments of others who have witnessed the woman she has become today: “You’re doing well baby, just keep it up.”