Former Post editor Cayla Smith talks representation, mental health and working in journalism

Dreaming and goal setting are instrumental in Oakland University alumna Cayla Smith’s post graduation mindset. The Post’s former campus editor, Smith currently works as a Multimedia Journalist for the College for Creative Studies (CCS) in downtown Detroit, and is attending graduate school at Syracuse University working toward her Master’s in Public Relations (PR).

Smith truly believes working at the Post during her senior year gave her the experience and assurance she needed to begin working professionally. Now, she’s the face behind most of CCS’ in-house stories.

“I feel like I became a better writer once I started working at the Post — writing stories each week, editing and watching the way other people wrote — I became a better writer that way,” Smith said. “I didn’t have confidence as a journalist until I started working at the Post. I wish I had more time to work there.”

When it comes to her PR aspirations, Smith is eager to work on campaign implementations and PR strategy — she realized her love for the field throughout college.

As a woman of color, Smith aspires to one day create a scholarship for minority students who want to get a job in the field — as minorities are certainly underrepresented in the communication and journalism realm. According to the Pew Research Center, 76% of newsroom employees are non-Hispanic white. Additionally, six in 10 newsroom employees are men.

“I remember writing on my application for Syracuse — I want to be that voice in a room,” Smith said. “[I want to be the one that says] the Kendall Jenner for Pepsi campaign can’t happen. I think getting my master’s can help me get there.”

Smith admires how her team at CCS is always striving to learn more about representation and race saying, “[they’re] learning and wanting to learn. There’s also lots of events on campus that help. You’re not the diversity quota they wanted on this team, you deserve to be there.”

Although she’s extremely successful and flourishing in the professional world today, Smith mentioned graduating without a job lined up brought on negative comparison and doubt. Her job offer at CCS came a few months after receiving her diploma.

During a time such as college graduation, there are lots of expectations — expectations to find your passion, harness your creativity, see success, move away and become independent, among many others. Feeling like you’re falling short in any of these areas can take a real toll.

“I was comparing myself to a lot of people who had jobs, moved to these big cities, or went on vacations post-graduation,” Smith said. “I was like — ‘oh my gosh, here I am just sitting in my room, and I’m not there yet.’ But you have to realize everyone is going at their own pace. Just be patient with yourself.”

Ultimately, Smith’s ambitious nature leads to her dreaming big — which makes her extremely fun and inspiring to talk to and hear about her goals. She eventually wants to move to New York City and work in entertainment PR.

“I always want better for myself and hold myself to high expectations. If I don’t reach a goal, I just rethink and reshape it,” Smith said. “Life is really short, and I want a lot of things out of it.”

After a really tough 2020, Smith is content with where she is today and looking forward to what’s next, saying she’s really glad she pushed through.

“At one point I thought, ‘I am never going to get past this moment,’ but I am past that moment — things do get better. College was a long four years. Experience what you can, but remember you have all the time you need to reach your goals.”