UT Alumna to host guest lecture series for the Tombras School of Advertisement and Public Relations
Chandra Hayslett (‘97) is a Pulitzer Prize-winning communications executive and vice president of communications at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, but when she first stepped foot onto the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, campus, her eyes were on a different field of study.
“I wanted to be a doctor,” Hayslett said.
While in school, one of her favorite subjects was biology. However, she said she struggled in her freshman year chemistry course and she knew she had to switch majors.
For about a year, her major was undecided until she took an African American Studies course (now known as Africana Studies), chose that field of study as her major, and graduated in 1997. In addition to her studies, Hayslett was involved in many student organizations that complemented her major and her interest in politics.
“If I had to do it all over again, I would go back to UT. I had such a rich experience there,” she explained. “I was a member of the Student Government Association. By the time I was a senior, I was president of the campus NAACP. I was a member of Bridge Builders, which turned into Finding Our Common Understandings and Strengths (FOCUS).
Hayslett was also a student life reporter her junior year and the editor-in-chief for The Daily Beacon her senior year, which were her entries into the communications field.
Hayslett said, “I had decided my junior year that I enjoyed reporting, enjoyed journalism, and that I would become a reporter after graduation. So I got an internship at The Commercial Appeal in my hometown of Memphis that summer, and went on to work at The Jackson Sun in Jackson, Tennessee, for two and a half years.”
She mainly covered kindergarten through twelfth grade education at The Jackson Sun before moving to New Jersey, where she worked for three separate newspapers including The Home News & Tribune, Asbury Park Press, and The Star-Ledger. Overall, Hayslett spent eleven years as a reporter before making the switch to public relations.
“I’m on the other side of news now, kind of selling news stories, but still working with reporters every day trying to convince reporters why they should write about either my client or this mission driven work that I’m working on because I’ve done both agency and nonprofit,” she said.
Hayslett spent the past 12 years in public relations, working at numerous public relations agencies and nonprofits. She worked as director of communications at the Center for Constitutional Rights, where she led the overall development of strategic communications, before moving into her current role at the Joint Center.
Hayslett has joined with the Tombras School of Advertisement and Public Relations to host a lecture series for College of Communication and Information students this spring semester to encourage and answer questions from those interested in the communications field. Topics will include interview tips, job tips, and how to navigate politics in a newsroom. Additional information about each lecture will be publicized throughout the semester.
Hayslett said, although her degree from UT is not in communications, the experiences she was able to gain through on-campus organizations allowed her to realize her passions. Her degree in African American Studies now goes hand-in-hand with the work she does at the Joint Center, a think tank that provides actionable policy solutions for the full freedom of Black Americans.
“Everyone needs communications, whether it’s corporations, nonprofits, agencies—every industry needs someone to tell their story. So whether you are actually telling the story from a reporter standpoint or helping to shape the story from a public relations standpoint, all industries need that,” she said.