Meet Management: Marketing Coordinator Kristin Johnson


The Upper Peninsula of Michigan is one of the world’s best kept secrets. Despite being home to an impressive 1,700 miles of continuous shoreline, one national park, the world’s largest wooden dome and four universities, the Upper Peninsula is commonly excluded or misrepresented on various maps of the United States.

If you are reading these words, there is a likelihood that you have tasted these splendors and have fostered a deep and personal connection to this pleasant peninsula.

Yoopers, native residents to the Upper Peninsula, are well known for their pride in the expansive blue shoreline of the Great Lakes and the coastal forest that accompanies it. The beauty that this mystical body of land offers is one that follows Yoopers throughout life, tugging at their heartstrings and calling them to return home.

After living away from the Upper Peninsula for 16 years, Innovate Marquette SmartZone is proud to welcome Marketing Coordinator Kristin Johnson home.


We live in a day and age where many find themselves trapped behind the colorful dancing lights of television and smartphone screens. Kristin Johnson, a marketing professional with a knack for bringing people together, has risen to the occasion.

As a self described professional planner, Kristin finds joy though creating spaces for people to experience authentic human connection. Hailing from Gladstone, MI, Kristin attributes her guiding principles of family and community to the unique culture that she was exposed to while growing up in the Upper Peninsula.

“Both of my grandparents lived within a mile of me. Family gatherings were very common. That was just typical for us. We got together every Sunday after church and had lunch as a family. We were all together for holiday gatherings and birthday parties. Looking back, I now realize how precious and unique that experience was.”

Her passion of bringing people together is extremely visible in both her personal and professional life. While living in Chicago, Kristin was known among her friends for organizing social gatherings including bridal showers, birthday parties, and a brunch club that has been meeting regularly for over six years.

“As you get older in life, it sometimes requires a little bit more effort to get together with your friends once husbands, wives, and babies get involved along with your career. I’ve just found you really need to make an effort to keep the people you love in your life. And I definitely make an effort to do that. I take pride in being the social organizer for my friends, not to say that I’m the only one, but honestly, planning a party for me can be sometimes just as much fun as the party itself.”

Through various conversations with Kristin, I have picked up on her quest for internal balance. Creating space for others is a very selfless venture and can be mentally and emotionally draining at times. In order to best serve others, one must do the best they can to first serve themself. Kristin finds this internal balance through her passions of trail running and getting lost in a good book.


Bidding farewell to the town you have called home for your entire life is difficult, plain and simple. Growing up in the Upper Peninsula, Kristin experienced an intense connection to the community that supported her and the wilderness that surrounded her. When it came to making the big college decision, Kristin attributes her confidence to take on the world to her strong relationship with her older brother.

“He’s that kind of typical older brother, always looking out for me, always encouraging me and supporting me. [On my behalf], he filled out a student athlete profile for Lewis University. I hadn’t even heard of the college yet, but then they contacted me and recruited me! We went down to visit [Lewis University] and absolutely fell in love with the campus. It [provided] a nice smaller community and is about an hour away from Chicago. So it wasn’t as intimidating for me to make that transition. I really fell into my groove at Lewis.”

A common thread throughout Kristin’s life story is her pursuit of community. Kristin was recruited as a student athlete to run cross country and track for Lewis University, and the team she found herself a part of made her instantly feel at home.

“A lot of people who go through college find their people. I was really blessed to be able to run track and cross country [at Lewis University], and that helped me to make new friends. I was surrounded by like minded people who share my passion [for running]. And it just really helped to make that transition a lot easier for me. I was nervous to leave home. I mean, the Upper Peninsula was really all that I had known.”

At Lewis University, Kristin majored in psychology with a minor in social work and human services. During her senior year of college, Kristin landed an internship at a local elementary school. It was during this time that Kristin met with a friend who was studying marketing, and the topic of community relations was brought up. This conversation ignited excitement within Kristin. Though pairing her social work and psychology background together with her creative marketing mindset, Kristin realized she could pursue her passion for developing community and giving back to others professionally.

“I had an internship the summer after I graduated with the Chicago Sky, a WNBA team in Chicago. This was really my initial foot in the door with community relations. We did a lot of really great work for the community through a lot of programs that are free to community members and children in the area. After my internship, that’s when I started working full time at the Chicago Fire, [a Major League Soccer Team]. This was really my entry into the field of marketing. After doing two years of community relations at the Chicago Fire and working really closely with the marketing team I was like, ‘Hey, I really liked that. Let’s learn a little bit more’. I was very thankful to transition into a more traditional marketing role at the Chicago Fire.”

Every single day was unique while working as a marketing associate for the Chicago Fire, and Kristin loved the challenge. Through coordinating mascot appearances, planning free community soccer clinics and overseeing game-day entertainment and marketing promotions, this job gave Kristin a lot of unique experiences. Looking back on her time spent at the Chicago Fire, Kristin is thankful for the great friendships she made, creative marketing skills she developed and getting to enjoy the best seats in the house.

But then, Kristin had an epiphany.

“I had this moment where I realized there aren’t pro sports teams in the Upper Peninsula and this might not be a long term career path for me. I had known for a long time that I wanted to return home [to the Upper Peninsula].”

This important realization led Kristin to spend the next seven years working for Spark Foundry, a large advertising agency headquartered in Chicago. At Spark Foundry, Kristin specialized in paid advertising and was surrounded by an incredibly talented team.

One of Kristin’s favorite projects while working for Spark Foundry was the Discover “Eat It Forward” initiative which is awarding $5 million for Black-owned restaurants who were impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was a really beautiful campaign and made me feel proud of my work. It’s nice to be able to give back, and thankfully a large corporation like Discover Card has the resources to do that. $5 million will go a long way!”


Kristin clearly found great success while living in Chicago. Evidence of her sense of belonging are the twelve years she spent in Chicago post graduation developing strong communities both professionally and personally. Despite finding all of this success, the Upper Peninsula was calling Kristin home.

“I’m thrilled to be back in the UP. It is obviously exciting to be closer to family but I am also looking forward to being a resource for local businesses and entrepreneurs. I also take pride in mentoring young professionals so working with the Invent@NMU team was one aspect that really drew me to this position.”

As Marketing Coordinator of Innovate Marquette SmartZone, Kristin is responsible for mentoring the Invent@NMU student marketing team and overseeing all of their client work.

Innovate Marquette SmartZone is honored to have Kristin Johnson as a team member. Upon Kristin’s hiring, Innovate Marquette SmartZone has officially brought home three yoopers through employment.


Does Kristin’s return north story inspire you to make the move back to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula? Well, you’re in luck! On Tuesday, Nov. 17 MTEC SmartZone and Innovate Marquette SmartZone will host Return North: virtual career fair for the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. To RSVP for yourself or your company go to and save your spot! Registration is due by November 5th, 2020.

About Micah Carroll – Micah Carroll is a student at Northern Michigan University studying environmental public relations & design. He has been employed at Invent@NMU as a marketing assistant since his first year of college. In his free time Micah enjoys rock climbing, walking slacklines and capturing memories via photography.