Latest News

How the liberal arts instilled curiosity, boldness, and fearlessness in a history and Japanese student — and carried her from USA Today to Hollywood red carpets

Author: Carrie Gates

Thompson Plourde With Brad PittArienne Thompson Plourde ’04 interviews Oscar-winner Brad Pitt at the global premiere of Fury in Washington, D.C., in 2015.

For Arienne Thompson Plourde ’04, the first step toward a successful journalism career was to study history and Japanese.

Although it might seem an unlikely combination for an aspiring journalist, it gave her a strong foundation to build on — and just as importantly, four years to study what she loved.

After spending a decade as an entertainment reporter for USA Today and on-air contributor to NBC’s Today Show, followed by five years in public relations, Thompson Plourde is now a content creator at Google and adjunct professor at Georgetown University — where she encourages her students to spend their own undergraduate years exploring their interests.

“I remind them that they have the rest of their lives to work,” she said. “But for these four years, your job is to be curious and to dabble in this and that — maybe you’ll discover that you love Japanese or Arabic or art history. This is the time to branch out and to be whoever you want to be.”

“For these four years, your job is to be curious and to dabble in this and that — maybe you’ll discover that you love Japanese or Arabic or art history. This is the time to branch out and to be whoever you want to be.”

‘Know more about everything’

Thompson Plourde Today Show 2Thompson Plourde appears on the Today Show in 2014 for her regular "Ticket to Hollywood" segment

Thompson Plourde came to Notre Dame with a yearning to “know more about everything.” The same curiosity and drive that eventually led her to journalism also inspired her to major in history.

“Being able to dive so deeply into history — and particularly African American history — felt like a luxury to me, because there is a lot that we as Black folks in America don’t know about our past,” she said. “Africa is so diverse and dynamic and my classes at Notre Dame really opened my eyes up to how beautiful and complex African history is.”

She found valuable mentors in the Department of History along the way, including associate professor Richard Pierce, who tapped Thompson Plourde to be his research assistant for his first book during her sophomore year.

“He taught me so much, not just about history, but about how to think and how to research,” Thompson Plourde said. “I was so grateful to have access to these great professors and to be able to have serious conversations with them.”

For her senior thesis in Pierce’s graduate-level civil rights course, she conducted independent research in her hometown of Memphis, examining how coverage of the U.S. civil rights movement varied in mainstream white newspapers versus Black newspapers in the 1960s. 

Completing the project, she said, was a formative moment that taught her perseverance, writing, and research skills that were vital to her career as a journalist.

‘Curiosity in a way that is productive’

Thompson Plourde Academy AwardsThompson Plourde on the red carpet at the 2015 Academy Awards in Los Angeles

Following her curiosity also led Thompson Plourde to minor in a foreign language. After being placed in a Japanese literature course her first year, Thompson Plourde was intrigued and began to study the language. She enjoyed it so much that she added the minor and spent a semester abroad in Tokyo.

The combination of her Arts and Letters coursework and international and research experiences gave Thompson Plourde a sense of confidence that has served her well, she said.

“Obviously, it takes a good amount of bravery to be a journalist, and my time at Notre Dame taught me to be a little bolder,” she said. “My liberal arts education also taught me to become even more curious — and how to pursue that curiosity in a way that is productive. Whether that’s writing a senior thesis or a news article, I learned to jump down the rabbit hole with intent.”

After graduation, Thompson Plourde worked for a year as a production assistant on Fox’s America’s Most Wanted TV show before earning a master’s degree in journalism from American University. She spent the next decade working her way up at USA Today, from online producer to multimedia entertainment journalist and on-camera talent.

She conducted celebrity interviews, wrote entertainment and lifestyle content, and covered live events like the Oscars, the Emmys, New York Fashion Week, and the White House Correspondents’ Dinner among dozens of others.

“I feel so fortunate in my career because all these experiences built on one another,” she said. “My editor saw that I could write a script, I could communicate with our video producers, and I was also pretty fearless on a red carpet — I knew how to have real conversations with people and not just bring back fluff, but real stuff.”

As she moved up to hosting her own video franchise for USA Today, “The DailyDish,” and began contributing regularly to the Today Show’s “Ticket to Hollywood” segment, Thompson Plourde also sought to deepen the conversation surrounding pop culture.

“I was looking for something a little more substantive to do within the entertainment world,” she said. “I wrote stories about race. I actually pioneered this beat on the intersection of race and pop culture, writing long features about things like, ‘where are all the Black actresses in Hollywood?’”

‘Immersed in the world of letters’

Thompson Plourde At Home2Thompson Plourde at home with her son August, who was named, in part, after iconic Black playwright August Wilson

Ten years later, Thompson Plourde was ready for a change and accepted a position as director of public relations for MoKi Media, a boutique firm in Washington, D.C. Though she says she will always be a reporter at heart, the position gave her valuable experience in what she terms “journalism’s mirror image.”

After spending five years at MoKi Media, Thompson Plourde is now working on Google’s Economic & Community Development team, in addition to her lecturer position within Georgetown’s journalism program. 

“Teaching is always something I wanted to do — I had so many professors that I admired and looked up to,” Thompson Plourde said. “I am really enjoying this new act in my career and working with these young people.”

Thompson Plourde, who is also a member of the Notre Dame Undergraduate Experience Advisory Council, encourages the many students she encounters to have the confidence to forge their own paths.

“There are so many experiences in those four years that shape who you become as an adult,” she said. “I’m a firm believer that you should let your interests guide you and find something you love. For me, I always knew that I wanted to be writing and thinking and reading — and being immersed in the world of letters. It was almost like breathing. What else could I have done?”

“I’m a firm believer that you should let your interests guide you and find something you love. For me, I always knew that I wanted to be writing and thinking and reading — and being immersed in the world of letters. It was almost like breathing. What else could I have done?”