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    Alan Jenkins

    While working as a program officer at the Ford Foundation, Alan Jenkins was troubled by the widespread failure to acknowledge the hurdles to opportunity that many people in the United States face. He wanted to explore the role the media play in shaping public opinion and making change. “I was interested in the nuts and bolts of 21st-century storytelling,” says Jenkins, a Harvard Law graduate. “But I also wanted to know what people who had studied the question had said about it. The mix of theory and practice Media Studies offered gave me the platform to explore that question the right way.”

    For the next five years, Jenkins worked toward his master’s in media studies at the rate of one class a semester; he took a third of his courses online. “When I started, I was a program officer with no children, but by the time I finished, I was the director of Human Rights for the foundation, with two infant daughters. I couldn’t possibly have finished the degree without that kind of flexibility.” His master’s thesis formed the core of what would become The Opportunity Agenda, the not-for-profit he founded in 2004 and of which he is executive director.

    Today, with a staff of 19 and a $3.4 million budget, The Opportunity Agenda partners with social justice groups, leaders, and movements—synthesizing and translating research, shaping messages, and identifying and advocating for policies that improve people’s lives. For example, ahead of the 2008 election, The Opportunity Agenda partnered with the Center for Community Change (CCC) to organize a forum on community values in which all the Democratic presidential candidates participated. “CCC put together the forum and brought in 4,000 community leaders from throughout the Midwest,” explains Jenkins. “It was our role to flesh out what community values mean in different contexts, such as education, immigration, jobs, the economy, and the environment, and to train hundreds of organizers on how to talk about it.”

    Since 2006, Jenkins has served on the board of governors of The New School for Public Engagement and occasionally teaches in the Media Studies program. “The New School continues to expand opportunities for folks from all over the world,” says Jenkins. “In terms of my values, it’s a fit.”

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