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As Founding Director of the Joan Ganz Cooney Center, located independently at Sesame Workshop, Dr. Michael Levine serves at the nexus of research, innovation, and transformative partnership-building. With a distinguished career as an agent of change in the nonprofit world and an advocate for digital learning, Dr. Levine’s history of impactful work is demonstrated in his past roles as Vice President for the Asia Society; head of Carnegie Corporation of New York’s early childhood initiatives, education-focused media, and primary grade reform; as well as in his role as Senior Advisor to the New York City Schools Chancellor. Dr. Levine is a recurring advisor to top government officials on the topics of education, technology, and early childhood and has contributed to a variety of online and print media outlets, while being regularly chosen to headline conferences focused on early childhood, education policy, and digital learning. Dr. Levine received his Ph.D. in Social Policy from Brandeis University and his B.S. from Cornell University.
EXCLUSIVE NEW LEARNING TIMES INTERVIEW
Question: How did your educational trajectory (background) affect your current work?
Answer: I am fortunate to have had fabulous mentors who have helped guide my career trajectory. To start off, my parents were both activists—my dad a civil rights organizer and an expert on intergroup relations, and my mom a mental health leader, concerned with the rich dynamics of children and family life. I studied with the great developmental psychologist Urie Bronfenbrenner as an undergrad at Cornell, along with an amazing group of young scholars such as Dr. David Olds and Dr. Laurence Steinberg. The perspective I gained on cross-cultural research that led to policy reforms shaped my professional passion for creating lasting change on behalf of vulnerable children globally. Finally, the work I did at Carnegie Corporation on the importance of school reform, early development, and action-oriented philanthropy was central to my interest in “field-building” and making tighter connections between research, practice, and policy.
Question: What professional experiences have been most formative to your current work?
Answer: My early work in public policy—working first for the Mayor of NYC Ed Koch and Schools Chancellor Richard Green—shaped my concern for underserved kids. I learned a great deal about the importance of framing key issues through strategic communications techniques in a way that would build public support for new investments in children. Frankly, I also learned just how hard it is to effect changes that have the intended impact. I was fascinated to see how difficult it is to take research findings or “best practices” established in model programs serving families and actually translate them into coherent policies that would drive scalable change. While at Carnegie Foundation I also learned about the value of “thinking and doing,” that is, we were able to convene and support the very best minds in the world to analyze and dissect a problem and, then invest in the creative solutions we had designed together. That was a special privilege!
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