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Muppet Figurehead to Speak on World Issues

Muppet Figurehead to Speak on World Issues

The Daily Bruin, November 29, 2007

UCLA and Los Angeles create a perfect environment to see how one organization is harnessing the power of media to make the world a better place.

This article was first published in The Daily Bruin by Benjamin Lo, Daily Bruin contributor.

Gary Knell, UCLA alumnus and President and CEO of Sesame Workshop, will be speaking today about how his work in media has helped further children’s education around the world.

Knell will be discussing how Sesame Workshop uses television programming for children, including Sesame Street, to educate audiences of important issues such as literacy, health practices, HIV/AIDS and cross-cultural respect and understanding.

“Sesame Workshop’s mission is to use media to help children reach their highest potential, both in this country and around the world. My job is to guide the company to help achieve an impact with kids,” Knell said.

Knell said he believes Sesame Street plays an important part in our culture because many children grew up with it.

He added that he hopes students make the connection between the global issues they study and those that Sesame Workshop addresses.

Sesame Workshop has programs in over 120 countries which Knell said address local issues while still furthering the broader global mission of improving education for children.

“This talk isn’t just about Sesame Street per se. It’s about how American culture, and the power of the Sesame Street characters, can play a role in larger issues around the world,” said Kal Raustiala, Director at the UCLA Ronald W. Burkle Center for International Relations.

Raustiala said Knell has helped create something that indirectly helps shape the world. He said Knell has been able to use it as a tool to solve and address social issues.

Patricia O’Brien, Executive Dean of the College of Letters and Science who played an integral role in bringing Knell to UCLA, said she would like to see him address some of the particular programs he works with and how he applies them to local communities.

“(Knell’s programs) can be a model for many programs in the future. This is the kind of change that will really promote peace if we can change the way children perceive conflict and difference,” O’Brien said.

O’Brien said she hopes the student body does not dismiss this talk just because it is about a children’s television program. She said she believes this talk will in fact address relevant, mature issues that play a role in students’s lives.

Knell said UCLA is a great institution in the film capital of the world. He said UCLA possesses a uniquely diverse student body that will resonate with the message.

“UCLA and Los Angeles create a perfect environment to see how one organization is harnessing the power of media to make the world a better place,” Knell said.

Knell grew up in North Hollywood and graduated from UCLA in 1975 with a bachelor’s degree in political science. He spent most of his life in public service sectors, working in government and media.

Knell said it was partly his college experience that introduced him to the idea of using television as a medium to raise social awareness in communities.

“Even at UCLA, I took a lot of film classes, which reinforced a belief I hold unto this day, that media is a very powerful teacher, especially for children. TV isn’t a question about whether or not they will learn, but what they will learn,” Knell said.

Knell said he will touch on how his roots in UCLA inspired him to pursue his career. He said he will also be touching on how he took what he learned and molded it to make a difference in the world.

“Come with a curiosity about seeing how one small idea has turned into a movement for change,” Knell said. “I think the students will see the talk as an inspirational message they can personalize into their own goals.”

O’Brien said this talk will greatly influence the student body, especially students interested in political science, political relations, international studies, business, as well as global markets.

“I do think we need to start addressing and interrogating problems in the world in new and creative ways,” O’Brien said. “And if you can’t do this on a university campus, you can’t do this anywhere.”

Burkle Center for International Relations