Media & Communication Department
Career of the Month
The Department is proud to feature monthly profiles of Media & Communication Department Alums, describing their individual career paths and sharing tips with students on how to plan for their own future careers. Profiles focus on the wide range of careers that our liberal arts oriented program has helped to launch.
This month the spotlight is on Public Interest Organizing, featuring a profile of Tracie Konopinski, Class of 2005. While at Muhlenberg, Tracie co-founded with four classmates the Social Research Social Justice Conference, which is now in its 9th year. Tracie received the James Schneider Memorial Award for Social Justice in 2005.
Tracie Konopinski '05
As the lead organizer for the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group (PIRG), Tracie Konopinski ‘05 has worked on campaigns dealing with important issues affecting the public interest. Many of these efforts have key roles in influencing the passage of legislation.
Her career with MASS PIRGs began with campus organizing. She considers her first campaign as one of her most successful experiences. Working on the campaign, which focused on global warming, Konopinski was able to mobilize about 200 students from seventeen different Massachusetts PIRG chapters. Ultimately, this campaign led the way to the passing of the Global Warming Solutions Act. Students were the leaders of this movement: they met with their senator, led educational events including pin the wheel on the wind turbine, and collaborated with the media. The students’ efforts were unusually successful: the senator, who was initially indifferent to the bill, decided to support and vote for its passage. Tracie has also led campaigns addressing consumer and education issues, as well as seeking increases in Pell grant funding.
As a double major in Media and Communication and Business with a minor in Dance, Tracie had a wide range of interests as an undergrad. She was especially interested in the interaction between communication and dance. The diversity of her majors deepened her interest in interactions between people and the world. While at Muhlenberg, she conducted research dealing with community activism through the arts. Mass Persuasion and Propaganda, a course in the Media and Communication department that explores the corporate interest’s impact on public interest issues, ultimately made her want to pursue public interest activism. She said that the course taught her to question things: “The program here [at Muhlenberg] teaches you how to look at things critically and ask a lot of questions.”
Before working at MASS PIRG, Tracie worked with University of Pennsylvania student PIRG. During her time at Muhlenberg, Tracie had always imagined herself eventually working for a non-profit and doing social justice work. After her stint with PA PIRG, she spent a year in Americore travelling to different cities and states doing service projects, including, for example, rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina and environmental work in Arkansas. It was during that year that Tracie realized that “service is just one piece of the puzzle,” but there also needs to be “systemic change.” Doing community service as a member of Americore convinced Tracie that “everything is married to the political.” She concluded that “public policy is a great way to get at the structure of a problem.” She then got involved with MASS PIRG to continue her commitment to advancing social change.
Although Tracie did not have much prior experience in organizing, she said that it is more or less “innate” response for her to fight for issues that she cares about. She emphasizes that people don’t need a lot of experience to be motivated to take action on issues that are important to them. Tracie offers the following advice to students who are looking to get involved in social justice work: always ask a lot of questions and take advantage of experience.
Interview conducted and written up by Caroline Aiken '11.
Caroline is the 2011 recipient of the James Schneider Memorial Award for Social Justice.