MPA in Public & Nonprofit Management & Policy - 2011
What do you do in your current role?
I am the creator, producer and host of an online talk show called Know This! with Ariana (www.knowthis.tv). I'm currently on a 16-city speaking and talk show tour, interviewing next generation voices in various industries to push back on the one-dimensional images of Snooki and housewives that we have targeting young adults in our mainstream media.
How did you make your way to Wagner?
My background is in public service and non-profit leadership. Upon graduating from college, I became Executive Director of a youth leadership development organization, DiversityWorks, in Oakland, CA that trained young people to be peer educators on topics of diversity and oppression. After two years, I wanted to explore my interests and leadership in different public service settings, so became a Coro Fellow in Public Affairs in San Francisco. I knew after completing the fellowship that I wanted to go back to school and that I wanted to be in New York. After a disappointing semester with a program in Steinhardt, I found myself looking at Wagner's course catalog again and again. The more I got excited about Wagner's coursework, the more I recognized how much I wanted a practical degree like an MPA.
What sparked your interest in creating the company that you have?
I'm an "ideas entrepreneur"--I have tons of ideas and visions every day, and I felt my skills would be best suited building my own institution from the ground up and getting to try them out without the red tape of fitting into another organization. I also believe we need new institutions with new cultures, that assume prominent positions in our society and lead by example. It's not to say I've completely lost faith in "changing from within" but I personally wasn't excited by that prospect.
I decided starting an online talk show and production company was the right route for me because I believe media is a powerful tool that helps shape and perpetuate values, and today's media is showing us a scary reflection of what's being valued. I know we can do better and we deserve better than a lot of what's on television, so I'm trying to bring content that educates, entertains and empowers. Our next generation is growing up on "16 & Pregnant," "Jersey Shore" and all these reality shows, and I find that dangerous and saddening when we're in a very serious time that calls for caring, informed individuals to step up and lead, not check out and obsess over celebrities.
What are the connections between your Wagner experience and your current business?
I didn't start my company or show because I want to be a TV star. I'm using media as a tool to deliver a message that we don't hear much at all in mainstream media. A message to deepen our knowledge of self versus trying to become a botoxed, cookie-cutter image of a reality star; to value our communities and be actively engaged citizens who question our leaders versus being numb to and overwhelmed by all the inequality and challenges we face every day as a nation and world. At Wagner, I had the support to question and explore, and to make my education what I wanted it to be as my interests evolved during my time there. I never felt judged for wanting to take an unbeaten path, and that has helped with my confidence in using my voice to chart a somewhat unbeaten path with my show.
What do you enjoy about your job?
I love that every day, I am living my purpose and bringing my particular vision for social change to life. I love meeting and interviewing all the fascinating people I bring on the show who are so passionate and inspirational. I enjoy getting to be a curator of information from various fields and highlighting the interconnectedness of all our lives and all our work. I've never felt at home in one particular field, which is why I take joy in the challenge of bridging social justice values and public service with mainstream culture and media. It's a big risk, a big experiment that feels daunting but incredibly exciting at the same time.
What are some of the challenges you / your organization faces? How do you overcome these challenges?
My most salient challenge is just mustering the courage every day to believe in myself enough to keep this vision alive. I've struggled with a lot of self-esteem issues since I was young, so to be putting myself and my opinions out in the public and thus open for scrutiny has been mortifying to the little kid in me that wants to be liked by everyone. It's ultimately been freeing, but still mortifying. I have a saying taped to my computer that keeps me on course in those times of doubt that says: "It's not about me. I am just a vessel, and it is my duty to share my gift with the world.
Then there's the "f" word: funding. I launched my show in March, so I'm definitely still in start-up mode, building my audience and telling the world what this is so that investors can get interested. Thankfully I've had a supportive and skilled network of people around to help with pro-bono or low-cost professional services and advising that helped me kickstart the show.
Did you gain any skills at Wagner that have been particularly useful / relevant?
The reflective practice class with Dean Schall and Angela Hendrix-Terry was a favorite that helped me reflect on my role in work. It also furthered my passion for highlighting the connection between personal change and social change, which is the underlying premise of my work. As I grow my team and establish my company's culture, I'm drawing a lot from the Developing Human Resources class with Professor Foldy.
What are your future career goals?
To continue developing my show, for online or television, and slowly build an Oprah-esque media empire that's grounded in values of social justice and empowerment. I have plans to write a book based on my findings from the tour and the status of the dreams the next generation voices I'll be talking with have for themselves and the world. I also have plans for a docu-series that explores the intersection of dream and possibility, challenging the myth of the "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" American Dream and looking at the need to address issues of both personal and institutional change in progressing to a more equal and empowered society. I want to become a go-to source for media that makes it cool for young adults to engage in personal and community development work, in an age where it's more cool to have a sex tape.
Do you have any thoughts to share with Wagner alumni / students?
Don't be afraid to think outside of the typical public service policy-government-nonprofit box. With social enterprise being a common term now, social media, and so many other innovations with how we engage with each other and content, I think it's exciting to explore non-traditional ways of bridging industries and imagining what public service can look like.
Check out more information about Ariana's 16-city talk show/speaking tour here!