Catching up with Monica Gray, Class of 2009

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1. Can you tell us what you’ve been up to since you graduated?

After graduation, I moved to Washington, D.C., and worked for an issue advocacy and political consulting firm called GMMB. Focusing on global health, I worked on projects to help clients such as the GAVI Alliance increase the access of lifesaving vaccines to infants and children in poor countries.

GMMB gave me the opportunity to work on some amazing causes and with some incredible colleagues, but I found that I missed directly interacting with people in my community. So in my free time, I started a video blog called “What’s Hard About It?” With video camera in hand, I began conducting woman-on-the-street interviews on a variety of topics. Centering on a “What’s hard about…” theme, I’ve asked dozens—if not hundreds—of people questions ranging from “What’s Hard About Being a Taxi Driver?” to “What’s Hard About Being Gay?” Through making these videos and posting them online, I discovered that I loved meeting people from all walks of life and sharing their stories. What began as a hobby led me to set up a small production company called MG Films, with the aim of informing, entertaining, and giving a voice to people who might not otherwise be heard. You can check it out on Facebook here.

As I learned more about online journalism, I became especially intrigued by the power of social media. So when I heard of an opening to head up social media efforts at UVA’s Miller Center – a job that would combine my growing interest in new media with my background in public policy – I jumped at the chance. Based at the Center’s Washington office, my new job allows me to add historical perspective to the 2012 election for all of our Facebook and Twitter audiences.

Outside of the Miller Center, I’m hosting a series at the National Press Club called “Social Media 4 Social Good,” which highlights how policy leaders are leveraging social media to make real and positive social changes in the world. The series premiered in February and my first guest was Aaron Sherinian, vice president of Communications and Public Relations at the United Nations Foundation. You’d be amazed – or at least I was – at the smart and innovative ways the UN Foundation uses social media to help improve the lives of some of the world’s most vulnerable populations.

2. What are the most valuable skills you learned in Batten and how are you using them today?

To be honest, I haven’t run a regression since Professor Moore’s Econometrics class! That said, the greater appreciation for hard data that I gained at Batten has proven helpful in ways that I could never have anticipated as a student. Even with seemingly non-statistical work such as producing videos, I’m confident reading through policy reports as I conduct background research for films. While creating a “What’s Hard About Thanksgiving When You’re Homeless?” video, for instance, I was able to pull a number of key findings out of dense reports by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. This knowledge helped me present the big picture context for stories with homeless interviewees.

Batten also introduced me to the study of leadership, which I continue to find very interesting. Just recently, a Washington Post article on Woody Allen’s leadership style randomly reminded me of Lincoln and our reading of Team of Rivals in Professor Hitz’s class. Leadership is not a topic I sought out in my pre-Batten days, but since graduating it has remained a favorite of mine, for both practical and inspirational guidance.

Finally, and perhaps the most valuably, I left Batten with a sincere curiosity of how policies impact people at the grassroots level.

3. Can you tell us a little bit about your current and upcoming film projects?

I’m currently working on a “What’s Hard About Occupying DC?” video, which will be released in March through MonicaGrayFilms.com.

I’m also looking forward to the second installment in the “Social Media 4 Social Good” interview series at the National Press Club on April 3, where I’ll be interviewing Alec Ross, Senior Advisor for Innovation to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. (I’d love for Batten and UVA students to attend the event and/or submit questions for Mr. Ross. Admission is only $5 – please shoot me a note at monica.n.gray@gmail.com or on Twitter @MonicaNGray for more info.)

4. What’s your dream job?

My dream job is to be a full-time journalistic activist. I would love to travel the world, telling the stories of everyday people and the issues they face. However, I would want to report on more than mere facts. Instead, I would also want to identify exactly where policies were breaking down and advocate for the needed changes to be made. If I was covering a story on a failing school, for instance, I would not simply report abysmal graduation rates and share facts about ineffective education policies in the abstract, as is sometimes done in op-eds and political speeches. Rather, I’d want to share the direct insights of the people on the ground to help identify exactly how policies are falling short and then push for the implementation of practical solutions. I’m not sure if such a job exists, but I guess that’s why they call it a dream job.

Post by Vanessa Orco

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