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by Jonathan O'Connell Staff Reporter
Friday, September 25, 2009
Psychologist Lawrence Kutner has explored childhood development as a documentary filmmaker, New York Times columnist and founder of the Center for Mental Health and Media at Massachusetts General Hospital. In August, he was named executive director of the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, established by the late Washington Redskins owner to provide scholarships for high-achieving, low-income students.
How long have you known about the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation?
I had heard the name, but was not very familiar with it until this year.
What made you interested in leaving Mass General and Harvard University, where you taught psychiatry?
The more I read about the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, the more it resonated not only with my intellectual interests but also my personal values and my personal experience. I was an adopted kid raised in the Bronx by an immigrant single mom who died when I was a teenager. Those are not great predictors of running a research center at Mass General or Harvard. And what made the difference in my life, as I was growing up, is some people really cared about me. They made an effort to reach out to me and support me, and I wound up with a full scholarship to an independent school that completely changed my life and broadened my horizons. When I looked at what the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation was doing, I realized that had the foundation existed when I was growing up I could have been one of their recipients. The foundation is known for scholarships to students that otherwise would not have broad educational opportunities. What it tries to do is identify very smart and or very talented adolescents and young adults from poor families and to give them the support that they need to realize their potential through education. These have been described as kind of like Rhodes scholarships for younger students, where you get very bright or very talented people, and some of them are musicians and some are aspiring physicists and some are in medical school, but they are really talented and they need a bit of a hand up just to level the playing field.
It’s a relatively young foundation — 9 years old. What would you like to do to make it different?
I feel very lucky that the programs the foundation are doing are working quite well. I think what’s needed at this point is a more formal evaluation. What are the components that really help these adolescents and young adults that go beyond the support they might be getting from another source?