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Joan Ganz Cooney is a co-founder of the Children's Television Workshop (renamed, Sesame Workshop June 2000) and an originator of the preschool educational series, Sesame Street, and she served as president and chief executive officer until 1990. She is currently chairman of the executive committee of Sesame Workshop's board and in November 2007 introduced the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop, dedicated to advancing children’s learning in a digital age.
Following the successful launch of Sesame Street, Mrs. Cooney and her colleagues created other award-winning children’s series on network and public TV, such as The Electric Company, 3-2-1 Contact, Square One TV, Ghostwriter, CRO, Big Bag, Dragon Tales, Sagwa the Chinese Cat, and Pinky Dinky Doo, all bringing science, mathematics, reading, and new experiences to life. Sesame Workshop programs have been awarded over 100 Emmys and have received scores of other honors presented here and around the world.
Mrs. Cooney received a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Arizona. She began her career as a reporter in her hometown of Phoenix. From 1954 to 1962, she worked as a publicist for NBC in New York and for the U.S. Steel Hour, a highly acclaimed CBS drama series. She was an award-winning public affairs producer for New York's WNET/Thirteen before conducting the study for Carnegie Corporation of New York in 1966, entitled “The Potential Uses of Television in Preschool Education,” which led to the founding of the Workshop.
Mrs. Cooney is presently a Lifetime Trustee of the Paley Center for Media, The New York Presbyterian Hospital, WNET Channel 13/Educational Broadcasting Corporation, and the National Child Labor Committee. She is also member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
She has served as a member of the President's Commission for a National Agenda for the Eighties, the President's Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse, the Advisory Committee for Trade Negotiations, the Carnegie Foundation's National Panel on the High School, and the United Nation’s Reorientation of UN Information Activities Task Force. Among her many honorary degrees are those from Harvard, Princeton, Brown, Columbia, Barnard, New York University, Smith, Georgetown, Notre Dame, Oberlin, University of Pennsylvania, Dartmouth, and her alma mater, the University of Arizona, from which she received the Centennial Medallion Award in 1989.
Mrs. Cooney has received numerous awards including a Daytime Emmy for Lifetime Achievement in 1989, and in 1990 she was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame and received the Founders Award from the International Council of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. In 1995, President Clinton awarded Mrs. Cooney the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, and in 1998, she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame. Mrs. Cooney was honored with the Annenberg Public Policy Center’s award for Distinguished Contribution to Children and Television, noting Sesame Street as being “the quintessential children’s educational program” and most recently, she was honored with the National Endowment for the Humanities Award by President George W. Bush.
Mrs. Cooney is married to philanthropist Peter G. Peterson, former U.S. Secretary of Commerce. She has five stepchildren, and presently, nine grandchildren.