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Getting to Know J.M. Conway, Graham’s New Manager of Innovation 

A 20-year veteran within higher education and the social sector joins Graham.

J.M. Conway

In their new role, J.M. Conway will create original programming for lifelong learners, connecting new ideas and dynamic, interactive offerings with a growing community of learners, thinkers, and doers.

Conway highlights what drew them to Graham, what most excites about their new role, and what inspires them about working towards greater opportunities and education for all.

Conway, a native Chicagoan, had recently returned to the city after serving as Community Director at Michigan State University, when they learned of several career opportunities at Graham. Conway wasn’t aware of the work of the School and learned about the opportunity to serve as Manager of Innovation programs from a mentor who recommended that they apply.  After reading more about Graham, Conway quickly discovered a compelling mission matching their personal ambitions. “There is a focus on lifelong learning and open access to a world-class, world-renowned institution. Graham allows learners to take classes at their interest and offers a price point that might be more accessible to a wider range of individuals. It’s exciting.”

After arriving at Graham in March, Conway immediately began discovering the University’s vast resources, research, and intellectual horsepower. “There are so many brilliant minds and creatives associated with the University, percolating ideas and impacting the larger world…Our role on the innovation team is to share some of the brilliant, perhaps hidden pieces of the University with a larger audience and to welcome more people into our community through their participation with Graham.”

Conway now aims to leverage the University’s “intellectual, creative, and cultural” spirit to accelerate Graham’s Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging and community-minded engagement efforts. By partnering with departments, institutes, and centers across campus as well as members of Chicago’s cultural landscape – museums, publishing houses, community centers, and the like – Conway hopes to create courses, events, and programs at Graham “that dismantle the notion of difference as a threat and illuminate the power of diversity within the human story; within the sciences and society”.

Conway’s investment in such initiatives is fueled by their own identities. Conway identifies as African American and genderqueer and says thinking about class was a part of their Chicago upbringing. Conway looks to develop original programming at Graham that fosters inquiry and reflection, stimulates growth, and cultivates an honest and deeper appreciation for diversity in all its forms. “Our communities are better when we’re able to see each other as valuable and kindred, even though we may be different in certain ways.”

Many of Conway’s previous work and experiences serve as creative inspiration for their work as manager of innovation at Graham. Conway has previously worked with organizations like Day One NY, Interfaith Youth Core, and College Track to promote leadership development and diversity. In addition, Conway’s childhood experiences traveling with their mother, a former singer with Operation Push, a longstanding force in Chicago’s civil rights movement, taught them “the value of working for a world that was for all of us.”

Graham’s earnest mission to engage communities and share knowledge energizes Conway. “There’s a commitment to getting this right and to making some important changes to ensure everyone gets to experience the beauty of this life and is unencumbered by any kind of isms. That’s the work I’m called to and the work I’m excited to do with Graham.”

Daniel P. Smith

Freelance Writer

Daniel P. Smith is a freelance writer at the Graham School.

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