Alumnus' personal experiences prompt book reframing a children's classic

July 16, 2021

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A Penn State alumnus with credits as a writer, designer, podcast host, children’s author and teacher brings one overarching desire to his work — to help others move up in life, just as others have helped him — and his most recent book provides the next chapter in that effort.

Bob McKinnon, who earned his bachelor’s degree from Penn State in 1990, focuses on social good. His recently released children’s book, “Three Little Engines,” provides a modern retelling of the beloved classic, “The Little Engine that Could.”  While the original asked young readers to believe in themselves (“I think I can, I think I can”), “Three Little Engines” asks people to believe in and help each other (“I think we can, I think we can.”) 

McKinnon is a longtime supporter of the University and a previous board member of the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications Alumni Society Board. Earlier this year, he delivered the commencement speech during commencement exercises for the Bellisario College, the College of Education, and the College of Information Sciences and Technology in Beaver Stadium.

McKinnon’s book, published July 13 by Penguin Random House, is a gentle introduction to the idea of socioeconomic mobility and inequality in America. Heavily inspired by his own experiences, McKinnon teaches the youngest of readers how to recognize how their journey may be different from others and, most importantly, how to extend a helping hand to those on different tracks of life. At its heart, “Three Little Engines” is a thank you letter to all the parents, teachers, role models, and even strangers, who help to clear the storm or pull the tree trunk from your track.

McKinnon is the founder of the non-profit organization, The Moving Up Media Lab, whose mission is to inspire people to reflect on who and what has contributed to where they are today. The organization’s first initiative “Your American Dream Score,” created with support from the Ford Foundation, helped over a half-million people discover what factors may have helped or hindered their own efforts in life and is now the basis of curriculum developed by PBS Learning. In late 2020, they launched the podcast, “Attribution with Bob McKinnon,” about success and gratitude, distributed by PBS Chasing the Dream.  

As a writer, McKinnon is also the author of the “Moving Up Mondays” blog and one other book —  Actions Speak Loudest: Keeping Our Promise for A Better World.

Through his consultancy, GALEWiLL Design, McKinnon has led teams that have redesigned the food stamp program for the state of California, inspired children to become more physically active by finding their VERB for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and created new ways for youth to stay above the influence for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. Working on issues ranging from childhood obesity to criminal justice to climate change, he has  partnered with leading social change organizations such as Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, The International Olympic Committee, Communities in Schools, The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Sesame Workshop, and the Vera Institute of Justice – among many others – to help millions overcome obstacles on their way to a healthier and happier life. 

McKinnon is an adjunct professor at both the Parsons School of Design and the Colin Powell School of Civic and Global Leadership at the City College of New York, where he teaches courses on social mobility and the American Dream. His work has been featured in The New York Times, Esquire, The Boston Globe, PBS, NPR, Fast Company and The Huffington Post, among other outlets.

  • Bob McKinnon headshot

    McKinnon is the founder of the non-profit organization, The Moving Up Media Lab, whose mission is to inspire people to reflect on who and what has contributed to where they are today. 

    IMAGE: Penn State
Last Updated July 16, 2021