Donor Spotlight: Dr. Jennifer Turner

A story about the Turner women: Mother-Daughter, Dynamic Duo, and The Dr. Audrey M. Turner Private Lesson Scholarship


Over the course of Merit’s almost 43-year history, the stories of hundreds of alums who graduated from the highly esteemed Alice S. Pfaelzer Conservatory have inspired countless Chicagoland youngsters. The halls of Merit are lined with numerous framed photos and bios of just some of those alums who have gone on to have remarkable careers as leaders in everything from performing arts to medicine, government, film, education and much more. One of those alums is Dr. Jennifer Turner, Senior VP of Scripted Programs at Sony Pictures Television. In her role at Sony, Jennifer oversees the creative aspects of popular television shows such as “The Good Doctor,” “The Boys,” and “The Blacklist.” Prior to joining Sony, Jennifer was the current programming executive with creative oversight at ABC for the hit shows “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Lost,” and “Desperate Housewives.” Her impressive television career also included a role as VP, Drama Programming at Universal Media Studios.

Among other things, Jennifer credits her career success to her musical training. She started playing the violin at the age of 4 and studied at Merit for ten years before graduating from the Conservatory in 1992. Jennifer was already a passionate young musician prior to joining Merit, practicing her violin for sometimes four hours a day, but, when she began studying at Merit, she was able to take her musicianship to higher levels as well as learn vital life skills. A gifted violinist as well as an outstanding student, Jennifer was torn between pursuing music or business. As a member of her high school orchestra, Jennifer traveled internationally, which had a profound effect on her, so she decided to pursue international business. She obtained her Bachelor of Arts degree in Japanese and Bachelor of Science degree in economics from Wharton at the University of Pennsylvania and later earned her MBA from Stanford.

Always going above and beyond, Jennifer leveraged her interest in health and entertainment and founded MAD COOL FITNESS (while excelling in a demanding career in television!). MCF is a healthy lifestyle “edutainment” company that helps people to learn how to be healthy using behavior science. To deliver health programs to underserved communities, Jennifer also founded non-profit MAD COOL COMMUNITY, which partners with school and other non-profits to help their communities to be healthier.

“I was so happy that Jennifer was giving back to something that gave so much to her. Merit was some of the wind beneath her wings, so she is helping Merit be some of the wind for these students. The whole program made a difference in her life.”

Dr. Audrey M. Turner

As if she did not have enough on her plate, Jennifer went back to school in 2014 and earned her Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) specializing in Health Education and Behavioral Science from Rutgers University. Currently, in addition to her full-time career at Sony and running her health and wellness company and non-profit, Dr. Jennifer Turner is a professor who teaches public health at Rutgers. Whew!

Jennifer’s mother, Dr. Audrey M. Turner, has clearly been Jennifer’s rock, anchor, and inspiration throughout her life. Dr. Turner, herself, is an educator having served as a sociology and psychology professor at Kennedy-King College, part of the City Colleges of Chicago, for 36 years. A woman ahead of her time, during the last 15 years of her teaching career at Kennedy-King, she predicted a future with virtual teaching. Dr. Turner was instructing teachers about technology to equip them for online instruction – years before the pandemic, and has a Doctorate of Education focused on Distance Learning and Instructional Technology.

To honor her mother’s positive influence on her life and Merit’s role in shaping her, Jennifer created The Dr. Audrey M. Turner Private Lesson Scholarship in 2021. For the next five years, this honorary scholarship will provide three students each year with full funding for their private lessons–for an entire school year.

Merit’s mission is to remove the barriers, financial and otherwise, that prevent children from learning music. Scholarships such as The Dr. Audrey M. Turner Private Lesson Scholarship open the doors for students to flourish and grow in music. When asked about her reaction to Jennifer honoring her with the Scholarship, Dr. Turner said, “I was so happy that Jennifer was giving back to something that gave so much to her. Merit was some of the wind beneath her wings, so she is helping Merit be some of the wind for these students. The whole program made a difference in her life.”

Jennifer still takes weekly violin lessons, practices, and finds great joy in doing so. It was important to her to find a way to honor the experience she had at Merit, which taught her invaluable life lessons in discipline, goal setting, persistence, self-confidence, taking responsibility, and collaborating with others. But even more so, she feels blessed to honor the woman who is most important in her life for providing the opportunities that inspired her to become the amazing woman she is today.

We are proud that both women are part of our Merit family and are thrilled that Jennifer’s financial support will provide potentially life-changing opportunities for so many deserving students.

Thank you, Jennifer, for giving back. And thank you, Dr. Turner, for inspiring Jennifer. 

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