If the late Steve Jobs was determined to change the way people use technology, with visionary ideas and revolutionary products, Laurene Powell Jobs seems just as determined to change people's lives in more basic ways.

The widow of the Apple (AAPL) co-founder is even more intensely private than her husband, rarely giving interviews and only occasionally appearing in public at his side. But the former investment banker has long supported a range of progressive causes -- by working to help disadvantaged students and women, and donating money to environmental campaigns and Hillary Rodham Clinton's presidential run.

And though she has generally kept a low profile, 47-year-old Laurene Jobs could one day emerge as a powerful supporter of the social and progressive causes she has long favored. Forbes recently ranked Steve Jobs as the 39th richest man in America, with estimated wealth of $7 billion.

Laurene Jobs has shown a particular interest in education, applying herself directly to giving disadvantaged students a hand. After volunteering as a mentor several years ago at Belmont's Carlmont High School, Jobs co-founded and led a successful nonprofit, College Track, which helps minority and low-income kids prepare for college and overcome the many challenges they encounter there.


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"I didn't know where it was going to lead, but I was outraged," she told an interviewer in 2008, explaining her reaction to learning firsthand that minority students from East Palo Alto and other low-income communities were not getting the help they needed to enter and succeed in college.

Jobs, who met her husband while earning an MBA at Stanford University, now leads a nonprofit organization, the Emerson Collective, which describes its mission as working with "a range of entrepreneurs to advance domestic and international social reform efforts" and making "strategic investments" in "results-driven education reform ventures."

A spokeswoman for the Emerson Collective provided a brief biography of Jobs on Thursday, but did not respond to an interview request. College Track officials referred a reporter to the spokeswoman.

Both Steve Jobs and Apple have been criticized for not making a more public commitment to philanthropy. But after a New York Times columnist took that stance in the summer, the U2 singer and global activist Bono offered a spirited defense.

"Just because he's been extremely busy, that doesn't mean that he and his wife, Laurene, have not been thinking about these things," Bono wrote, citing their support for an anti-AIDS campaign in Africa.

New Jersey-born Laurene Powell earned a bachelor's degree in economics from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School before working for Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch Asset Management in the 1980s. She then went back to school for a master's degree at Stanford, where she met Steve Jobs in 1990 after he gave a talk on campus.

Jobs, who was on the outs from Apple at the time, later told an interviewer that he had a business dinner scheduled that evening. "I was in the parking lot, with the key in the car, and I thought to myself, 'If this is my last night on Earth, would I rather spend it at a business meeting or with this woman?' "

As he told it: "I ran across the parking lot, asked her if she'd have dinner with me," and the pair walked to a restaurant in Palo Alto.

A year later, they were married at the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite National Park, in a ceremony led by a Zen Buddhist monk. The couple raised three children, along with Steve Jobs' daughter from a previous relationship. And as Steve Jobs' health worsened in recent months, more than one neighbor has reported seeing the pair walking and holding hands near their 1930s home in an affluent section of Palo Alto.

Laurene Jobs co-founded a natural foods company after completing business school. But she told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2008 that, in the late 1990s, she was planning to pull back from business obligations and devote more time to her family. Then, her experience as a Carlmont High volunteer led Jobs to launch the College Track program with Carlos Watson, a friend and fellow volunteer at Carlmont.

College Track today has branches in East Palo Alto, Oakland, San Francisco, New Orleans and Aurora, Colo. The organization provides coaching, tutoring and help in obtaining financial assistance for kids who are often the first in their families to consider going to college. While Laurene Jobs no longer runs the program, she is the head of its board.

Jobs also invested and served on the board of Achieva, a startup that Watson cofounded, which made online educational tools. In 2005, she co-led a $20 million fundraising campaign by the nonprofit Global Fund for Women, which invests in local initiatives to improve women's health and education around the world.

The 2005 campaign was prompted by concern the war in Iraq would make life more difficult for women and families in that part of the world, Jobs told this newspaper then. "We want to be able to spend the money quickly, not have it sit in an endowment."

Jobs also serves on other nonprofit boards, including the national board of Teach For America, which recruits recent college graduates to spend two years teaching in low-income schools. She was named by President Barack Obama last year to a panel that advises the White House on community-based social programs.

Contact Brandon Bailey at 408-920-5022. Follow him at Twitter.com/brandonbailey.