Alumni Voices: Ph.D. alumna Dr. Carly Kocurek named Nayar Prize finalist

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Hearty congratulations to Dr. Carly Kocurek, who was named a finalist for the Illinois Institute of Technology’s Nayar Prize, an award “established to encourage and challenge Illinois Tech faculty, staff, and students to develop breakthrough, innovative projects that will, within three years, produce meaningful results with a societal impact.”

Dr. Kocurek, along with fellow IIT faculty members Jennifer Miller, Cynthia Hood, and Matt Bauer, proposed to create a videogame designed to foster language development among young children. They were awarded $100,000 to develop their project, a description of which we’ve pasted below:

Inequalities in early childhood language have a lasting impact on individual success, both in academics and careers. These inequalities inflate social welfare costs and slow economic growth. Our goal is to increase language skills necessary for academic success and subsequent economic success. Our innovation would leverage serious game design to produce a research-driven, high-impact interactive game for children aged 24–36 months. Children who use the interactive game will learn more words and be better prepared to succeed in school.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recently revised guidelines on screen use and suggests that media can be used constructively in children after the age of 2. Our game will combine community-based participatory research and cutting-edge understanding of language acquisition and learning. This project draws on perspectives from developmental psychology, linguistics, game design, and computer science, and our team is uniquely poised to combine insights and breakthroughs from a diversity of disciplines. Team members bring with them experience in language learning, serious game development, assessment, and other key areas.

The game will engage both caregivers and children through a playful learning experience that encourages high-quality interaction and engagement. The initial goal is to develop an individual game, but in the long run this will spark widespread development and rigorous testing toward optimizing educational experiences for young children.

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