Stepping onto the elevator at 1900 Broadway for the first time, I took a deep breath and-for the hundredth time since leaving my apartment-lovingly instructed myself to Chill. Out.
It was the first morning of my summer internship at the Joan Ganz Cooney Center, and I was scared. Scared, but not in the usual final exam, first day of school kind of way. I was scared of something worse.
My apprehension was the type that comes with high expectations and long anticipated events, the stuff of birthday parties and blind dates. I was about to enter a magical world about which I had long fantasized a Narnia of research on children and digital media. My expectations — and my pulse rate — were sky high.
I had spent the weeks leading up to this moment reading everything I possibly could about the Cooney Center. As a Psychology major with an interest in children and the social psychology of learning, I could not have been more inspired by the content I had found: reports about intergenerational learning through video games, the effects of media multitasking on child development, and using mobile technologies and other innovation strategies to stimulate children’s interest in learning, to name just a few. The issues are social, profoundly practical, and hinted, at least I hoped at a community of very bright people who are utterly excited about the promises digital media hold for the education of children all over the world.
But maybe I was wrong. Maybe it wasn’t going to be anything like I had imagined. Maybe I was about to spend the next six weeks in the ultimate anticlimax: a gray, silent maze of cubicles, full of people waiting around for the clock to strike five. Chill. Out.
The elevator dinged. I held my breath and waited.
When the doors opened, I felt a surge of optimism. My eyes were met with a hallway of primary colors, a carpet of polygons and squiggles, and a lobby with multicolored sofas to match. A flat-screen TV was showing Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, and a well-worn Oscar the Grouch Muppet hung sideways out of a trash can beneath it. A security guard who smiled with her eyes welcomed me by name as she handed over my ID.
I smiled back so hard my face hurt. Today, a week and a half since my last day of work, my face still hurts.
I have the Cooney Center Bug.
I’m pretty sure it bit me in the middle of my first hour-somewhere in between Lili showing me how to log on to my computer and jumping into an assignment from Marj to help test out the new Cooney Center Website.
Symptoms of the Cooney Center Bug include but are not limited to the following: openness to new ideas, a willingness to ask and answer questions, and infectious excitement. In short, a commitment to hard work-but, moreover, to learning.
In six, busy weeks of Web meetings, grant-tracking, research video transcriptions, and reading and writing about co-viewing and jointly experienced media, I was both instructed and encouraged in ways that not only allowed me to complete my tasks with effectiveness, but that also reinforced every intuition I have ever had about what makes a good environment for learning.
During that first hour, Marj introduced herself with a smile and a clear, concise explanation of what she needed me to do. In a Web meeting later that week, she would encourage me to share my ideas about strategies for promoting the upcoming Cooney Center Prizes. In the weeks that followed, she would field approximately 56,892,565 of my curious questions about Web design and structure-always with a smile, and always thanking me for my interest.
Gabrielle and I giggled and awed together at videos of first graders telling stories I was transcribing for a research project about The Electric Company. Later, we would have a long conversation about her academic career and why she decided to go to graduate school. In a meeting originally scheduled to discuss a literature review on co-viewing, Lori asked me about my interests and then lent me a book straight from her shelf (“You’re gonna love this!”)
I arrived at the Cooney Center hopeful yet apprehensive, worried that my high expectations would not be met. What I found was a community of people committed to learning, friendliness, and fun — in a way that now makes perfect sense. Innovative research, ideas, and optimism about the educational potential of new media can’t come out of nowhere: they come out of the minds of people who live, dream, and believe them.
That’s exactly what I found at the Cooney Center and it’s the reason I’m still smiling.
Mariel Goddu is a senior at Yale University. One of the highlights of her summer was discovering the transcript of a speech delivered by Elmo to the Federal Commission of Communications in a stack of papers she was filing.