Distinguished Alumni: Rosemarie Truglio helps deliver education through entertainment on ‘Sesame Street’

Rosemarie Truglio
Rosemarie T. Truglio poses with Big Bird from “Sesame Street.” Her job helps these characters teach valuable lessons to young viewers.

If you ask one of the many young Sesame Street fans what they love about the show, they’re likely to list favorite characters, funny scenes and catchy songs.

Ask their parents why they love Sesame Street and they’ll probably praise the educational, emotional and creative lessons embedded in the program.

In either case, their reactions signify a job well done on the part of alumna Dr. Rosemarie Truglio and colleagues at Sesame Workshop. Since 1969 Sesame Workshop has been the organization behind the show that has entertained and helped develop generations of children. The organization extensively researches and implements the best teaching strategies to aid children’s learning and development through the show.

Truglio, a graduate of the University of Kansas College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, is the Senior Vice President of Education and Research at Sesame Workshop. She oversees the interdisciplinary curriculum used on Sesame Street, ensuring that the show is not only entertaining for kids, but also educational.

The development of “Sesame Street”

The education provided through Sesame Street isn’t only a matter of how to count and spell. The curriculum is holistic, focusing on academic skills, social skills, emotional skills and health. Truglio heads the development of this curriculum that supports one of the most influential children’s shows on TV.

Although the idea of educational TV is nothing new, the effects of television on children are important to consider. Shows like “Sesame Street” focus the content on helping kids develop and learn in an accessible way.

“It’s not the medium that matters, it’s the content,” Truglio said.

Research is the backbone of Sesame Street’s success. Truglio ensures the research addresses children’s ever-changing needs and encompasses every aspect of the show, whether it be entertaining content, creative production or impactful research.

Sesame Workshop constantly develops new Sesame Street content across media platforms to address critical educational needs of young children. Research is the cornerstone of Sesame Street’s success.  Formative research is conducted with children and adults for the targeted messages and activities to ensure that the content is relevant, appealing, engaging and comprehensible.  Based on the findings, researchers modify the content.  Impact research is then conducted to find out what children learned and if the messages significantly increased their knowledge and understanding of a concept. The researchers need to find out if the research “actually moves the needle” to gauge whether kids connect to the content and learn from it, Truglio said.

That idea also applies when Sesame Workshop gets involved in programs and initiatives to address multitudes of issues and current events.

For example, after Hurricane Sandy, Truglio was a guest on WNYC with Elmo to talk about the disaster. The spot was to help children in affected areas understand and address the hurricane and its aftermath.

The development of Rosemarie

Truglio’s focus on the development and nurturing of many of America’s children consumes her job. Achieving that development through effective research is a value instilled during her time at the University of Kansas.

After growing up in Hoboken, NJ, Truglio attended Douglas College, Rutgers University for her undergraduate degree to stay close to home. There she learned about the graduate program in Human Development and Family Life at KU, a school she’d never considered in a place she’d never been. The program is now known as Applied Behavioral Science.

Rosemarie Truglio
Truglio and Grover hang out at the Sesame Workshop. Truglio’s education at KU guided her career path in research and development for children’s media.

“There was this level of caring about who I was,” Truglio said. “When I was looking at other programs I felt like I was a number.”

Although coming to Kansas was a culture shock for the East Coast-raised Truglio, she decided on KU after a long process of evaluating the pros and cons of her choices.

Truglio was unusually young for a graduate student, only 20 when she arrived on campus. On top of that, she had never actually visited the campus, let alone the state. She said KU helped her grow as an individual and feel like part of a caring community. That care and development of the whole person that Truglio experienced at KU is still reflected in her current career at Sesame Workshop.

“I’m much more of a nurturing mentor than if I went to a different type of academic institution,” Truglio said. “There was this collaboration that was at the core of the department’s mission. I think because of that collaboration I have a much more respectful working relationship not only with my colleagues but with my staff. That’s transformational for me.”

Truglio received her master’s degree in human development and family life in 1986 and her doctorate in developmental and child psychology in 1990.

At KU Truglio started her research on the effects of media content on child development at the Center for Research on the Influences of Television on Children (CRITC) mentored by Dr. John Wright and Dr. Aletha Huston. After she received her doctorate, she accepted a position at Teachers College, Columbia University where she continued her research on the effects of television on children.

She had several connections through KU and Teachers College to the Sesame Workshop since both schools had ties to the organization. Those connections eventually led Truglio to working with the Sesame Workshop, where she has been since 1997.

“It’s extremely fulfilling as a developmental psychologist because it’s a company that cares about making an impact on children, all children,” Truglio said. “It puts the child first, puts education first. It provides content to children directly, as well as their parents and teachers who can extend the learning from the media experiences to everyday learning moments.”