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Taking it to the Street

Sep 28, 2013
by Carrie Pack Chowske, '00

Alex Bonus lands internship with Big Bird Lots of kids grew up learning their ABCs from “Sesame Street,” but Alex Bonus, ‘12, is getting his master’s degree while learning from Big Bird all over again.

Bonus is currently studying at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and this summer interned with Sesame Workshop, which produces the 47-year-old children’s program. His adviser, Dr. Louise Mares, recommended him because they both have similar research interests: how children’s perceptions of fantasy and reality influence their ability to learn from television programs.

“It’s an important area of study because so often parents will sit their children in front of what they think is educational television, when, in fact, they might be misguided about what their children are actually taking away from the experience,” Bonus said.

Bonus’ master’s thesis will be a deeper look into a study Mares conducted using Nickelodeon’s “Dora the Explorer.” In her research, Mares suggested that children can be confused by what they see on TV, and don’t necessarily make the connection between televised lessons and the real world.

For his thesis, Bonus will use “Sesame Street” to determine if children are similarly confused when educational lessons are presented in a “mixed-reality” setting. For example, if a child watching the program sees a character eating pasteles in a segment on Spanish culture, will he or she understand that people in the real world eat pasteles as well?

Bonus said it’s important research because “Sesame Street” prides itself on educating children on real-world scenarios. The show recently introduced a Muppet meant to help kids in families with an incarcerated parent learn how to cope with their situation.

“ ‘Sesame Street’ is special because it’s able to tackle these bigger issues in a way that other shows could never touch,” he said.

Through his research, Bonus wants to make sure kids are learning what the Muppets are teaching. Meanwhile he’s happy to continue to learn from a program that he enjoyed as a child.

“Just because you get older doesn’t mean you have to pack up your childhood and get serious,” he said

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