TAI Student Anna Proctor Runs Successful Jewelry Company “Beads By Anna”

TAI student Anna Proctor started a jewelry business, Beads By Anna, during her freshman year at SMU. What first started as a small side project turned into a successful business with growth every year since it was founded 2014.

Proctor at SMU KKG’s Holiday Bazaar.

“During my freshman year, I loved browsing all the boutiques in Dallas and discovering the unique jewelry pieces,” Proctor said. “However, I thought the pieces were overpriced for such simply-crafted necklaces and bracelets. One weekend, my roommate and I ventured to a craft store and purchased some beads and strings. She never made the necklace she intended to for her grandmother – she actually ended up giving me the beads – but after one necklace, I was hooked. At first, I never intended to sell the necklaces I made, which were simple, just beads strung together with a pendant on the end. But, after interest from my friends, I thought I might have an interesting idea on my hands.”

Throughout these periods of growth, Proctor fine-tuned her business through a process of trial and error. In 2015-16 Proctor’s biggest sales ventures were through trunk shows. Then she established her first brick-and-mortar presence in Tennessee. Today, her business is larger than ever before.

“When I first began, all my pieces were made to order,” Proctor said. “I quickly learned that people wanted to buy what they could see, so I began designing pieces and posting them on Instagram. I got a lot more sales that way. 2017 has been my biggest year yet because of my partnership with Sarah Cannon Cancer Research Centers. I created sandalwood and lotus seed bracelets with rose quartz and amethyst stones. 20% of [the] proceeds benefit the American Cancer Society. The campaign with Sarah Cannon is called ‘Band Against Cancer,’ led by this year’s spokesperson Brad Paisley. The goal is to empower communities to fight cancer together. My bracelets have become a mechanism to share that message and band together. I spent my summer beading an average of 8 hours a day, in order to complete the order of 5,000 bracelets. It was like having a full-time job!”

Beads by Anna’s partnership with Band Against Cancer with Sarah Cannon

On top of honing her business skills, her courses at SMU helped prepare her for the advertising and promotional side. Double majoring in Advertising – Strategic Brand Management and PR, Proctor has learned how to brand her company, run social media campaigns, SEO, and more.

“My advertising courses have helped my business tremendously,” Proctor said. “A lot of what we talk about in class, like SEO, promotions, IMC, I use when I’m working on [my company]. My strategic brand management major has helped shape how I think about Beads by Anna. We read loads of case studies about different brands—their trajectories, brand equity, etc., and this is useful in running my own brand. I’m a PR major as well, and my PR classes have helped more with social media campaigns. Advanced Digital Communication with Steve Lee in the [SMU] CCPA department helped me in terms of social media campaigns.”

Along with business, advertising, and promotional skills, Proctor has learned the importance of patience from running her own business.

“I like to see results right away, but life doesn’t always work like that,” Proctor said. “Especially when working on bigger projects for Beads by Anna like I have been recently, it is important to work hard and trust the process.”

Beads by Anna products in retail store in Tennessee.

While unsure about her exact career trajectory, Proctor knows that she wants to work in a boutique PR or advertising firm as an account manager.

“I hope to always make jewelry, though I do not intend for it to ever be my full-time job,” Proctor said. “Part of the fun in beading is it sparks my creativity, and I think making it my full-time job would take a lot of the fun away. But, I hope to always keep beading as a ‘side hustle,’ and see where it goes!”

TAI Students Work with Executives from Black Eye

Black Eye, a design and marketing communications agency, is celebrating its 20th Anniversary this year. Founded in 1997 by SMU alumnus Chris Stewart (’95, ’97), the agency works for a wide range of clients–from national, blue-chip companies to small local businesses.

(Left to Right, Front Row): Morgan Martin, Black Eye, Black Eye founder Chris Stewart, Glen Gauthier, Black Eye Creative Director, Hank Benzenberg, Black Eye, TAI Advertising Professor Willie Baronet, (Far Left Corner) TAI Advertising Professor Mark Allen, shown with SMU Advertising Students at the Advanced Portfolio Critique and workshop held Monday, October 2, 2017.

To help mark their anniversary, the creative team from Black Eye took the afternoon and evening of October 2 to work with SMU advertising students. Coordinated through SMU Advertising Professors Mark Allen and Willie Baronet, they first assisted in an Advanced Portfolio Critique and later provided an in-depth look at their company and agency-life during a workshop.

“There is nothing like ‘real world’ experience and stories to get our students excited and motivated about their careers,” TAI Professor Willie Baronet said. “Black Eye did a fantastic job of sharing their work, creative approach, and how they got where they are. The students and faculty really enjoyed and appreciated their time and wisdom.”

Black Eye provided food and beverages at the event, which was attended by approximately 25 TAI students. Students were especially interested in advice from creative professionals how to set their portfolios apart, and the differences between working in larger agencies versus smaller studios.

“We’ve never had an entire firm close up shop so they could bring the whole creative team over,” TAI Professor Mark Allen said. “I know our students really appreciated it.”

“We wanted to take a break from our day-to-day, reflect on everything that’s transpired over the last 20 years and give back a little to the University where it all started,” Steward said. “We really enjoyed the experience of working with the students and think they will have bright opportunities.”

The students at Temerlin Advertising Institute greatly appreciated the opportunity to meet and work with creative professionals in the industry.

TAI Creative Student Riley Frost Interns with Brass Tacks Collective

TAI creative advertising student Riley Frost has been working as an apprentice at Brass Tacks Collective since July. While her experience is considered an internship, it is far from the average agency internship.

“Brass Tacks Collective runs on a paid apprenticeship program,” Frost said. “My day-to-day job is working with a team lead that acts as a guide throughout the creative process for each project. I work with other apprentices in a collaborative rather than competitive manner, and one of these days will be given the responsibility to lead a project.”

Frost in the Brass Tacks Collective office.

Frost was encouraged to apply for the position by TAI creative advertising Professor Willie Baronet, and she has loved her time there since the beginning.

“Our days at Brass Tacks are full of jokes, sing-a-longs, and tons of fun,” Frost said. “We work for several non-profit organizations around the Dallas area, and those heart-warming experiences are some I will never forget. Our team goes into every meeting with confidence and of course a sense of humor. One thing is for sure; boring days at Brass Tacks do not exist.”

Brass Tacks brands themselves as a “teaching agency” that is made up of paid “apprentices” working on local clients. Since starting, Frost has gained valuable skills that she can apply to her future career.

“It has only been about three months since I started working at Brass Tacks, and I have learned so much,” Frost said. “I have learned how to use new programs such as Sketch and Invision, as well as deepened my understanding of the Adobe Programs. Production skills aside, I have learned how the real world of advertising works. Clients can be difficult, but you have to go into each situation poised and patient.”

Frost has also taken the skills she’s learned in her advertising courses and applied them to her work at Brass Tacks.

“Everything I have learned [in my advertising classes] has come into play in some way or another,” Frost said. “The main one though is the importance of having a concept behind any design or campaign.”

Working for such a unique agency has given Frost a perspective on what she wants for her future career in the advertising world.

“It has taught me that I want to work at a small agency rather than a huge machine of a company,” Frost said. “I want to do work for big clients, but also want to give back to the community. Brass Tacks has taught me how to balance both.”

One thing Frost wanted to make sure that everyone knows is that, “Brass Tacks rocks.”

The Temerlin Advertising Institute for Education and Research (TAI) trains students to search for unique solutions in advertising, preparing them for work in advertising agencies, media firms, corporate marketing departments, design studios and more.

Meet New TAI Professor Dr. Yan Huang

Dr. Yan Huang

What made you want to become a professor?

I am curious. I always want to figure out a few things. I collect information to feed my curiosity. When I meet people with the same questions, I feel excited to share what I have learned with them. The whole process makes me happy. Luckily, these are exactly what professors do.

What class are you teaching this semester?

I am teaching ADV2301 Consumer Behavior this semester. In this class, we discuss theories and concepts of psychology and persuasion as they relate to how and why consumers make certain judgments and decisions. To me, the purpose of the class is two-fold. First, I hope to motivate students to think about the applications of these theories and concepts in advertising/marketing communications. Second, I hope students themselves can become better consumers and make informed decisions with knowledge gained from this class.

What is your area of expertise?

Broadly speaking, my background and expertise are in the area of strategic communication. My research gives special attention to the effects and mechanisms of strategic media messages and technologies in shaping consumer psychology, especially as they relate to health and socially responsible advertising. I am a quantitative researcher. I explore my research questions mostly by doing experiments, surveys, and meta-analyses.

What has been your favorite memory from teaching for TAI so far?

I’ve already had many good experiences with SMU students. Every week I gain something new. It is hard to choose…but if I have to…the favorite memory is when a group of five students came to my office on a Friday afternoon to talk about the different ways to approach their group project. I remember seeing the spark of curiosity and enthusiasm in their eyes.

What is your favorite part about being a professor?

My favorite part is that I get to meet different students every semester, know their stories, share what I’ve learned with them, and help them when they are in need. I hope I can make a valuable contribution to knowledge with my research and use the knowledge to cultivate young minds.

Have you taught before? 

I had taught at Penn State for two years before I came to SMU. I taught a research method class for advertising/public relations majors and also an online course on research analytics in strategic communication.

Are you currently doing any research? 

Yes, I have a few ongoing projects. One important theme is about the effectiveness of narrative advertising. While past research focuses on the immediate impact of stories, my research has revealed that messages telling stories are also more persuasive than argument-based messages in the long term. This is because narrative exposure can trigger more self-related thoughts on the advocated issue by engaging individuals experientially. Moreover, individuals who have read narrative messages will show greater resistance to counterarguments they encounter at a later time.

What is one interesting fact about you?

I used to play a video game named BombSquad with my husband. We had kept the doubles world record for quite a while.

To find out more about Dr. Huang, check out her page on the TAI website.

TAI Student Laura Walsh Interns with Moroch

Walsh and other Moroch interns.

The summer of 2017 has been filled with many student accomplishments, as we’ve had several students interning at some of the top agencies locally and nationally. TAI Creative Advertising student Laura Walsh spent her summer interning with Moroch Partners at their Dallas office.

“Because Moroch is great at having creatives work on a variety of clients, the entire creative department was basically my team,” Walsh said. “I worked with a specific team depending on the client. There were times that I would concept with the Executive Creative Director and maybe two others for commercials and then there were times where we as a department concepted together. I also worked with other studio and production interns to create content for social posts.”

Walsh supported clients such as Vision Works, Taylor Hooton Foundation, Llano Wines, Teazzer’s Tea, and Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen. Assisting with the conception and production of several McDonald’s commercials was especially exciting to Walsh.

Walsh covered in McDonald’s french fries for National French Fry Day.

“I learned more than I ever could have imagined,” Walsh said. “Even when there were slow days and I was working on more boring project I still felt like I was learning. I learned more about the creative process in an agency environment, that some clients are awesome and others you want to throw out the 11th floor window. As one of my Creative Directors said “Everything is a teachable moment. Even when you screw up and accidently insult the client’s eating habits during a presentation.”

One of Walsh’s favorite memories from her internship was getting covered in McDonald’s French fries for National French Fry Day. She emphasizes that one of the best things about Moroch was that there was no typical day.

“Some days were filled with kickoff meetings and brainstorm sessions and some days were slower in terms of work than others, but every day was great and something new,” Walsh said. “On any given day you could find me creating logos, ads, website content, branding collateral, content boards, presentation decks etc. I also participated in campaign concepting and brainstorm sessions as well as client photo shoots and video/commercial production.”

Moroch slide
Walsh on the Moroch slide.

A lot of the experience that Walsh has had from class and projects helped her be successful in the internship.

“I think honestly everything I’ve learned came into play at some point or another, especially with my creative core and graphic design classes,” Walsh said. “[The internship] definitely solidified a career in advertising.”

Temerlin Advertising Institute is lucky to be located in a top 5 media market, giving our students easy access to all kinds of agencies in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

TAI Sponsors AAF Dallas Shining Stars

Tuesday June 13, Temerlin Advertising Institute attended AAF Dallas’ Shining Stars Award Luncheon as the presenting sponsor of the event. The event honored twenty women in the Dallas advertising industry who have incredible ambition, work ethic, creativity, and leadership.

TAI was proud to be the presenting sponsor of this inaugural event and honor these extraordinary women in our local industry.

“AAF’s 2017 Shining Stars possess a range and depth of experience that is truly impressive,” TAI Professor Peter Noble said. “They are literally stars in the advertising business. They are also ideal role models for our students. SMU’s Temerlin Advertising Institute is proud to sponsor this important celebration of their achievements.”

The event was just one of many partnerships that Temerlin Advertising Institute is a part of in the Dallas area.

“The Institute strongly believes in supporting, rewarding, and recognizing advertising executives and are proud to sponsor this event,” TAI Director Steve Edwards said. “We are involved with industry organizations like AAF Dallas to help support future colleagues. We’re happy to help the AAF build industry in our market in any way we can.”

Click here to view this year’s Shining Star Recipients.

TAI Students Attend Alumni Gathering in New York City

TAI Professor Willie Baronet (right) with TAI class of 2016 alums.

Thursday May 18, many TAI students attended an Alumni Gathering event in New York City as part of MayTerm courses in New York. They got to mix and mingle with many SMU and TAI graduates from many different classes. These alumni are now thriving in their careers in New York City and took the opportunity to connect with and talk to current students.

Many TAI students have aspirations of working in New York City after they graduate, so getting to meet with alums who were in there shoes merely a few years ago was very motivational for them.

“The event was such a great way to network with the NYC TAI advertising community,” TAI student Joanna Fennessy said. “Especially as a rising senior wanting to work in advertising in the city post graduation, I found the event extremely useful and inspiring. I was able to talk to all kinds of alums working in agencies, with brands, and for consultancies. It broadened my knowledge of the industry and my network within in a city other than Dallas for a change!”

TAI students Caroline Moss (’18), Morgan Hoff (’17), and Helen Rieger (’17).

Many TAI students on the Creative track appreciated the chance to meet former TAI Creative students and listen to their advice.

“The networking event was an incredible opportunity for the Creative track students,” TAI student Jolie Guz said. “It was crazy to meet other creatives who were in our shoes on the same trip a year ago, but are now working for agencies like Digitas and Wieden+Kennedy. I was not only able to meet SMU alumni in the New York area on this trip, but I also had the chance to get closer with a lot of my friends in the creative track as well.”

All the students on the New York trip appreciated the occasion to bond with fellow students and to learn more about advertising opportunities in New York.

Professor Willie Baronet (right) with current TAI students Kirsty McLauchlan, Jolie Guz, Lucas Crespo, and Matthew Smyth.

“The New York trip gave me key insights to not only what some of the top agencies in the industry are about, but helped better my understanding of what kind of agency I want to work for,” TAI student Samantha Shearson said. “I was so impressed with this trip and all of the SMU alums’ generosity on taking time out of their days to make this trip special for us. This trip exceeded all my expectations and will inspire me to work harder on my book.”

TAI Student Ryan Blitzer Graduating with MA in Popular Film and BA in Advertising

Click the picture to view Ryan Blitzer’s website.

Many students take on the impressive challenge of double majoring or completing a 4+1 program during their college careers. TAI student Ryan Blitzer has been able to do both in his four years at SMU. Last May, after his third year at SMU, Blitzer completed a BFA in Film & Media Arts. This May, he will be graduating with a Masters degree in Popular Film and Media Studies along with another Bachelors degree in Advertising.

“I will be the first to graduate with a new +1 MA in Popular Film and Media Studies,” Blitzer said. “I actually completed my undergraduate degree in film in 3 years, so I’ll be graduating in 4 years with my Masters degree from SMU. The program focuses on application of techniques and commonalities among different types of film. The classes often help to drive specialization of a study of a certain genre (i.e. horror), and most who graduate with this degree will pursue a Ph.D. in Film. While the program does not have a lot of production, I’ve been able to take electives to satisfy my on-set urges and work 1:1 with professors in the film department. It’s been an awesome experience; I’ve even been able to present in Las Vegas on one of the papers I wrote!”

Blitzer became interested in film in high school when he took a set of classes in TV production, which eventually required him to make short films. From there, he applied to film schools across the country.

Shot from one of Blitzer’s specs for Wii U. Click the picture to see the full spec.

“My favorite thing about filmmaking is the ability to connect with people through a medium that people accept readily,” Blitzer said. “The idea that someone could tell a story that truly impacts someone’s life is humbling, and I love that there are so many opportunities to create different types of films.”

Blitzer chose to add an advertising degree later in his college career. Initially viewing the major as a “backup” to a career in film, Blitzer quickly realized that he very much enjoys advertising, especially creating commercials.

“My favorite thing about advertising is that the skills are adaptable to a wide range of applications,” Blitzer said. “Learning to tell stories through one spot or one print ad is very difficult, and when you combine both skill sets [advertising and film] you are able to tell a more cohesive and stronger story that connects with more people.”

During his past four years at SMU, Blitzer has had impactful professors that have helped him realize his goals for the future.

“If I were to pick a mentor in each department, for film, it would be Professor Troy Perkins, and for advertising, it would be Professor Willie Baronet,” Blitzer said. “Their support has driven me to be more acutely creative and accelerate the refinement of skills I’ve learned. They really taught me about the stories behind the pretty pictures, and how to form the stories that can impact the most people emotionally and realistically.”

Post-graduation, Blitzer has accepted a paid internship position with Mary Kay and hopes to eventually move into freelancing. He is currently interning with charlieuniformtango, a commercial product and post-production company located in downtown Dallas.

Photograph by Ryan Blitzer as part of collection called “A Different Perspective”

“My internship with charlieuniformtango [CUT for short] has been phenomenal,” Blitzer said. “CUT is mainly known for post-production; several spots they edited were in the Super Bowl this year. I was able to shadow many of the post-production editors, graphics artists, etc., but my principal duties were in production. I worked with several of the directors and executive producers on sets including the Texas Rangers, Mary Kay, Dr. Pepper and Gamestop. Being in a professional environment allowed me to refine skills and see a slightly different workflow to commercial and short filmmaking than what I was used to. I’ll be able to adapt and use those skills in future freelancing.”

TAI Students Elissa Evanich and Bella Pepin Intern with D Custom

Every semester multiple SMU and TAI students intern with D Magazine, as they have a wide variety of positions available to students and allow them to gain experience during the school year. This semester, two TAI students on the Strategic Brand Management track, Elissa Evanich and Bella Pepin, are both interning with D Custom, a content marketing agency owned by D Magazine.

Evanich (left) and a group of interns at D Custom.

Evanich serves as a Content Marketing Intern, while Pepin is a Social Media Intern. Both work on social media but different aspects of it. Evanich does competitive research and social media analytics, while Pepin primarily produces content for D Custom’s social media platforms. That being said, the average day of an intern is similar regardless of position.

“I come in and check my email first,” Pepin said. “There are always emails about happenings or free stuff from the D Magazine team downstairs, so I look out for those. I write, edit, and schedule out social for the week. I go to all the meetings my manager attends, which is a lot. We have an intern project due at the end of the semester, so we work on that during work hours too.”

As the internship has progressed, Evanich has learned the importance of certain skills to the world of content marketing.

“Content marketing is interesting because it learning how to write as the voice of the brand,” Evanich said. “This internship has given me additional experience in writing and speaking professionally. I think being able to not just sell yourself but also your ideas is very important. ”

Evanich also emphasized the importance of Google certifications in content marketing and encourages anyone interested in the field to pursue the Analytics certification as soon as possible.

Along with specific skills relevant to content marketing, Pepin has learned some broader lessons that apply to all agencies and jobs.

“[I’ve learned that] not every person is right for every job,” Pepin said. “Agency culture and workplace culture are of supreme importance. The industry can change in an instant, but I like knowing that I am learning whatever I can today to be better tomorrow. [I’ve also learned that] I love Dallas more than I thought.”

A unique aspect of working for D Magazine or D Custom is having other TAI students going through the same experience as you. While most interns all have a separate title and purpose, they work together and help each other out during the workday.

“We work together on a lot of stuff,” Pepin said. “It is nice to have a familiar face and someone to talk to if I’m struggling. Sometimes there are ah-ha moments when things that we’ve learned at TAI are applicable to what we are doing, and it’s cool to know that she gets it.”

Sharing the internship experience, Evanich and Pepin have been able to learn and grow together, applying what they’ve learned in their Strategic Brand Management classes as well as learning new skills.

“We both have a similar skill set since we have been in the same classes,” Evanich said. “So if I don’t know how to do something, she doesn’t either. In that way, we both can ask another employee to help us out, and we both learn from the experience.”

Both Evanich and Pepin have enjoyed learning and growing their skill sets at D Custom. As their internships are almost over, Pepin has advice for any students that are looking to apply there in the future.

“If you are planning to apply to D Custom, know the difference between the agency and D Magazine,” Pepin said. “D Custom is completely separate and different from the publication, and you should know why before [you] apply.”

If you are interested in applying for an internship with D Custom or D Magazine and have any questions about the experience, feel free to contact Elissa Evanich (eevanich@smu.edu) or Bella Pepin (ipepin@smu.edu).

TAI Professor Suzanne Larkin Shares Experience Creating Program to Aid Learning in Children with Dyslexia

Since graduate school, TAI Professor Suzanne Larkin has had a relationship with Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children and prototyped a program to aid learning for children with dyslexia. Professor Larkin got her Masters of Fine Arts degree in Visual Communication from Texas A&M Commerce (downtown Dallas), a program that combines Curriculum Development, Design Research, and Business.

TAI Professor Larkin

“My inspiration came from a challenge as I was acquiring an MFA,” Professor Larkin said. “The challenge was to connect with a ‘giant’ and create something that could benefit them, and do what we call ‘move the needle,’ which means collect data that shows efficacy of what we do as visual communicators. In that challenge I kind of conducted a search, like what people do for thesis topic development. And that started with talking to others to find problems in major organizations where visual narratives or visual solutions could be beneficial. So part of my talking to people came out of tools that we use in the creative industry, like mind maps. I created maps to focus on who to talk to, and in which organizations. I kept running into the same response, and that was that children with dyslexia don’t have enough of the proper resources to help them grow at early diagnosis point, like 2nd and 3rd grade. I was inspired because I love to have fun in my work, and I like to do whimsical concepts. I used to design greeting cards. I’ve done radio, broadcast, outdoor, print. I’ve done it all in my career. So I thought this was a great opportunity to touch a target audience and provide something that hopefully benefits them.”

The Luke Waites Center for Dyslexia at Scottish Rite Hospital for Children is the organization that formulated the first definition of dyslexia, allowing children to be evaluated and diagnosed. When Professor Larkin initially reached out to Scottish Rite, she received a response within 20 minutes, leading her to believe that there was a real need for help.

“I met with Karen Avrit, who is the Education Director,” Professor Larkin said. “We got together during therapy time and talked about what the patients were doing. I asked ‘Why are the children trying to read stories from text when they have reading challenges? Have they ever seen these stories?’ Of course, I’m thinking about this as a visual communicator because pictures say a lot. Karen thought that was a valid question since they didn’t have a visual representation of the fluency stories.”

At that point Ms. Avrit and Professor Larkin realized that there could be a way of using visual narrative to help in teaching punctuation.

“Their fluency program already has a brand called ‘Take Flight,’” Professor Larkin said. “So I thought, if I’m going to create intellectual property for the punctuation, I’ll need to give it a brand too. And of course I got really excited, because I love to create brands. Then I started thinking about color, typography, style of graphics, and on and on.”

Ellah’s Tools Logo

From there Professor Larkin developed Ellah’s Tools. Ellah, standing for Experiential Language Learning At Home, could act as an at-home supplement to “Take Flight,” a fluency program developed by the Center for Dyslexia.

“Karen asked me if there was a way to allow parents access to the tools so they could use them at home for supplementing what was being done during therapy time at school,” Professor Larkin said.

Professor Larkin did extensive research and concepting in the process of creating Ellah’s Tools. She had to find a way to animate and teach six basic punctuation marks to children with learning differences, in a way that would keep them engaged.

“Just like with branding, when things are always the same sometimes consumers get tired of it,” Professor Larkin said. “So of course these consumers would be second and third grade children so I want to make it exciting. Every week I gave them a different genre. The comma is based on blues. And I thought, okay, who is someone that inspires me when it comes to blues; well that was BB King. So the song was the style of BB King’s music.”

Throughout the creation process, Professor Larkin never had any sort of budget. She used a combination of her own talents, friends’ talents, and purchasing inexpensive stock music to create prototypes. She used Garage Band to create and edit the music, and Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, and Flash to create the final product.

Storyboard for Ellah’s Tools

“One of my Professors at Texas A&M actually has a blues band,” Professor Larkin said. “They’ve been around for years, and so Bill Ford was gracious to sing the lyrics for the comma. And sang it in his style to music that sounded like typical BB King blues. Because I don’t have a budget, I used a high definition recorder that I purchased. And we recorded in closets and small office spaces, so that there was limited echo. All of that came together in Flash and what we decided to do was instead of flushing out everything at the beginning, because it’s research…and things change, we thought…let’s do it in segments.”

Ellah’s Tools is designed to be a visual curriculum that reinforces what students learn in therapy. In creating the first prototype, Professor Larkin got parents involved through solicitation with therapists at schools in Wiley, Texas. Each week, she gave the therapists a package that include a DVD for parents to use at home and games to go along with the fluency stories.

“Parents were excited to participate. One parent told me that her daughter kept reminding her not to miss the meeting! I met with them for coaching on how to use the prototypes that we were putting together,” Professor Larkin said. “One of the stories was about different types of animals on a farm, so I [created] a scavenger hunt [game]. Another story was about some kids at the beach, so I created a word and image match game. The parents had that to play with alongside a list of prompts that they could use to excite their kids, what kind of conditions that the environment should be in when the kids are interacting with the tools for best case scenario.”

Professor Larkin was able to get feedback from the parents as well as the therapists collecting data. She created a pre- and a post-test for the therapists to evaluate the students. Both tested students not only on their fluency, but on prosody, and their comprehension of punctuation.

“The post-test revealed encouraging data,” Professor Larkin said. “All of the students showed improvement in their reading abilities and comprehension in at least one area. That was really exciting for what it meant to have children experience learning in a different way. It was multi-sensory and reinforced their therapy at home but in a fun way. When the study was done the parents participated in a survey on Survey Monkey. The feedback was great.”

Professor Larkin is hopeful for the future of design research. Last semester she met with the Budd Center at SMU, looking for the potential of sharing the punctuation prototypes with public schools in Dallas. She is also waiting to hear back from a unique school in Dallas that was created specifically for children with learning differences.

“My hope is that there is a way to be able to share these tools, and create more,” Professor Larkin said. “Right now there still isn’t a budget, so that means grant writing, begging, and convincing. I think visual narratives can assist all learning styles.”