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How Do You Get to Sesame Street?

With math and science, according to Carol-lynn Parente and Rosemarie T. Truglio, who are reengineering programming at the children’s show to emphasize them.

Rosemarie Trugilio and Carol-lynn at Sesame Workshop
Rosemarie T. Truglio (left) is the senior vice president for education and research at Sesame Workshop, and Carol-lynn Parente is the executive producer of Sesame Street. Photograph by Benoit Cortet.

For lots of American kids, learning science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) is not their idea of fun. So what can you do to stem their fear of STEM? If you’re Carol-lynn Parente and Rosemarie T. Truglio, longtime executives at Sesame Street, you bring in Murray, a furry orange monster, who has a knack for presenting the material in little, learnable pieces.

Created by teams led by Parente CC’86, executive producer of the iconic children’s television show, and Truglio DC’83, the senior vice president for education and research at Sesame Workshop, Murray is the first new character in six years. The Rutgers grads—Parente has a B.S. in economics and Truglio a B.A. in psychology—came up with this idea plus many new programmatic elements in response to President Obama’s campaign to promote STEM.

“STEM isn’t only in the lab, it’s all around us,” says Truglio, who also has a doctorate in developmental and child psychology. “Parents shouldn’t be afraid of kids’ questions; it’s OK not to know an answer and to say, ‘Let’s find out together.’”

Parente, who has been with Sesame Street for 24 years and has won 11 Emmys, says that although these can be hard-to-understand topics, translating them into child-size sound bites was simpler than she first thought. “When you boil them down, they are the perfect subjects for preschoolers,” she says. “They are about asking questions and investigating things.”

Truglio, who has been with Sesame Workshop for 15 years, develops the show’s interdisciplinary curriculum, conducting the formative research that informs the show’s entertaining and educational components. She and Parente point out that finding ways to strike the show’s funny bone while imparting the learning has taken some trial and error.

“You have to be scientifically accurate, and sometimes that’s in direct opposition to comedy,” says Parente, who serves as a creative guide to keep the program fresh and exciting. “We had one episode where a character propelled into a wall and slid down it. This violates one of Newton’s laws of motion—for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction—so we had to have the character bounce off the wall as a function of the amount of force with which he hits the wall.”

Truglio always has had an affinity for math and science, and Parente used to do algebra for fun. Still, they wish that Murray, and his able assistant, Super Grover 2.0, had been around when they were growing up. Truglio credits Rutgers’ early-childhood education and developmental childhood courses with preparing her for Sesame Street. Parente originally was a predentistry major. “But I needed a concentration of science, and that scared me,” she says. Now, they are counting on the show’s lineup of furry friends to inspire another generation of children.

                                                                                                                                       — Nancy A. Ruhling

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