Carnegie Mellon University
March 22, 2023

Uju Anya Receives New Directions Fellowship

Abby Simmons

Through her research and teaching, Uju Anya promotes rich, culturally relevant and meaningful experiences in language learning for Black students. Carnegie Mellon University has been awarded a Mellon Foundation grant to support a New Directions Fellowship for Anya. Through the fellowship, she will seek training in a new field — entertainment technology and game design — to create multilingual game-based experiences in online virtual reality platforms for Black youth from the U.S., Brazil, Colombia and across the Americas.

“Providing interesting, fun, immersive and learning-rich opportunities for African American students in grades 6-12 to get to know other Black teens in the cultures and communities where the languages they’re learning are spoken contributes to their greater participation and success in world language study,” said Anya, associate professor of second language acquisition at CMU’s Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences. “This strengthens their ties with other Afrodescendants in North, Central and South America and the Caribbean, who share similar histories and contemporary social realities with Black kids in the U.S. It also broadens their international awareness and better prepares them for global careers and a more impactful presence in world communities and economies.”

Anya’s previous research indicates Black students are motivated and bear overall positive attitudes toward learning new languages; however, they routinely report negative classroom experiences, poor instructional environments, unfavorable teacher and classmate attitudes and perceptions, low expectations and curriculum and materials they deem unappealing to their interests and cultural identities.

As a scholar of applied linguistics and second language acquisition in the Department of Modern Languages, she teaches world language programs in K-12 schools, colleges and universities throughout the U.S. how they can help African American students to see more explicit links between their ethno-racial backgrounds and classroom materials, topics and curriculum. Anya also helps to design experiences that allow Black students to make more relevant, personally significant connections to the cultures of and people who speak their language of study.

New Directions Fellowships assist faculty members in the humanities and humanistic social sciences who seek to acquire systematic training outside their own areas of special interest. In addition to facilitating the work of individual faculty members, these awards benefit scholarship in the humanities more broadly by encouraging the highest standards in cross-disciplinary research.

Through the New Directions Fellowship, Anya will take graduate-level courses at CMU’s Entertainment Technology Center and Human-Computer Interaction Institute. She will learn and practice intensive, rapid prototyping of immersive, interactive virtual worlds and experiences in teams and collaborative settings.

 “Building multilingual educational games in online virtual reality spaces and platforms isn’t something I can learn in a few courses,” Anya said, “however, I can learn how to effectively collaborate with programmers to bring game-based language education in the metaverse to Black kids who don’t always get the new cool tech stuff first.”

Anya also will complete an independent study with Jessica Hammer, the Thomas and Lydia Moran Associate Professor of Learning Science, and they intend to collaborate on interdisciplinary research through Anya’s faculty affiliation with the Center for Transformational Play.