Sciplay Staff

Harouna Ba, PhD

Director of SciPlay

Harouna Ba, Ph.D. joined NYSCI in November of 2013 as the Director of SciPlay. Dr. Ba has extensive experience in investigating children’s development of digital literacy skills and the impact of complex science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) programs in formal as well as informal educational settings. Prior to joining NYSCI, he led several research and evaluation projects about technology and STEM at the EDC’s Center for Children and Technology for 19 years. Through this research work, he has sought to help inform the processes that formal as well as informal institutions use to provide quality and effective learning opportunities to underserved children and adults. Dr. Ba designed, conducted, and managed rigorous quantitative and qualitative research projects focused on the implementation of technology infrastructure and support in K-12 systems statewide and the use of technologies to enhance teaching practices and promote student learning across formal and informal settings. Dr. Ba has an interdisciplinary educational background in the social sciences and humanities with a special focus on children’s exploration of places and learning across multiple settings. He holds a Ph.D. in environmental psychology from the City University of New York Graduate Center, a Master of Philosophy in psychology from the Graduate School and University Center, a Master of Arts in psychology from Hunter College, and a Master of Philosophy in sociology from the University of Dakar.



Cornelia Brunner, PhD

Senior Advisor

Dr. Brunner has been involved in the research, production, and teaching of educational technology in a variety of subject areas for fifty years. In addition to conducting research projects about the relationship between learning, teaching, and technology, she has designed and implemented educational materials incorporating technologies to support inquiry-based learning and teaching in science, social studies, media literacy, and the arts. She has worked extensively with staff and students in a variety of school environments on curriculum development projects, teacher support and training, and informal education. She taught experimental courses at Bank Street College and the Media Workshop New York, in which teachers were introduced to new technologies, learned how to integrate technology into their curriculum, and how to use multimedia authoring tools to design their own educational programs. She has also been an industry consultant for the design of educational and entertainment products for children during the last four decades. Her areas of expertise range widely, from gender and technology to media literacy education, from designing digital games to developing new evaluation methodologies.

Laycca Umer
SciPlay Resident

For the past two and a half years, Laycca attended university while working as a NYSCI Explainer in Education Services, Early Childhood and Design Lab. She has a B.S. in Childhood Education/Psychology, a NYS Teaching License, and a M.S. in TESOL from CUNY City College.

From September 2014 to May 2015, she her research focused on subtractive bilingual education in High School ESL classrooms. During Summer 2015, she worked in an NSA funded critical language program teaching Urdu in Brooklyn.

Working with Sciplay, she hopes to help bridge the gap between the informal, playful, and creative museum education experience and the often more structured, disengaging traditional classroom learning experience, by integrating new curriculum and technology in the classroom in purposeful and meaningful ways.


Amanda Jaksha

Project Manager & Curriculum Designer

Amanda is the Project Manager & Curriculum Designer for the SciGames project at the New York Hall of Science. She is a recent transplant to New York from Arizona, where she completed her doctoral degree in Teaching and Teacher Education at the University of Arizona. Amanda has a background in ecology and evolutionary biology and studied sea turtle biology for many years, including doing field work to investigate the nesting, feeding and migration habits of sea turtles in Baja California, Mexico and Florida. Amanda started her teaching career as an informal educator and worked for many different aquariums and science centers, including Sea World. She went on to teach secondary science for three years before pursuing her Ph.D. Amanda’s research interests include the interaction of formal and informal science learning environments and ocean/environmental identity.



Rose Pozos
Research Assistant: SciPlay

Rose earned her B.A. in Sociology/Anthropology from Swarthmore College where she also received a minor in Spanish. At Swarthmore, Rose worked researching Educational Psychology focusing on interest and its intersection with motivation, engagement, and STEM learning. In addition, Rose has experience in public education including interning for EXPLORA CONICYT in Chile (a national program dedicated to increasing STEM literacy), and co-directing Catalyst, a STEM conference for middle-school girls at Swarthmore College.

Rose’s passion for engaging students in STEM learning and thinking about new ways to teach STEM has found a base at SciPlay, where she is continuing to research and develop tools to leverage play in teaching.



Masha Westerlund
Research Fellow: SciPlay
(718) 683-9383

Masha has a PhD in Psychology from New York University, where she studied how the meanings of words and phrases are processed in the brain using magnetoencephalography. While at NYU, she was involved in a research study that integrated neuroscience education into a high school biology curriculum.

She was most recently a Data Science for Social Good summer fellow at the University of Chicago, where she worked with high schools to develop methods to improve college persistence outcomes for their alumni.



Gokul Krishnan
Research Fellow: Sciplay
(718) 683-9380

Gokul is a SciPlay Research Fellow at the New York Hall of Science, where his goal is to create a center of excellence in Maker Therapy. The center though conducting research, documenting best practices, providing training, and collaborating with medical institutions and business aims to proliferate Maker therapy to children’s hospitals across the United States.

He has a PhD in the Learning Sciences from Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College of Education in Nashville, TN. He introduced the first mobile Makerspace at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt in Nashville, TN, addressing the needs of chronically ill patients. The intent of the mobile Makerspace is to provide children with creative outlets and learning opportunities and to encourage social interchange with others and improve patient health care by increasing physical mobility. He calls this new patient learning experience, ‘Maker Therapy’.

The Makerspace initiative has been featured on NPR All Things Considered (, CBS Evening News ( and Popular Mechanics. Gokul was the first recipient of the Design, Make, Play Award ( from the New York Hall of Science in 2015. In June, the White House recognized Gokul as an honorary Maker for his research and development of the mobile Makerspace in children’s hospitals.

He holds a M.S. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of California at Riverside and a B.E. in Manufacturing Science & Engineering from Bangalore, India. Gokul is passionate about working with children who have chronic illnesses and designing new learning environments and experiences for them, through the development and integration of technologies and 21st century skills.