IU School of Informatics and Computing student Jacqueline Hill and Vicki Bonds hold Hill's award at the 2016 MLK Dinner.

Award-winning student creating game for kids with diabetes

February 2, 2016

“It’s surreal. I can’t believe it,” says Jacqueline Hill. The IUPUI Diversity Research Scholar and junior in the Media Arts and Science program at the IU School of Informatics and Computing is this year’s recipient of the Joseph T. Taylor Academic Achievement Award, which was given to her at the 2016 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Dinner. “I was shocked, and really honored,” she says.

Helping children cope with their health issues is not something Jacqueline Hill ever expected she’d do. But a research mentorship opportunity through the Diversity Research Scholar Program paired her in her freshman year with School of Informatics and Computing Professor Joseph Defazio and his research team, who are looking at innovative ways to improve “serious” games in health education.

What makes the games serious? They aren’t games for gaming’s sake, but have a critical purpose—in this case, helping adolescents who have diabetes manage the disease more efficiently. The diabetes game, which has a Vikings theme, is the first children’s health education game that tells a story.

Players ride on Viking ships to collect specific types of food that help manage diet and blood sugar. As a bonus, they pick up lessons about the history of Vikings on the journey. This pioneering storytelling approach, which draws on initial work from School of Informatics and Computing Professor Josette Jones and her Ph.D. students, will be a model for developing health education games of its kind in the future.

A Pixar fan who loved playing Nintendo with her grandmother, Hill knew from a young age she wanted to create something that other kids could enjoy or play. And she is happy to be applying that childhood dream toward a higher purpose.

“A lot of people at research conferences don’t know about health education games,” says Hill. Last year, she visited a local high school, where students were also surprised to learn about her work. “It was eye-opening for them to learn that games aren’t just for gaming.”

An integral member of the research team, Hill worked with Defazio to co-author an article that has been submitted to an international research journal. “He’s a wonderful person to work with—so understanding and appreciative,” she says. Hill and Defazio presented the work at the annual IUPUI Research Day in April 2015—impressive achievements for an undergraduate researcher, whom Defazio calls “absolutely great.”

“When I encounter a student who has that enthusiasm, energy, respect, and thirst for knowledge, that is the ideal,” Defazio says. “What can I say? She is the exemplar.”

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Joanne Lovrinic