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2021 James A. Kelly Learning Lever Prize awarded to STEMulation Escape Room to further educational resources that promote anti-racist beliefs and practices

April 12, 2021

The winners of the 2021 James A. Kelly Learning Lever award are doctoral students Michole Washington (Educational Studies) and Ebony Johnson (Sociology) for their game-based augmented reality experience designed for inclusive STEM learning, STEMulation Escape Room.


Five teams presented at the 2021 annual James A. Kelly Learning Lever Prize competition on April 8, 2021. Launched in 2016, the James A. Kelly Learning Lever Prize is a competition designed to challenge University of Michigan students to invent digital tools with the potential to significantly improve student learning. This prize encourages a culture of innovation in education, and rewards the creative, interdisciplinary work of University of Michigan students.

STEMulation Escape Room box

STEMulation received the $10,000 grand prize in order to expand the storyline of their sci-fi escape room in a box, called “SpaceBox,” and to develop an app to allow students to interact with a real time space-based learning environment. The team says on their website, “We were founded from a desire to no longer let other people narrate, dictate, or experiment with Black folks’ life stories especially when it involves our futures. Each of our escape room projects bring together diverse and creative Black and Brown STEM talents to create and play with the realities we all wished we lived in—and spark curiosity with the possibilities.”

Four teams were presented with development awards ranging from $1,000 to $4,000. These teams’ products seek to ameliorate obstacles to learning and fill unmet learning needs and opportunities by leveraging technology:

Sabka: a Learning Management System add on to enhance student and faculty engagement
Team members: Deepti Pandey    
Classbop: a virtual platform that allows teachers to quickly obtain and process data to easily adapt to student needs
Team members: Ronit Tiwary, Cindy Gu, Raeed Rasul, Edward Huang
Plucky Comics: a digital comic series that highlights Black Queer historical figures
Team members: Nathan Alston, Daniella Gennaro  

Tech Buddies: a learning and lifestyle app for students with learning disabilities to help better communicate with others
Team members: Nikhil Mantena

Dean Elizabeth Birr Moje said in her welcome address, “The teams this year have produced some truly incredible designs with an especially interesting range of foci and delivery methods. Through these efforts, they are advancing a culture of creative thinking that foregrounds learning and advances access and opportunity by putting learning really in the hands of the learner, which I think we can all agree is something we need now more than ever. And so I offer my heartfelt congratulations to all of the teams on your significant accomplishments and achievements.”