Many college students change academic majors when they realize their first choice is not a good fit. Iron Mountain native Amanda Rosenburg took a handful of electives at Northern Michigan University to explore her Plan B options. It was a child development class offered by the psychology department that ignited her passion. Now Rosenburg works with Google to pioneer new ways to educate children in the digital age, which is especially timely and relevant in the context of COVID-19. The 2007 graduate is NMU's 2020 Outstanding Young Alumni Award recipient.
Rosenburg resides in New York City. She serves as senior researcher on the Google Education team, and product lead for Google Classroom, Google Assignments and Originality Reports. Her work ensuring that these platforms are well conceived and integrate seamlessly into the classroom to enhance the teaching and learning experience impacts more than 200 million students and educators worldwide.
“In three years, I've helped to launch three separate products from scratch,” Rosenburg said. “It's very rare in technology that you have the opportunity to create something from nothing; you're usually building upon it or refining it. My role is to analyze how people think, make decisions, navigate a complex world and interact with their environments. When you ask the right questions, you get the right insights that provide direction for the development of products and changes made to them.
“I wouldn't be where I am today without my time at Northern. It helped to make me a critical thinker about the human thought process. I worked with [former professor] Maya Sen in the cognition lab, looking at babies' and toddlers' understanding of gender and gender identity. For that time, it was kind of groundbreaking. We presented our work at multiple conferences. I fell in love with research and that became my career.”
Her first professional jobs were in children's television programming. With the Emmy-nominated Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood on PBS, Rosenburg took the first script for each episode to schools to test it with students during story time She asked questions to determine if learning objectives were being met, then presented her findings to the show's writers so they could revise the script as needed. She worked in a similar capacity for Peter Rabbit on Nick Jr.
Rosenburg transitioned to a marketing research firm that assisted influential companies with product lines geared toward adolescents. Clients included Amazon, Crayola, DreamWorks, Hasbro and Nickelodeon. She said the most exciting project was with KABOOM!, a national nonprofit that works with communities to build kid-designed playspaces.
“They wanted us to explore how kids play and what equipment they need. We would observe how children were utilizing equipment on the playground and then interview them on their goals and experiences during that play time. Separately, we held focus groups where we gave kids tons of art supplies and asked them to create the playground of their dreams. KABOOM! took the findings and redefined the mission and campaign to reflect the needs of kids today—the ability to play anywhere."
Rosenburg is passionate about mentoring women in the industry, early career researchers and students interested in user-experience research. She has also taken multiple advisory roles at innovative startups focused on changing the technology landscape through innovation.
“Northern gave me an opportunity to build such a strong foundation that I stepped into the real world ready to contribute,” she said. “ I didn't realize how special my experience was until I was in a class at Columbia University and we were working on curriculum vitae (resumes). One of my peers said, ‘Wow, how did you get all this experience? You've presented at conferences already? You've worked in these labs?' I realized, here is someone who graduated from Harvard next to me impressed by my undergraduate background.”
Rosenburg was active in the NMU chapter of Psi Chi, the international honor society in psychology. She was named the department's outstanding graduating senior before setting off for graduate school at Columbia. In addition to her master's degree in developmental psychology, she also pursued doctoral work in communication, media and learning technologies at the New York City university.