February 4, 2014

Yasaman Hashemian Wins 2014 Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in Design

By Tian Zhou

SCA Alumnus Yasaman Hashemian was named a winner of the 2014 Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in Design, an annual award bestowed by the Vilcek Foundation. Established by Jan and Marica Vilcek in 2000, the Vilcek Foundation was created to raise awareness of immigrants' contributions to American arts and sciences. Today, it carries out this mission by showcasing the work of immigrant artists, giving grants to other nonprofits, and awarding the Vilcek Prizes, which honors and supports foreign-born scientists and artists who have made outstanding contributions to society in the US. The Vilcek Prizes for Creative Promise were established in 2009 as a complement to the Vilcek Prizes, to encourage and support young immigrants who show promising talent. Each year, winners are chosen in biomedical science and a changing category of the arts, this year recognizing accomplishments in the field of design. In addition to being recognized, recipients are awarded an unrestricted $35,000 cash prize as well as a commemorative plaque.

An Iranian immigrant, Hashemian finished her undergraduate degree in Iran, majoring in Computer Science. But when she sought to continue her education, she began looking at programs in the US. “The education system in Iran is pretty dry,” Hashemian explains. An accomplished photographer, Hashemian was interested in pursuing something more creative. When she heard about the Graduate Interactive Media Program at USC, it seemed like a perfect match. “It has the science and technology aspect, and also at the same time it’s something artistic.”

At USC, she was taken under the wing of Marientina Gotsis, Assistant Professor of Research and Director of the Creative Media and Behavioral Health Center, where Hashemian now works as a Visiting Scholar. In Gotsis’ lab, Hashemian worked on innovative projects aimed at promoting health and wellness. These included Virtual Sprouts, a collaborative effort with local schools aimed primarily at low-income children. Through the adventures of a ladybug named Dottie, players complete fun quests that simultaneously teach them how to eat well.

Yasaman Hashemian

Hashemian's thesis took yet another innovative approach to helping children. In The Adventures Dreaming Highflying Dragon, a full body driven game designed for the Xbox Connect and aimed at children with ADHD, players are brought into the world of a little dragon who’s not very popular because he’s a little bit clumsy, forgetful, and easily distracted. When a big bad dragon threatens his village, the little dragon must become a hero by gaining the skills to defeat him. These tasks allow players to practice the motor and cognitive skills that can help them manage their ADHD.

For Hashemian, winning the award means more than just recognition for her body of work. It is also a validation of sorts. Although her family has always been supportive and championed her efforts to follow her dreams, “I come from a culture and background where it’s not easy to be an entrepreneurial woman. It’s a great benefit for me to be in a society where it’s okay to be recognized [for your work], to be encouraged by other people, to be told you can do it.” If her achievements are any indication, she certainly can.

All recipients of the 2014 Vilcek Prizes will be honored at an awards gala in New York City on April 2, 2014.  To learn more about the Vilcek Prizes, visit: http://www.vilcek.org/prizes/overview.html